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Friday, May 23, 2008

Mainieri -- another great hire by Bertman

HOOVER, Ala. LSU’s 8-2 victory over Vanderbilt Thursday night gave LSU its 18th straight win, but it also pushed coach Paul Mainieri’s record to 15-12-1 against coaches who were either candidates to get the LSU job after the 2006 season or were fan favorites to get the job.

At the time two years ago, following the firing of Smoke Laval by athletic director and former coach Skip Bertman, many Laval loyalists and subsequent Bertman haters said the big names out there did not want the job because Bertman micro-managed the program and was always breathing down Laval's neck. That was not true. In fact, had Laval sought out Bertman's advice more, as Mainieri has, he probably would have done better.

Mainieri is thankful to Bertman for hiring him instead of being bitter toward him and clearly does not mind Bertman being around the program, which is something Bertman very much deserves and will always deserve since he built the program. Mainieri also embraced the pressure of the job. He knows he has to get to Omaha regularly and win national championships. Other candidated feared that and preferred to stay put.

Like Les Miles before him, Mainieri is proving to be another great Bertman hire who was at first criticized before it was realized that Bertman indeed has the magic touch in the athletic director's chair as well as on the baseball diamond.

Mainieri will try on Saturday to match Bertman's school record winning streak of 19 games, which was done to open the season by the 1997 team that went on to win Bertman's fourth national title. No. 2 seed LSU (41-16-1) plays at 1:30 p.m.

Saturday against the winner of tonight's 6:30 game between No. 5 seed Alabama (33-25) and No. 4 seed Kentucky (42-16). Kentucky lost to No. 8 seed Ole Miss 8-7 late Thursday on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth by Michael Guerrero.

Ole Miss, like LSU, enjoyed Friday off and joins the Tigers as the only 2-0 teams in the field, which has been reduced from eight to six teams with Georgia and Florida eliminated. In the first of two games today, No. 7 seed South Carolina plays No. 6 seed Vanderbilt at 3 with the winner playing Ole Miss Saturday at 10 a.m.

How fitting would it be for LSU to reach the College World Series this year with Bertman passing his final days as athletic director in his home away from home - Omaha, which is also known as College Baseball Heaven.

Here's the rundown on Mainieri versus the candidates.

-4-2 against Alabama coach Jim Wells, who was very interested in the job and traveled to Omaha, Neb., to the College World Series to talk to athletic director Skip Bertman about it.

-4-2 against South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, whom LSU was interested in but that interest was not returned. LSU fans really wanted Tanner and assumed he would just leave what is a great program. He did not want to do that.

- 3-2-1 against Kentucky’s John Cohen, a rising young coach who was very interested in the job and would have taken it.

- 3-3 against Ole Miss’ Mike Bianco, a former LSU player and assistant coach who was a very popular choice among LSU fans and athletic department officials. But Bianco has had the Rebels on the cusp of great things and took his name out.

- 1-3 against Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin, who interviewed for the job with Bertman. Corbin publicly took his name out of the running, but in reality Bertman decided to go another direction. Bertman knows Corbin is a great coach and would have probably done a great job, but he didn't think he was quite the fit.

Mainieri, at the moment, is fitting like your favorite baseball glove.


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