LSU coach isn’t feeling extra pressure of inking seven-figure extension
By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Eleven years ago Paul Mainieri risked financial ruin to buy himself out of Notre Dame, wagering heavily on his own abilities to win big given everything LSU had to offer.
This offseason the LSU coach inked a four-year contract extension that runs through 2024 and will pay him $1.125 million in annual salary, one of the highest figures ever for a college baseball coach.
The accompanying raise, worth $375,000 per year, comes in addition to a $100,000 bonus at the completion of each season he remains with the program, according to the contract, approved by LSU’s Board of Supervisors last September.
Mainieri’s approach to coaching the Tigers, he says, remains the same heading into year 11 on the job as it did at the outset of year one. When the annual expectations are already reaching Omaha and winning national championships, the pressure can’t be ratcheted up much higher.
“You can’t be paid well and have a contract and then not have much expected from me,” Mainieri says. “I didn’t get a contract out of the goodness of people’s hearts. I got the contract because they expect me to be the leader of a college baseball program that’s going to compete at the highest level.
“That doesn’t change the fact that all I can do is do the best I can and use my knowledge and experience, my past success and past failures, to improve and do what we need to do to become as good as we can.”
What some may not realize is that Mainieri, well-compensated as he is, actually left money on the table to stay at LSU.
Texas brought its checkbook when it came calling last offseason in the midst of its high-profile, big-budget national search for Augie Garrido’s replacement.
The laundry list of names linked to last summer’s biggest vacancy read like a who’s who of the nation’s premier college coaches — most of whom received subsequent raises — before the Longhorns hired Tulane coach David Pierce.
By the time Texas administrators reached out to Mainieri, they were set to offer the coach the moon to move to Austin. He could’ve made roughly $3.2 million more over the life of the contract had he opted to leave, a source familiar with the talks confirmed.
Mainieri declined to comment on specifics of what Texas brass discussed, though he characterized his decision to stay as not being about the money. The coach maintains he never asked for any attention from Texas and never intended to leverage the Longhorns into a contract extension from Joe Alleva.
“I just wanted to know that Joe still wanted me to be the baseball coach here,” Mainieri says. “And once he demonstrated that, for me, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. But I didn’t want to be somewhere where I wasn’t wanted, either.”
It’s important to remember the reverence Mainieri holds for LSU. He met his wife, Karen, on campus during his freshman year as a Tiger. That bond held as he moved on to play for his legendary father, Demie, at Miami-Dade North Community College and his professional mentor, Ron Maestri, at UNO.
Spending the past decade in Baton Rouge has allowed Mainieri to set down roots of his own. Three of Mainieri’s four children have met their spouses here and now reside in Louisiana. His fourth is graduating from LSU and will attend LSU Dental School next fall. Paul and Karen welcomed their third grandchild in January.
Mainieri also knew from experience how difficult it would be to say goodbye to a program that felt like home. When he left Notre Dame, he says, former players told him they didn’t feel the same connection to the program anymore.
He also revealed that while “contemplating” his decision, a handful of current players including Alex Lange, Antoine Duplantis, Cole Freeman, Kramer Robertson and Greg Deichmann either stopped by his office or called to implore the coach to stay.
“I hope we can win enough games and championships over the next eight years that I can fulfill this contract and finish on my own terms,” he says. “This is where I want to be. I love LSU. I love the program. I love the city. I love the state. This is home, for me and my family. This is where I want to finish it up. But I want people to be proud of the baseball program we have here.”
That last bit is important. Mainieri also wanted a demonstration that Alleva was committed to taking the necessary steps to maintain the program’s status as a premier baseball institution, and he got it.
LSU is planning to build a brand new weight room at the already state-of-the-art Alex Box Stadium. The program hired Jamie Tutko as a video coordinator and built a video room. Alan Dunn, LSU’s pitching guru and Mainieri’s right-hand man, received his own promotion, raise and contract extension.
“I always wanted to stay, I really did,” Mainieri says. “But there were some things that needed to be worked out. I needed to see that Joe wanted the program to prosper and do well, and he’s proven that.”
Now it’s Mainieri’s turn to prove that Alleva made a prudent investment.