LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the celebration that followed of Sunday’s 6-2 NCAA Super Regional victory over Kentucky, a win that sent the Cardinals into their fourth College World Series and the program’s third in five years, some University of Louisville fan screamed, “McDonnell for President!”

I’m not sure if anyone from the school’s board of trustees heard it, but the school certainly could do worse. At the end of one difficult week, and potentially on the doorstep of another, there is no better person that U of L could have on the national stage right now than baseball coach Dan McDonnell.

If the recently completed forensic audit of the U of L Foundation and the imminent announcement of NCAA findings regarding a seedy scandal in the men’s basketball program keep dredging up the worst the university has had to offer in recent years, McDonnell and his team are a reminder of the best.

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McDonnell said his morning devotional before Saturday’s victory centered around Psalms 5:11: “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice . . . may you shelter them, and may those who know your name, boast about you.”

The verse was talking about God. But for a little while at least, a troubled university can take some refuge in McDonnell.

It can take refuge in a coach who doesn’t just quote the Bible when he wins, but when he loses.

It can take refuge in a coach who, while his team celebrated, walked to the Kentucky coaches and commiserated, and congratulated, a coach whose first words in his postgame news conference were about the team in the opposing locker room: “We saw something special there with them this year. . . . Phenomenal team. One of the best teams we played all year. The future there is very bright.”

And it can take refuge in a coach who – despite heartbreaking elimination losses the past two seasons at home – refused to give into excuses or frustration, but who kept looking forward. Less than 24 hours after last season’s walk-off loss to Cal State Santa Barbara, McDonnell had his team assembled, and he laid down a challenge for the coming season based on the following inspirational passage It’s called The Lion Chaser’s Manifesto, and after Saturday’s win he had Drew Ellis read it, as follows:

Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Run to the roar.
Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-given passions.
Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.
Stop pointing out problems. Become part of the solution.
Stop repeating the past. Start creating for the future.
Face your fears. Fight for your dreams.
grab opportunity by the mane and don’t let go!
Live like today is the first day and the last day of your life.
Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails.
Live for the applause of nail-scarred hands.
Don’t let what’s wrong with you
keep you from worshiping what’s right with God.
Dare to fail. Dare to be different.
Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Quit running away.
Chase the lion

“That’s obviously why we’re here,” McDonnell said. “This group ran towards the roar. That’s been our motto all year.”

McDonnell told his players that somehow, he wasn’t sure how, but some day in their lives they would understand that they were made better by the disappointments that happened to them the past two years. And he told his incoming players that they would benefit from the disappointments the prior teams had endured.

On Saturday, they were, and not just because they won the game.

“My brother says sometimes I get to be like Dick Vermiel in these press conferences,” McDonnell said, referencing the old football coach who often was moved to tears.

“This team brought me so much joy this year,” McDonnell said. “. . . I’m obviously very happy for this team. But happiness comes from something happening. . . . I give these guys a lot of credit. No self-pity. We met right in this room, less than 24 hours after losing in the supers. You have to have a lot of courage, as a player, do I really want to go through that, do I really want to set the bar that high, do I really want to deal with the loss? I give those kids a lot of credit. We could’ve made a lot of excuses. All the players we lost to the draft. Maybe it’s just not so. I’m so happy, not just for what happened, but for the joy I have for this group.”

There’s not much more I can add to McDonnell’s words. What he has done at Louisville is nothing short of unbelievable – in a day when that word is far overused.

Louisville is not Miami. It is not a baseball climate. It’s a cold-weather school in a warm-weather game. There is nothing in its history to suggest that it should become a baseball power. And yet, it took bizarre twists of fate to keep the Cardinals out of the College World Series a year ago, and now, after those disappointments, we are left to talk not about those absences, but about how this program is back in the CWS for the third time in five years.

And it comes back under a coach who has earned the trust and respect of his players, and who keeps doing it, as one crew of draft picks leaves, another seems to enter. The program could’ve taken a step back this season and, given what was lost a year ago, everyone would’ve understood. Instead, McDonnell pushed harder.

“I pushed them, but they wanted to be pushed,” he said. “I challenged them, and I’m happy that they put it on the line. I learned a lot from them, about courage, about brotherhood, about relationships. About trust. About faith. And so, we’re going to ride this thing as long as we can.”

The players change, but the coach remains the same. He displayed his faith in victory, just as he did in defeat. He wins as well as he loses, and that’s not always common among guys who have had the kind of success he has had.

And for a university that could use some good news, and a national reminder that it still is producing some bright lights in the midst of some dark times, McDonnell is just the face it needs in the national spotlight as his team heads to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.

But on Saturday, he was just happy for his players.

“I’m super-proud of them. I’m super happy. But we didn’t come here for some of it,” McDonnell said, before his players joined him in repeating the next words, “we came here for all of it.”

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