Man on a mission

Courier-Journal photo

Courier-Journal photo

Dan McDonnell is currently in his fifth season as the head coach for the University of Louisville, where they have hosted NCAA post-season baseball in three of the last four years. In 2007, McDonnell became the first rookie coach in 27 years to lead his team to Omaha and was named National Coach of the Year by Rivals.com. 24 Louisville players have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during his tenure. Inside Pitch talked with McDonnell during a SCORE mission trip in the Dominican Republic about his rapid journey to the top of college baseball.

Inside Pitch: What was so special about the 2007 team that you led to the College World Series in your first year as head coach? Were the current players concerned about your commitment to them versus the recruits you were bringing in?

Dan McDonnell: Well, when you’re known for being a recruiter, I think the current players wonder, ‘is this guy going to be in it for me or is he going to be in it for his recruits?’ Knowing that, I made it clear to our team (that included nine seniors) that I was committed to them 100 percent. They believed in me and I obviously believed in them. It was so much fun to watch a group of guys play for a team, for a program, for a university. Because of that, great things happened. We went all the way to Omaha and it wasn’t about the individual players or the draft, it was ‘what can we do as a team to experience something we’ve never done before?’

Inside Pitch: How has recruiting changed from what you learned at the Citadel and Ole Miss?

McDonnell: It’s still all about relationships and evaluating good talent. I think one of the changes has been how many more people have their hands in the cookie jar now. Not only are we recruiting a young man and his family, we’re recruiting his AAU coach or his advisor, who are sometimes heavily involved in the process. It’s important to be conscious of that.

Inside Pitch: What are the biggest challenges you face as the head coach at a top-notch program like the University of Louisville?

McDonnell: We want to do what’s best for each of our players. We want to develop them as much as we can and for them to achieve ultimate success, but at the same time, it’s a college program and it’s also about what’s best for the team. It’s hard because at a young age, these players have advisors and agents or they play for a powerful AAU program and it’s all about the individual. Trying to get them to let their guard down and sacrifice for the team is one of the biggest challenges we face.

Inside Pitch: Last season was your first year at Louisville that didn’t end in a postseason appearance. What changes have you made to get your team back in 2012? Read the rest