Feb. 7, 2013

Cincinnati's Brian Cleary: Ambassador of the Game

CBI Big East preview

Inside: With Louisville's Dan McDonnell

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


Louisville is at it again.


The Cardinals, who have made five trips to the NCAA tournament in head coach Dan McDonnell’s six seasons, appear poised for another big year in the Big East: They are ranked in all five of the main national polls, including a lofty perch of No. 4 from Baseball America.


Louisville went 41-22 a year ago, losing in the Tucson Regional Final to eventual national champion Arizona. While they need to replace some key parts – especially on the mound – the Cardinals are the team to beat in the Big East in 2013, according to the league’s coaches.


That hasn’t been an uncommon belief since McDonnell arrived in 2007 after 14 years as an assistant at Ole Miss and The Citadel, his alma mater. All the Cardinals have done is average 43 wins a season under McDonnell’s guidance, and they reached Omaha in his first season.


The trend of Louisville as a preseason Big East favorite won’t last – the Cardinals will fly to the ACC for the 2014-15 school year.


1. What does last year's experience in the NCAA tourney do for this year’s team?
With a young team, it gave several guys experience not only playing in a Regional, but twice going up against an Arizona team that went on to win the national championship. Playing in the Regional final with an opportunity to host a Super Regional the following week gave that team an experience of being that close to Omaha.

2. As a team that returns a lot of firepower, where are your areas for improvement?
We lost our Friday-night guy in Justin Amlung, the Big East Pitcher of the Year and an All-American, along with two closers in Derek Self and Matt Koch [all three are pitching in pro ball]. Now, someone has to step up and wear the “Cow Bell” and lead the staff. Someone has to prove that they can get the last three outs of a game on a consistent basis. We feel we have those guys in Chad Green, Jeff Thompson and Jared Ruxer for the Friday spot and Nick Burdi, Cole Sturgeon and Dace Kime for the last three outs. As for improvement as a team, we have to defend at a championship caliber. For a team that did so much last year, we were average defensively.

3. You've guided the Cardinals to five NCAA trips in six years. What has been the key to your consistency and growth of the program?
It starts at the top with our Athletic Director Tom Jurich, his staff and their commitment to excellence. This allows our coaching staff to have the freedom to be as good as we want to be. And it’s evident, our two assistants, Chris Lemonis and Roger Williams, who have been here since Day 1, are the best two in the country at work ethic, recruiting, developing players and continuing to advance this program to national recognition.

4. How did your experience as a student-athlete at The Citadel shape you as a coach? And describe your College World Series experiences, first as a player, and then as a coach.
It makes me smile. I loved my college experience, and I want our players to feel the same way about theirs. Win championships, play in Omaha and love your teammates and the program. I was blessed to play with great teammates who loved to compete and really cared about each other. We also played for a legendary, Hall of Fame coach Chal Port. Having coached in Omaha after having played in Omaha, I was able to experience both sides. As a player playing in Omaha, it’s all about you and your teammates. As a Coach in Omaha, you realize it’s about a whole lot of people. I want so badly for my players, their families and our fans to experience how special it is.

5. You have one of the finest facilities in the country. How has that helped your program, and how does that position the Cardinals for the ACC?
It shows that we make a commitment to baseball, and the recruits and fans know it. It doesn’t have to be the biggest facility in the country, but it has to be one of the best, and it is. We will put our amenities, our facilities and our space up with anyone. And if you are going to compete in the ACC, you have to make a commitment.


(photos courtesy of Louisville Media Relations)