Dan McDonnell has Louisville in the NCAA Super Regional for the fourth time in eight seasons.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The answer is Dan McDonnell.
He is the guy whose University of Louisville team is battling into its fourth Super Regional in eight seasons at a program that had been outscored 16-2 in its only NCAA Tournament games until McDonnell moved calmly into the dugout in 2007.
He is the guy whose team rolled to a 48-15 record one season after McDonnell lost more guys to the pros than John Calipari -- his top three starting pitchers, his best left-handed reliever, his leadoff man and his top two RBI bats.
McDonnell is the guy whose team beat all three teams placed in its regional, succeeding on a weekend when nine other programs hosting regionals were bounced out of the tournament.
He is the guy, the only guy, who has a program that played in the College World Series in Omaha last season and can make the trip back to Nebraska next week.
I could go on. But, first, I’d better get to the question:
If you were picking one Louisville coach to build a program, which guy would it be?
It’s a question certain to inspire dissent and debate. The current roll call of Louisville coaches is packed with high-achievers.
Rick Pitino is a master, a Hall of Famer, the only guy in college basketball to win national championships at two schools.
When Pitino wins a championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and he will, he will set a record no coach will touch – conferences titles in six leagues, including the Big East, SEC and Conference USA.
Bobby Petrino is Mr. 41-9. He won an Orange Bowl, treated teams like North Carolina and Oregon State like the junior varsity and beat Kentucky in every way a team can be beaten. Now Petrino is back for more.
Jeff Walz is a builder. He proved he could replicate the success his program enjoyed with Angel McCoughtry by returning to the women’s Final Four with Shoni Schimmel. Walz is winning, sending players to the WNBA and building a strong and dedicated fan base.
Ken Lolla has also earned his place on the list. Drive down Floyd Street for a look at the soccer palace Louisville is constructing. The Cardinals nearly won the College Cup in 2010, and they’ll be back in the game’s final four teams sooner, not later.
But I’ll give my hat tip to McDonnell – and not just because I’m a baseball guy.
Unlike Pitino, McDonnell didn’t have the tradition of Wes Unseld, Darrell Griffith, Pervis Ellison and Denny Crum to build on. A decade ago not everybody was certain Louisville had a baseball program. Now the Cardinals have one of the best programs in the nation.
McDonnell has delivered warm-weather success from a cold-weather location. In a sport where the geographical and cultural advantages have always favored programs like Arizona State, Miami, LSU, USC and Texas, McDonnell has convinced recruits that the road to Nebraska rolls through the Ohio Valley.
That’s not supposed to happen.
Most baseball coaches believe you have to go South or West to find players. McDonnell goes North. He and his staff have knocked on more doors in Chicago than Mayor Daley, finding, recruiting and developing Chicago-area players like Nick Burdi, Kyle Funkhouser and Corey Ray.
Burdi, the best relief pitcher in the college game, will be a first-round pick in the Major League Free Agent Draft Thursday night.
Funkhouser, Louisville’s Friday night starter against Kennesaw State in the Super Regional, will be taken in the first round of the 2015 draft. And Ray, a freshman, has started to play like the best outfield prospect McDonnell has recruited. His speed creates stress in the opposing dugout.
That’s what Dan McDonnell and his staff have done at Louisville – find the right players, sell those guys on their opportunity and create an environment filled with individual and team success.