17th season as a head coach
A short conversation with fifth-year Notre Dame head baseball coach Paul Mainieri will make your heart beat faster. His enthusiasm for the game is that strong.
Mainieri, 41, spent the previous six seasons as head baseball coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy and is in his 17th year of coaching on the collegiate level, with an overall record of 498-354 (166-75 at Notre Dame). He heads into 99 just two wins shy of the 500-victory plateau and already ranks third on the Notre Dame baseball career coaching wins list, behind Pat Murphy (318, 1988-94) and Jake Kline (558, 1934-75).
In his first four seasons, Mainieri has seen 15 of his Irish players go on to professional baseball, with 11 selected in the major league draft (six in the first 10 rounds).
The hard work put into the recruiting process by Mainieri and fifth-year assistant coaches Brian OConnor and Cory Mee has yielded some impressive results, with both highly-regarded prospects and diamonds in the rough comprising the recent incoming freshman classes.
Top players who have joined the Irish program during the Mainieri era include two who went on to be high draft picks in 1998: righthanded pitcher Brad Lidge (the 17th overall pick by the Houston Astros) and centerfielder Allen Greene (a ninth-round pick by the New York Yankees). Other noteworthy additions in Mainieris tenure include senior catcher/DH Jeff Wagner (a three-time, first team all-BIG EAST selection), junior All-America shortstop Brant Ust, junior lefthander Tim Kalita and sophomore righthander Aaron Heilman (Kalita finished 1998 ranked 27th in the nation for ERA while Heilman was first). Notre Dames current freshman class was judged to be among the best in the nation while 1998 fall signee Brian Staviskya powerful, lefthanded-hitting outfielderis rated among the nations top 100 high school prospects.
After guiding his first Irish team to a 40-21 record and the 1995 Midwestern Collegiate Conference Western Division title, Mainieri led the 96 squad to the NCAA tournament, where the Irish wrapped up a 44-18 season that included three wins over ranked teams and a spot in the BIG EAST Conference championship game.
Notre Dame's 40 wins in 1995 were the most ever by a first-year Irish head baseball coach. That 95 squad hit .316, led by the nation's triples leader, Scott Sollmann (.406), while outfielder Ryan Topham flirted with Irish power-hitting records on his way to All-America recognition and a fourth-round selection by the Chicago White Sox.
The Irish success continued in 96, posting a .485 slugging percentage that now ranks sixth in Irish history. The Irish also equaled a team record with 12 shutouts while the 96 staffs 365 strikeouts rank fifth in Irish history. Eight players were drafted or signed free agent contracts in 96, with pitcher Christian Parker selected by the Montreal Expos in the fourth round while Sollmann followed as a seventh-round pick of the Detroit Tigers.
Mainieris 97 team set Irish records for home runs (66), doubles (127) and slugging (.529) while equaling the team batting record (.334). The 97 Irish pitching staff established a record of its own, with 399 strikeouts in 505 innings. Notre Dame just missed qualifying for the NCAAs in 1997, posting a 41-19 record that included a 25-2 mark at home and a 15-6 BIG EAST mark, the best winning percentage among the conferences 11 teams.
Ust was named the 97 BIG EAST rookie of the year and was a unanimous Freshman All-America selection. Two Irish players were drafted, with first-team all-region catcher Mike Amrhein going to the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round while pitcher Darin Schmalz was a 29th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lidge and Greene then became high draft selections following a 1998 season that saw the Irish advance to the BIG EAST title game before losing to Rutgers for a 41-17 final record and another near-miss trip to the NCAAs.
The 98 season highlights included Ust and Lidge sweeping the BIG EAST player and pitcher-of-the-year awards, Heilman and Ust earning All-America recognition and Ust earning a spot on Team USAs world junior championship team. Ust, Wagner and first-team all-BIG EAST shortstop J.J. Brock powered the Irish to 73 home runsbesting the previous seasons record by seven.
A former Chicago White Sox farmhand, Mainieri became the first civilian baseball coach at the Air Force Academy and averaged 26 wins in six seasons (89-94) for a program that averaged only 15 wins a season in the six years prior to his arrival. He is the only Air Force baseball coach ever to post six straight 20-win seasons. Mainieri's 1994 Falcon squad led the nation in hitting (.360), slugging percentage (.623) and triples (0.76 per game).
Mainieri, the son of legendary Miami-Dade North Community College coach Demie Mainieri, guided the 93 Air Force team to the programs first winning season in almost a decade (28-22), including a school-record 21 wins at home. Mainieris Air Force teams posted a 12-4 mark against their service academy rivals. He coached three All-Americans, two freshman All-Americans and saw two of his players earn Academic All-America honors.
Mainieri coached six seasons at St. Thomas (Fla.) University where, in 1983 at the age of 24, he took over a program that had yet to post a winning season. Mainieri promptly led St. Thomas to four seasons that ended with the team ranked in the final NCAA Division II poll. The 84 Sunshine State Conference coach of the year, Mainieri averaged 30 wins per season after the program had averaged only 18 wins in the six previous years.
Fifteen of Mainieri's St. Thomas players entered pro baseball while threeJoe Klink, Dane Johnson and Dan Rohrmeierhave appeared on major-league rosters. Klink played with two World Series championship teamsthe 87 Minnesota Twins and 89 Oakland Asand pitched with the Florida Marlins in 94. Johnson saw action with the Chicago White Sox in 94 and with the As in 97 while Rohrmeier was called up to the Seattle Mariners in 97.
Mainieri's coaching career began at Columbus High School in Miami, where he served as an assistant baseball and football coach for two years before taking over as head coach at St. Thomas in 1982. He also spent the final three years as director of athletics for St. Thomas.
A four-year letterwinner in college, Mainieri played one season at Louisiana State, one for his father at Miami-Dade and two at the University of New Orleans. A second baseman, Mainieri helped the Privateers capture a pair of Sun Belt Conference championships.
A 1980 graduate of Florida International, he played two seasons of minor league ball before earning a master's degree in sports administration from St. Thomas in 1982. Born August 29, 1957, in Morgantown, W.V., Mainieri and his wife Karen have four children: Nicholas (15), Alexandra (14), Samantha (12) and Thomas (4, born two days before Mainieri accepted the Irish position).