By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
It was only a matter of time before Andy Cannizaro took over his own program, but few could’ve predicted it’d in the Southeastern Conference at the tender age of 37.
Mississippi State announced Saturday that Cannizaro has been hired to replace long-time coach John Cohen, who was formally introduced as the school’s new athletics director one day earlier.
“I am extremely honored and humbled by the opportunity to become the head baseball coach at Mississippi State and would like to thank President Keenum and John Cohen for trusting me to continue the success of this historic program into the future,” Cannizaro said through an official release. “My family and I could not be more excited to become a part of the Starkville community. Our team and our staff understand the tradition and pride in Mississippi State baseball and will be relentless in our pursuit of our first national championship.”
Saturday’s announcement comes as confirmation of news that got out Thursday evening.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Thursday evening that Cohen called him Thursday morning to inform him of his intent to hire Cannizaro once his promotion became official. He’s expected to be formally introduced at a press conference Monday.
“My overwhelming emotion is that I’d be very happy for Andy,” Mainieri said Thursday. “It’s a tremendous opportunity. He’s been a very loyal, hard-working guy for the LSU Tigers, and he’s done a really great job.”
Cannizaro was absent from the first game of LSU’s Purple and Gold World Series Thursday. Mainieri said he gave the third-year assistant the day off “to get his life in order.”
Mainieri addressed the situation with his team following the conclusion of the seven-inning scrimmage so they could hear the news from him. He said he planned on calling LSU’s recruits Friday morning.
Though young and relatively new to the college game, Cannizaro brings an impressive list of credentials with him to Starkville, one of SEC’s baseball powerhouses.
The Mandeville native was a four-year starter and multiple time All-American shortstop for Tulane and led the program to its first College World Series in 2001. He was drafted by the New York Yankees and had a brief Major League career.
Following his playing days, Cannizaro joined the Yankees’ front office and drew acclaim for his work as an area scout before deciding to move to the college route. He’s served as Mainieri’s hitting coach and recruiting coordinator since taking over for Javi Sanchez after the 2014 season.
His work during two and a half seasons at LSU speaks for itself. LSU ranked among the nation’s best offensive teams with a veteran-laden lineup in 2015 and then again with eight new everyday starters last season. He’s also signed top-5 recruiting classes in each of his three cycles as coordinator.
Cannizaro interviewed for the head coaching vacancy at Tulane, his alma matter, during the summer, but he was passes over for the job for Vanderbilt assistant Travis Jewett. Now he’ll begin his head coaching career in the rough-and-tumble SEC West.
“It’s not often where a coach with two and a half years of college assistant coaching experience gets a head coaching job in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “It’s a big bit. Especially there, it’s a pretty pressurized situation. But if anybody can handle it at that experience level, it’s Andy.”
As far as what the news means for LSU, assuming nothing changes, Cannizaro’s departure leaves a hole on Mainieri’s staff.
While this Saturday looms as a big recruiting weekend for LSU — National Signing Day for baseball is Nov. 9 — Mainieri said there wouldn’t be any rush to fill a staff vacancy. LSU’s fall practice season wrapped up Friday night with a scrimmage.
“I feel very confident that we’ll be fine,” Mainieri said. “This year, fortunately, we’ve got a very veteran team. And, you know, it’s LSU. We’re going to attract a really quality coach.”
He continued: “We’ll be a little bit more deliberate than I normally am in making a staff decision because I just don’t feel like there will be any rush and I want to make sure we do the right thing.”
LSU will close out the regular season in Starkville against Cannizaro and the Bulldogs with a three-game series set to begin on May 18.