How long can a person survive off a lone championship ring?
That’s the question I kept letting marinate in my mind two Mondays ago as I watched the University of Houston batter and bruise the LSU baseball team on the baseball diamond.
How long will the ring be all that we see when looking at a man’s resume? How long will LSU fans accept the slightly above average program that is being run by current coach Paul Mainieri?
How long will it take for us to see that aside from the magical 2009 season, the other seven years of Mainieri’s tenure have been very, very bland? In fact, statistically, they’ve been worse than the numbers posted by former coach Smoke Laval – one of the least liked people in recent history of the Tigers’ program. When will fans see the truth and that the proof is in the pudding? When will the LSU supporters realize that this current coach is less like Skip Bertman and more like Gene Chizik – the gold standard for coaches who earned a ring, but then regressed to the statistical mean of mediocrity?
I know, I know. I sound like a nega-Tiger. I sound like a guy overreacting to a tough weekend where my alma mater got its tail kicked. But trust me, this column has been brewing in my mind for a while now. It could have just as easily been written in 2011 when the team missed the NCAA Tournament altogether. It could have also been printed in 2012 when the Tigers were humiliated on their home field by a Stony Brook team in the Super Regionals that proceeded to lose two-straight games in the College World Series.
Heck, it could have even been written last year when LSU broke the ice, reached the CWS and then were ousted in two-straight games.
But after those instances, I held my tongue and decided to let another year go by before passing judgment. But enough is enough, and it’s time for this message to be spoken. That message is this: It’s time for Mainieri to be put on notice that he either needs to bring back LSU to national prominence or find another place to coach. It’s time to show that the one championship season wasn’t a fluke and that the seven other seasons of mediocrity were not the norm that LSU fans should become accustomed to.
The LSU baseball program is an elite program within the sport of college baseball. They are blue bloods within the sport – easily one of the top three or four teams that everyone else in the country mimics when sculpting their plans for success on the diamond.
The Tigers are to baseball what Alabama is to college football. LSU baseball is similar competitively to Kentucky or North Carolina in basketball.
As a coach, it’s just sort of an unwritten rule that you either have to win big or go find another place to coach.
It sounds like a spoiled brat’s mentality, but kiss the rings. Since 1991, LSU has won six national championships. No other college baseball program has won more than two – a feat accomplished by a handful of programs across the country (Cal State Fullerton, Miami, Texas and Oregon State).
LSU is the elite program in the country – the place that most top-tier players want to be throughout their collegiate careers.
But in recent years, some of that LSU magic has faded, and it’s time that we start to evaluate whether or not things are headed in the right direction.
Sure, the Tigers have a coach who has led the team to a College World Series title, but lets peak at the resume as a whole.
Mainieri has completed eight seasons in Baton Rouge. During that time, he’s won more than 70 percent of his games and more than 57 percent of his games in SEC play.
The Tigers have owned the SEC Tournament under Mainieri’s watch and have taken home the big trophy in five of the past seven seasons.
That’s the good news.
But while all of those accolades are nice, the team’s success in the NCAA Tournament has not quite been as sparkling.
During Mainieri’s eight years, LSU has reached the College World Series three times. That’s an above-average ratio, a mark that is on par with some of the elites in the sport. But what is not OK is that the team only seriously pushed for the national championship in one of those years (2009). The other two trips were mostly empty, posting just a 1-4 record while there.
But what is even more thought provoking is what happens to LSU in the seasons where the team doesn’t go to Omaha. The answer to that is mediocrity at its finest.
In two of Mainieri’s seasons, LSU didn’t reach the NCAA Tournament at all – in 2007 and 2011.
In fairness, the 2007 season was his first with the team, and he inherited a train wreck of a roster. But what was the excuse in 2011? That was year five. The program should have been purring along by then, right?
In two other seasons, the coach has lost in the NCAA Regionals, meaning that the Tigers were not one of the Top 16 teams in America.
So by that math, we see that in four of Mainieri’s eight years, LSU was not a Top 16 team. In two of the eight years, the Tigers weren’t even a Top 64 team.
Would Kentucky basketball allow this to happen? Would Alabama football allow this to happen?
Heck, would LSU football allow Les Miles to miss a bowl game twice in the same decade? Indeed not. If LSU missed a bowl game once in Miles’ tenure, the team’s fans would want to burn him at the stake and send him back to Michigan with a one-way ticket.
So why is it OK for LSU baseball, a program with similar expectations and a similar mindset?
It’s understood that the game of college baseball has changed, and we understand that the new bats have limited hitting prowess, which makes the game stricken with parity.
But to be outside of the Top 16 in four of eight seasons? That’s not something LSU fans should be happy with.
Where was the parity in the sport when South Carolina reached the finals of the College World Series in three-straight seasons from 2010-12?
Where was the parity when Oregon State won the College World Series back-to-back seasons from 2006-2007?
Parity is greater in college baseball today, but realistically, it’s the same 15-20 programs that cycle into and out of the College World Series every season.
And unfortunately, LSU doesn’t cycle in as often as they used to. And when they do, they cycle out in two games, hardly able to score a run.
So how long will it last? How long can a person survive off a lone championship season?
It beats me.
I’m not an athletic director.
But if I were, I’d damn sure be studying the 2015 LSU baseball season with a very fine toothcomb.
Because 2009 was five years ago now.
Sure, the ring the team earned then was nice.
But the Tigers haven’t won a single College World Series game since.
For LSU’s standards, that’s not good enough. That simply has to change. We’re not saying Mainieri is the problem. We’re just saying all things need to be considered.