In 31 seasons as a head coach, 2014 ABCA Hall of Fame inductee Paul Mainieri has amassed nearly 1,200 career wins and is a three-time national coach of the year. Currently the head man at Louisiana State University, Mainieri has led the Tigers to a National Title, three College World Series Appearances, four SEC tournament championships and a pair of SEC regular season crowns. He recently shared his coaching journey with Inside Pitch
Inside Pitch: What kind of perspective do you have after your experience at a Division II school like St. Thomas, a military school like Air Force, a northern school like Notre Dame, and a tradition-laden SEC school like LSU?
I feel like I'm one of the most blessed people in the coaching profession, not only because I have had such diverse opportunities and experiences as a head coach at four wonderful institutions, but also because I got to grow up in Miami, Fl. as the son of a legendary college coach as well. My dad, when he retired from coaching after a 30-year career, was generally regarded as the greatest junior college coach in history. He was the first to win 1,000 games in his career, he won a national championship, had three second-place finishes and one third-place finish. I believe he had something like 35 of his former players go on to play in the Major Leagues.
Growing up in that environment and hearing my father speak about college baseball every night at the dinner table, my heroes were other college baseball coaches. Most kids want to grow up to be major league ballplayers; but I wanted to grow up to be a college baseball coach like my dad. The opportunities that I've had in my life - first at a small, private Division II school (St. Thomas University) where you had to do everything yourself because you had no support; then to coach at a place [Air Force Academy] where the mission of the institution was so much greater than fielding a good baseball team; followed by being at a wonderfully strong academic and spiritual university in the north [Notre Dame]; and finally to then to have a chance to be at a place in the SEC (LSU) that has the resources to allow you to compete at the highest level – have been amazing. I don't think I could have scripted it out any better as far as opportunities for a college baseball coach. I just feel like I am the luckiest guy in the world because I love all four of those institutions.
I was raised by Demie Mainieri, who was not only a tremendous father but a tremendous mentor for me in the profession. The thing for me that has never changed is that when I told him I wanted to be a college baseball coach, he instilled in me the right reason to go into coaching. Quite simply, that is to impact young people's lives and to teach them lessons that will allow them to be successful in baseball that will stay with them for their rest of their lives. Those lessons then will help them be successful in any endeavors in which they so choose to be involved later in life after baseball is done for them. That's always been my guiding light - from coaching at a small school like St. Thomas all the way to LSU. I know the pressure to win increased with each stop along the way, but my vision of what a coach is and what his role should be in other people's lives, has never changed. And for that I am very proud. I've never compromised my principles, I've always believed in integrity and ethics, doing things within the rules, building confidence in young people the right way. I've been so fortunate to have had great assistant coaches and support staff all along. Obviously, I've been surrounded by some wonderful young men that have played on our teams and I hope that they would verify this is how we approached things all the time.
IP: From your great mentors to your accomplished protégés, what's the common denominator through it all?
My dad always preached to all his children about telling the truth, serving others, doing the right thing all the time, and that your conscience is your guide. Lying, cheating, and stealing were never concepts that were allowed in the home of Demie and Rosetta Mainieri – I can assure you of that! It becomes part of you and you do it that way. I tell our players all the time, if we're fortunate enough to hold the big trophy above our heads at the end of the year, we want to feel great about it. And the only way you're going to feel great about it is if you do it the right way. We're not going to look for shortcuts, we're going to purposely look for the hard way to do things, because when we do accomplish things, you'll know that you've earned it and you've done it the right way. My dad instilled that in me right from the get-go.
Then I had an opportunity to play for Ron Maestri at the University of New Orleans, and he was like a second father to me. His work ethic and his charisma and all those types of things rubbed off on me as well. You saw how important it was to promote the program in the community, to get people to like you and like your kids. If you did that, then they would be willing to support the program.
Once I started my coaching career, I was very fortunate to be close to Tommy Lasorda. Every time I was with Tommy I learned more and more about how to handle players, how to build their confidence, how to create an environment that players enjoy playing in and how important that was to your success.
I have also had former assistants go on to have great success as head coaches, like Brian O'Connor at Virginia. He has many of those same qualities – charisma, knowledge, a tremendous will to win, work ethic, and uncompromised integrity. I hope that he and others learned some of that from our time together.
IP: What does it mean to be a 2014 ABCA Hall of Famer?
I’m not ashamed to tell you that when I was a young coach, I dreamt of one day having a career that would be honored in this kind of way. As you get older, however, you start to realize that those types of things aren’t really as important to you as you thought they might be. I know in some people’s eyes it may validate a career. It’s certainly a great honor and I’m not downplaying it as I’m extremely honored to be in a group of people who were my idols growing up. I think the thing I’m probably most proud about is that my father and I will be the only father-son combination in the ABCA Hall of Fame. I’m really proud that my mom and dad are around and get the enjoyment of seeing their son honored for his hard work because, obviously, nothing would have been possible without their love and support. It means a lot to me because all of my heroes are in that fraternity, but at the same time, I don’t think being selected to the Hall of Fame would have necessitated a validation of my career. Had I not been selected, I still would have felt very proud of what we’ve done and that I’ve worked very hard at each of the four schools I’ve coached.
