Paul Mainieri and Mike Martin shake hands

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LSU fans celebrate Mike Martin while trashing Paul Mainieri

Yet Martin has failed to win a single title in 40 seasons

Seth Dunlap
June 10, 2019 - 7:36 pm
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It was an amazing sight this weekend at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge.  An incredibly popular baseball coach was greeted by LSU Tiger fans like college coaching royalty.   Fans lined up for autographs, snapped pictures of the white-haired legend, and spent much of the weekend in awe of his accomplishments.

Yet the pomp & circumstance wasn’t for the Tigers head coach, but rather for the man helming the opposition. 

Mike Martin has spent 40 years at Florida State University coaching its baseball program, and compiled a record-setting 2021 wins, the most of any collegiate baseball coach in history.   The awe-struck greetings from LSU fans were well deserved, but it highlighted an interesting dichotomy in how many of the Tigers faithful treats their own head coach.

Paul Mainieri has spent months, perhaps years, as a punching bag for LSU baseball fans who aren’t happy, for some reason, with the state of the program.  After losing to Martin’s Seminoles, and ending another season without hoisting a College World Series championship trophy, the Tigers had underachieved again.  Even Mainieri and his players would describe this season ending in the Super Regionals as that – a disappointment – after lofty preseason expectations for the nation’s then-No. 1 ranked team.

But the cat-calls from LSU fans would have come eventually for Mainieri and his staff.  It’s been 10 seasons since the Tigers last national championship.  In the shadow of Skip Bertman, that just isn’t enough to slow the gnawing horde of an insatiable fan base.

A decade without a championship may feel like an eternity in Baton Rouge.  For Mike Martin and Florida State, it hasn’t been 10 years.  It’s been 40.  Martin has never won a championship while coaching in Tallahassee, and although they’ll voyage together one final time to Omaha, it’s likely his legendary career with end without having ever reached that pinnacle of college baseball.

The diverse reactions from LSU fans to the careers, and accomplishments, of Martin and Mainieri are confusing to behold.  There’s no doubt that Martin deserved adulation from college baseballs best, and largest, fan base.  It is absurd to suggest Mainieri might, at least eventually, deserve the same?

A comparison of the two careers is strikingly similar, with Martin having an advantage in cumulative accolades while Mainieri eclipses his Florida State counterpart in recent success rate. 

Martin’s teams at FSU have made the College World Series a total of 17 times, including this season.  He’s also coached in 27 Super Regionals.   Martin’s teams have won 73.5% of their games, and have never failed to reach the NCAA tournament in his 40 seasons at the school.

Mainieri, meanwhile, just finished his 13th season in Baton Rouge.  He’s made the College World Series five times while appearing in eight Super Regionals and 11 NCAA tournaments.  He has won just over 70% of his games at LSU, and won a national title in 2009.

Rules limiting scholarships and assistant coach pay were revised this millennium, something Mainieri has had to deal with his entire career at LSU while Martin spent the majority of his time at Florida State before this ‘new age’ of college baseball.   It’s likely a more apt comparison to view the two careers in tandem since 2007, the year Mainieri began coaching at LSU.

During that time, Martin has five CWS appearances, 10 Super Regional appearances, but has never won a championship.  Meanwhile, Mainieri has appeared in Omaha an equitable five times during that span, winning one title and appearing in another CWS Final series in 2017.  Florida State, in fact, hasn’t appeared in the CWS Final series since 1999, a decade before Mainieri arrived in Baton Rouge.  

It’s fair to wonder if Martin had begun his coaching career in Baton Rouge whether he would have had the same longevity.  LSU fans aren’t uneasy after a title-less decade.  Imagine four of them.  If Mainieri hadn’t won a championship and appeared in another title series would he still be around?

Mike Martin is a coaching legend.  He will be remembered as one of the great baseball coaches of this generation, and his record of 2020 wins (and counting) is unlikely to be eclipsed.  But if fans are celebrating Martin’s career, perhaps it’s time to start appreciating Paul Mainieri’s tenure with the Tigers.  He isn’t perfect, but seeking perfection in an imperfect sport, one that now promotes extreme parity across the country, is a futile task. 

It’s okay to be disappointed in another season that ended before Omaha, and before another LSU championship, but don’t let disappointment lead to irrational treatment of one of the great baseball coaches in America today.

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