New LSU head baseball coach Jay Johnson absolutely won his introductory press conference Monday in the Champions Club in Alex Box Stadium.
He started off paying homage to former Tigers’ head coaches Skip Bertman and Paul Mainieri. The Tigers won five national championships (1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000) in Bertman’s 18 seasons and added another national title (2009) in Mainieri’s 15 seasons.
Here’s Johnson on Bertman, Mainieri and a variety of topics:
On Skip Bertman
I was a very young coach, like 24 years old, 23 years old coaching Connie Mack baseball, and I had no idea what I was doing at that point in time, so who’s the best in the country at what I want to do? It was Skip Bertman. So, I bought his videotape, so he made some money off me a long time ago. It was called “How to Win The Big One.”
I can’t tell you how influential that was in my development as a coach. I have a great story about this, too. I was coaching 16- to 18-year-old boys, and your speech, speeches and your motivational sheets and all of these things that you utilized to motivate your players to do amazing things.
Five national championships in a 10-year period is legendary. I look at this man and I see the John Wooden of college baseball. This is the greatest college baseball coach of my entire lifetime.
Coach, we didn’t meet until yesterday, we didn’t talk on the phone until a couple days ago, but you’ve been influencing me for a very long time. I want to say thank you for that. I’m not standing here today if it’s not for that right there, because winning is about people and getting people to do things that they didn’t think were possible.
On Paul Mainieri
I was 29 years old at the University of San Diego, probably in June, probably sometime right around this time, Coach Mainieri was hired at LSU. I watched that press conference, and I’m not into that sort of thing all the time, but who’s Skip Bertman going to choose to lead LSU baseball back to national prominence? Paul Mainieri.
I remember, Coach, watching that day and thinking about you that’s exactly how I want to do this, and it was very clear to me that Coach made the right choice.
Another great story about Coach Mainieri that I’ll never forget.
I was at the convention in San Diego in maybe 2002 or 2003. Coach Mainieri’s speech was `How do you win in cold weather? He was (coaching) at Notre Dame, so I’m like, man, I’m coaching in San Diego right now, I can’t wait to hear this. So, Coach Mainieri goes up there, and he goes `People were asking me, how did you do it, how did you get to Omaha at Notre Dame?’ He goes, `Yeah, it’s real simple how to win in the cold; the first thing you’ve got to do is put on a jacket.’ And he puts on a jacket.
And right then and there, that was an example of another man, another leader that really knew exactly how to inspire people to get to people and all of those things.
Now fast forward 15 years, the day Coach Mainieri announced his retirement. The SEC Network is on all over the United States, and we had a late game that night. It was in the afternoon, and Coach was probably up here in the same room talking about retiring, and I watched the press conference, for no other reason than I just wanted to hear him talk about his journey, his lifelong passion, where he was at, how he got to that point.
Coach, the class that you displayed in that was something that’s what I want to emulate on a daily basis. Thank you for setting such a great example as a national championship coach that did everything exactly how it needed to be done. At that time there was nothing on my mind other than getting to Omaha and the College World Series, but I shot Coach a text and I just said, Thank you for being such a good example. This is exactly how I want to do this.
On Bertman and Mainieri
More than anybody else, these two men right here, that’s why I call this the honor of my lifetime, okay, to be entrusted with a program that Coach Bertman built and that Coach Mainieri carried on with first class every day that they did it.
The only thing better than they are as baseball coaches is incredible human beings. I’m glad you’re both in town. I’m glad I have both of your phone numbers, and it will be used continually as we try to carry on this legacy that both of you guys have done an amazing job building. So, thank you, guys.
On taking over a storied program
I’m going to work harder than any baseball coach in the country. Our players are going to work harder than any other college baseball team in the country. We’re not going to win because it says Tigers across our chests. We’re going to win because of the heartbeat inside of the player with Tigers on his chest, the head, the decision making of the player that has Tigers written across his chest and doing things on a daily basis that are going to lead to the improvements necessary to be an elite Division I baseball team that’s playing their best at the end of the season.
LSU is not going to win championships because of things that happened in the past. LSU is going to win championships because of the decisions everybody involved in the program, our administration, our coaching staff, our players, our support staff, our fans are all united, all aligned doing the things that they need to do to ensure that happens.
On his three career influences
The first one is my dad. I was very lucky to get an early start on what is a coach, what is a great coach. My dad was a (high school) football and track coach. He did not lose a track meet for literally a 10-year period. I grew up at seven, eight, nine years old watching game tape. My dad showed me exactly how to do this thing, held a high standard.
Scott Sarver was my college coach. He saw something in me and gave me an opportunity from when my playing career is over to immediately coaching, and at 23, 24 years old, run out to third base, run the offense, go recruit, figure out ways to get better players. I didn’t approach that job like I was at an NAIA school, I approached it like I was at LSU. I got to learn, I got to develop, I got to make mistakes, I got to see what worked.
As associate head coach at the University of San Diego for a man named Rich Hill, I got an eight-year crash course in exactly how an elite Division I baseball program should be run. . . teaching, motivating, developing, how you treat your players, how you hold them accountable and all of that. I was given great autonomy to do my job within the program like I was a head coach, and the greatest compliment I got from Coach Hill was, `You’re not like everybody else, you did this for eight years like this was your program.’
On his personal strength as a hitting coach
I have some very strong beliefs in terms of mechanics, in terms of vision, in terms of at-bats, in terms of what we call moving the offense, and every day of our practice sessions or I call it training sessions is geared towards players improving. So, game day shows up and they know exactly what to do, and then our staff is putting them in position to know exactly what’s happening, how it’s going to happen and what’s going to be required of them to execute, to move the offense, to score runs.
Ultimately, I want teams to hate to play us, and I think we accomplished that the last couple of offensive teams that we had, and that’s what I want to do at LSU.
On learning the returnees from the 2021 roster
I’ve watched some video over the past week or five days, whatever it’s been, and we’re starting a process of communicating some things with those players that we want them to do better and give them a blueprint to improve and to get better at.
It starts there, and the only way you start to do that is by building trust, developing relationships, and if you’re going to win and win quickly, you need immediate buy-in.
On tapping into West Coast recruiting prospects
We just got done playing Vanderbilt in the College World Series. We just got done playing Ole Miss in the super regional. Both of those teams had a significant amount of players from the West Coast that were key players at key positions. I can add to that. That’s something that we can bring to LSU, and my connections and contacts will do that. I’m working on a well-rounded staff that can cut into the recruiting at other places, that can be as fierce, as competitive, as you said, to not just win or not just win recruiting battles because of our logo or because of our resources but because they know what they’re going to get when they come play in our program.
On his goal
My goal is when you look out on that field at Alex Box Stadium, there’s a brand of baseball that everybody in this state, in this community associated with this university is incredibly proud of. You know what that looks like. You’ve seen it. No program in college baseball has seen it on a more consistent basis than LSU. All I want to do is pour my life into continuing that.