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Baseball: Successful Skippers – The Legacies of Mainieri and Robichaux

Trey Labat, The Advertiser, June 5, 2015



UL head coach Tony Robichaux and LSU head coach Paul Mainieri speak prior to an NCAA baseball game at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Paul Kieu, The Advertiser(Photo: Paul Kieu, The Advertiser / AP)


When Saturday’s game finishes both Paul Mainieri and Tony Robichaux will have a long list of things on their to-do lists.

One of them will be to check how the Maryland vs. Virginia super regional went.

Not because either is doing any advanced scouting, but because both teams are coached by former University of Louisiana at Lafayette and LSU assistants, respectively.

Maryland coach John Szefc served as an assistant under Robichaux for six years (2003-08), while Virginia coach Brian O’Conner coached under Mainieri for nine years (1995-2001) at Notre Dame.

Mainieri said he takes pride in his assistants moving on to get head coaching jobs and finding success.

“There’s a lot of things that you can take pride in as a head coach, obviously your players going on to be All-American’s or Major League Baseball players, I have a former player that is a general in the Air Force that I’m really proud of,” Mainieri said. “But the thing that is probably equal to those things is seeing your former assistant coaches go on to be head coaches and be successful head coaches.”

Robichaux said between Mainieri, him and LSU coaching legend Skip Bertman the coaching tree this series spreads out almost as far as the eye can see.

“I’ve got five or six of my former assistants coaching now and you can see the coaching tree from here with both (Mainieri) and (Bertman) from the other dugout,” Robichaux said. “(Ole Miss coach Mike) Bianco broke through last year, unfortunately he broke through on my home field, but I was glad for him. It was his first time busting through and I know what that feels like.”

Robichaux said the coaching spread throughout the sport has helped the game grow, giving the fans a better product to watch.

As good coaches spread through the nation the bottom half of college baseball becomes more competitive, spreading parity throughout the sport.

“I think that is what makes college baseball so tough today. It’s not that the top as gotten bad, it’s that the bottom has gotten good,” Robichaux said. “If you look back to 15 years ago, great assistants just always stayed with those coaches.

A couple of years ago we had Turtle Thomas come through and now I’m fighting him at FIU,” Robichaux said. “So I think so many great assistants have traveled now and brought good baseball all over the place that now baseball is just good everywhere. It’s good for the game of baseball.”

Mainieri said he had the chance to coach against Szefc a couple of years ago when the Tigers played Maryland and has respected the Robichaux disciple for a long time.

“We played Maryland a couple of years ago and I have a lot of respect for him,” Mainieri said. “I think he’s going to be a real superstar in the coaching profession.”

As for why the two coaches have produced so many top-level head coaches for the rest of baseball, neither Robichaux nor Mainieri had a definitive answer.

But Mainieri had an idea.

“So both of our coaching trees are starting to gather a lot of leaves,” Mainieri said. “Probably because we’re getting kind of old. Well I can’t speak for Tony, but I’m as old as dirt.”

Respect for each other

One of the things that stands out between the two coaches is the mutual respect they have for one another coaching styles.

The men are different kinds of coaches, motivators and strategists but both have experienced tremendous success in their long and storied coaching careers.

For Robichaux, he’s been fighting against LSU for longer than most of his players have been alive.

“We’ve got so much respect for Paul (Mainieri). When I was 24 years old I took over at McNeese and came here to try and slay Bertman,” Robichaux said. “We’ve been after it for a long time. All he did for college baseball from then on, this program is very storied.”

Mainieri said while the coaches don’t have a social relationship outside of baseball, through the years he’s grown fond of coaching against Robichaux.

And despite what both fan bases think, or want to think, the two cheer for each other when they aren’t playing.

“I’m happy for them when they do well,” Mainieri said. “We have never socialized on a personal level, I can’t pretend that we know each other that well but I have a lot of respect for him and the job that he’s done.”

Robichaux said Mainieri was one of the first text messages he received congratulating him on earning his 1,000th win, and once the super regional matchup was set Mainieri sent him another congratulatory text.

On the field when I got to 1,000th win, Paul was one of the first people to send me a text congratulating me,” Robichaux said. “When we won the Regional in Houston, Paul sent me a text saying it was going to be a great weekend and I told him I was happy for his team and told him the same thing.”

In fact, it was the respect the two had for each other that helped the Cajuns and the Tigers start playing again after the teams discontinued their series amidst some issues.

Robichaux said he told his team to tell people that it was 2015, not 2002, and to put that type of nonsense out of the game.

“I extended the olive branch when I got here to try and get these teams playing again to create a nice competitive rivalry, so I wanted to reinstate the series,” Mainieri said.

Robichaux said no matter what happens, both fan bases should be excited to watch the great talent in Louisiana baseball, whether it be Tiger or Cajun.

“We’re coming to play baseball, some people kept trying to bring up 2002, but I told our players to tell them that it was 2015. We have a lot of respect for them,” Robichaux said. “One great thing is that the state of Louisiana is going to be represented in the College World Series and it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Paul Mainieri coaching tree

Brian O’Connor, Virginia

Rick Hitt, South Florida

Terry Rooney, Central Florida

Cliff Godwin, East Carolina

Mike Kazlausky, Air Force

Cory Mee, Toledo

Eric Campbell, General Manager Team USA

Al Avila, Assistant General Manager Detroit Tigers

Tony Robichaux coaching tree

Todd Butler, Wichita State

Matt Deggs, Sam Houston State

Jason Gonzales, Texas A&M-Kingsville

Brad Holland, ex-UL Monroe (now a Philadelphia Phillies scout)

Jim Ricklefsen, ex-McNeese State (now Lamar associate head coach)

Wade Simoneaux, ex-Louisiana Tech (now West Monroe High head coach)

John Szefc, Maryland