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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mainieri nearing coach of the year honors

BATON ROUGE - Georgia coach Dave Perno is a very deserving Southeastern Conference coach of the year. The Bulldogs were picked to finish fourth in the SEC East and won the regular season title handily with a 20-9-1 record. His team exited the SEC Tournament quickly, but it had the best overall regular season. His team was more consistent than LSU, which finished with a 20-0 run after a poor start.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri, meanwhile, should be the national coach of the half-year after climbing from an 11th place slot in the SEC to a second place finish and from fifth in the West to the West title. His 20-game winning streak really is phenomenal, considering that it happened late and mainly against SEC teams. Many of the longest streaks in the SEC happened early in the season often against weaker, non-conference teams.

Mainieri's team was picked to finish fifth in the West. Coaches of the year are usually based on accomplishment versus expectation. This is why Sylvester Croom was deservingly the SEC football coach of the year last season. LSU coach Les Miles won the national championship, but he was expected to do so or get close to it since the talented and experienced Tigers entered the 2007 season ranked No. 2 in the nation.

The real college baseball season starts Friday with the opening of NCAA Regional play. As hard as it was to imagine LSU making the SEC Tournament just about a month ago, it is now hard to imagine this team not making it to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series. LSU could lose a game in this regional. Watch UNO, which has already beaten LSU twice this season, knock off the Tigers Saturday night in Alex Box Stadium. If that happens, though, look for LSU to go through the loser's bracket with much more pitching than perhaps any team in the nation and winning the regional on Monday.

Then it will be on to the Super Regional, also in Alex Box. I can't see Nebraska or any other team from the Lincoln, Neb., regional coming down here and beating LSU in the Super.

Should LSU get to Omaha, your national coach of the year is Paul Mainieri. He has authored a remarkable turnaround and an uncanny winning streak. He is also only in his second year after inheriting a program that was going downhill. Like Miles, he has a lot of talent on this team. But it just got here and it took time for that talent to mesh. It had not been playing together for years, which was the case with the football team.

College baseball is much different than college football. Rosters change dramatically over a year or two. Players rarely stay in the program for four and five years as in football. Nearly this whole LSU team was recruited and signed by Mainieri and his staff. More importantly, his players have gotten better under him.
And it doesn't look like that's going to cease any time soon.

I'll say it again, outgoing LSU athletic director Skip Bertman needs to start his own coaching search business. It's not a reach to say his hires - Miles and Mainieri - could win back-to-back national championships within less than six months of one another.


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