LSU Baseball Coach Interview

Coaching, On and Off the Field
October 25-31, 2009 Issue | Posted 10/16/09 at 3:13 PM

Paul Mainieri knows all about the World Series — the College World Series, that is.

In June of this year, the Louisiana State University head baseball coach guided his team to its first NCAA title since 2000, with a decisive 11-4 victory over the Texas Longhorns. Mainieri’s LSU Tigers started the season ranked No. 1 and ended the season in the same position, producing a 56-17 record overall.

Mainieri is two games shy of reaching 1,000 wins in his coaching career, posting a record of 998 wins and 554 losses. His 27 seasons of coaching include 12 as head coach at Notre Dame from 1995 to 2006, with a record of 533-213. Over the years, he has received numerous awards, including the 2009 Coach of the Year Award from the American Baseball Coaches Association.

However, win-loss records, rankings and trophies are much less important to Coach Mainieri than relationships with his players, fellow coaches and his family. External rewards can be fun, but what is most rewarding for him is trying to be the man God wants him to be, which he believes is expressed in how good a husband and father one is, before any career achievements. “I’d much rather be known as a great father, husband and Catholic ... than a great baseball coach,” he says.

Mainieri is the father of four children — ranging in age from 15 to 25 — with his wife, Karen, whom he met when he attended LSU as an undergraduate in 1976. He spoke with Register correspondent Trent Beattie.

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams won 10 national championships, said, “When people ask me if I miss coaching UCLA basketball games, the national championships, the attention, the trophies and everything that goes with them, I tell them this: I miss the practices.” Is this your view, as well — valuing the game itself more than any outside rewards?

I do not think there is anything wrong in aspiring to be successful at anything you do. In fact, I believe that you are not doing God’s will if you don’t try to be the best you can be. I tell my players all the time, “Your talent is a gift from God. Your way of thanking him is to develop that talent to its fullest potential.”

With success come championships, awards and advancement. Those things come and go, though, and don’t mean as much as knowing you had a positive impact on a person’s life. For me, it is all about the relationships that are developed and knowing you have helped someone.

How does your Catholic faith impact the way you coach?

Very much so and in many different ways. To name a few ways: My faith gives me strength when the pressure is the greatest, helps me realize there are more important things in life when failures feel fatal, and it keeps me humble in success. I’d much rather be known as a great father, husband and Catholic ... than a great baseball coach.

How does your faith influence your daily life, and what do you think of the idea that faith should be a private matter?

My faith is with me all the time no matter what I do, whether I vocalize it or not. I will share with someone else why I think my faith is important if I think sharing those thoughts will help someone deal with issues in their life. However, I don’t think I can force it on my players for fear they may think I will hold it against them if they don’t believe as I do. In other words, I don’t want a player to ever think he is not being played because he doesn’t believe as I do.

Was there a decisive point in your life when you started to take your faith more seriously?

I was raised in a strong Catholic family where my parents explained why faith was so important. I never questioned it, so it has always been a part of my life. My inner happiness comes from knowing my roles in life ... and that eternal life is waiting.

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

Simply knowing that I am helping a youngster learn how to be successful. That was the only reason I went into coaching, and it remains my purpose today. Right now I am helping him be successful on the ball field or in school. Later on, he will use those teachings to be successful in the bigger game: the game of life.

I love it every time a former player will contact me years after playing for me to tell me how he thinks about the lessons he learned from me and that he applies in his everyday life.

Do you have a favorite saint and/or favorite devotion?

I say the Rosary a lot. My favorite saint was always St. Jude because my parents gave me his medal when I was young, and I wore it all the time.

Believe me, it helped me through a lot of “hopeless causes” as I was growing up.

What are some of your favorite (Catholic) books?

Hard one to answer, because I have to admit I don’t read enough anymore.

Who are some of your favorite coaches and players — either from an athletic standpoint or from an all-around human standpoint?

I have always admired the players that displayed the qualities of toughness, competitiveness, hardwork and leadership. Yet they also displayed the qualities of sportsmanship, unselfishness, teamwork, humility in victory and dignity in defeat. Some of my favorite athletes were Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys, Pete Maravich when he played basketball at LSU, and Bob Griese of the Miami Dolphins.

My favorite coaches were and always will be: 1) my father (who is a Hall of Fame junior-college baseball coach), 2) Tommy Lasorda of the L.A. Dodgers, 3) Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers and 4) Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins.

Trent Beattie writes from Seattle, Washington.