I’ve enjoyed coaching and I make no apologies for wanting to win and be successful because I think it’s the American way. I’ve just been very fortunate to attract quality baseball players and quality people who have been committed and dedicated and have gone out there and performed at a high level. In 32 years of coaching, I haven’t thrown a ball once, I haven’t fielded a ball once, and I haven’t hit or run the bases. It’s all because of the efforts of the young people that are on your team that receive this kind of recognition. This award is really an accumulation of a lot of people’s efforts. I hope they feel a part of it.
IP: How do you deal with the “pressure” of being the head coach at LSU?
Honestly, I have never once felt the pressure at LSU. People may think I’m lying when I say that, but I learned the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned many, many years ago from my father. And that is, “You only have to answer to one person…and that’s the person that you see in the mirror every morning.” My attitude is that if you’re satisfied that you did the very best that you could, that you prepared yourself, that you were confident, then you don’t worry about what others think of you. You know whether or not you did the right things. Nobody has to tell you that you did well or you did bad. And if you know you did the right things, then the criticism shouldn’t bother you. But have high standards for yourself and dream big.
That’s really the way I approach it. I know if I’ve done the right thing and if I’ve worked hard enough. I’m my own worst critic. If you satisfy yourself, then generally speaking, usually the other people will be satisfied. Most importantly, the people I want to be satisfied with me are the coaches on our staff and the players on our team. If the players and the coaches respect you and the way you go about your business, that’s all I need to know. If those people respect you, usually the success will follow.
I tell people all the time around Baton Rouge that I think apathy is worse than criticism. I’d much rather people care and have opinions about things than not care at all. If you really want them to care, then occasionally you’re going to get some criticism. The expectations are high here…and they should be high. We have tremendous resources, great history, and tradition.
Some people will never be satisfied, I know that, but the great majority of the people understand that you can’t
win every game and you can’t win the national championship every year. If you’re competitive year in and year out and you’re doing things the right way, if your kids are good role models for the community, they’re going to school and graduating, and your program is a credit to the university and the community, most people are pretty satisfied with that.
IP: How have you dealt or will you continue to deal with changing bats, baseballs, etc. and do you have an opinion on the matter?
I don’t think the bats are going to change, but if the ball can bring a little bit more life back into the offense, I’m all for it. I’m all for anything that creates interest and excitement in this sport. I’ve never thought it was a matter of winning or losing as I think that good coaches will always adapt to whatever circumstances they have to deal with, whatever their unique circumstances at their school are, and whatever the conditions of the sport. Good coaches will find a way to adapt and succeed. I just always worried about the popularity of the sport in the public eye and administrative support of the sport. I was, and am, afraid that would waiver with less offense. That is my opinion and my concern.
IP: What do you know now that you wish you knew 31 years ago? Advice to young coaches?
I don’t really know that I have any regrets about how I’ve done things, but the one thing I realized early in my career was that there is a lot of anxiety that comes with getting your first opportunity…and whether it will lead to another even better opportunity. I think that’s just human nature, to be concerned about those things. My belief is that if you just do a really good job in the position that you’re in now and not let your ambition to get a new job drive you, be committed to the players who are under your umbrella of responsibility right now and do a great job with them, then people will notice. Your reputation will grow.
As long as you’re getting to know people, you’re networking, and people know who you are because you’re friendly, you get out and visit with people and you do a good job, people notice and it leads to more opportunities. I think the people that let their ambition drive them, that are always working on that next job, never find happiness inside. Coaches who love what they’re doing because they’re teaching young people how to be successful, they’re committed to the players that are under their tutelage at that moment, and they’re doing such a good job with those kids, are the most happy and successful people. What happens then is somebody else noticed the job you have done and other opportunities end up coming your way. The people doing it just to get the next opportunity don’t usually end up getting that job they covet – or they fail when they get it and it ruins their career. Everybody wants to move up the ladder and get a bigger job, a better-paying job to provide for their families and so forth. You just have to be patient and be committed to the kids you have right now, and find happiness in dealing with them.
When I was coaching at St. Thomas University, when I first got that job, I was getting paid $3,200 a year to do it, and I was the happiest guy in the world. I had an opportunity to work with young people on a baseball field and impact their lives. Money just doesn’t buy your happiness; you actually have to enjoy what you’re doing. And if you do a good job, other opportunities will come to you. You just have to believe that, believe in yourself, and believe that good things will happen for you. IP