Close friends headline list of hottest coaches

LSU coach Paul Mainieri and Virginia coach Brian O’Connor are best friends. They also have something else in common.

Both Mainieri and O’Connor are two of the nation’s hottest coaches.

Mainieri guided the Tigers to their sixth national title with a magical run last season. O’Connor, meanwhile, carried the Cavaliers to the College World Series despite having the toughest road of any team in the field of eight.

The two friends and coaches aren’t alone on the list of hottest coaches, though.

Cal State Fullerton’s Dave Serrano, Louisville’s Dan McDonnell and East Carolina’s Billy Godwin have made some strides in the postseason. Florida’s Kevin O’Sullivan and Arkansas’ Dave Van Horn are doing fantastic jobs in the grueling SEC.

There’s also Western Kentucky’s Chris Finwood and UC Irvine’s Mike Gillespie, and the duo couldn’t be farther away. Finwood is a younger rising coach that has earned a wealth of headlines the past few months. Gillespie, though, has a national title on his resume and has been rejuvenated by his gig at Irvine.

Paul Mainieri, LSU

Our take. There currently isn’t a hotter coach in college baseball. Mainieri guided the Tigers to the College World Series two seasons ago to get things headed the right direction in Baton Rouge, La. Last season, though, he took things a step further by guiding the Tigers back to Omaha and capturing the program’s sixth national title. Mainieri isn’t interested in professional baseball, so his status as coach of the Tigers is cemented for a long time. This is a match made in heaven for both parties.

Dave Serrano, Cal State Fullerton

Our take. Serrano has had no trouble continuing where he left off in his previous stint at UC Irvine. Serrano guided the Titans to an NCAA super regional in his first campaign. He also guided the program back to the CWS last season. The Titans must shore up their defense between now and the spring, but the team is primed for yet another big-time campaign with Serrano at the helm. The Titans will win a national title before Serrano’s time at Fullerton is over. That’s what we believe, at least.

Brian O’Connor, Virginia

Our take. O’Connor is a perfect example of how one season can change the perception of a coach and an entire program. It’s nothing new to us that O’Connor is a solid coach. He wasted little time in turning Virginia’s program around, and made the Cavaliers a perennial regional contender. But there always was that vocal group that criticized O’Connor for not getting his program to a super regional and Omaha. That doubt ended last season. The Cavaliers won the toughest regional, won a super regional on the road and finally advanced to the CWS. Now O’Connor is on top of the world.

Dan McDonnell, Louisville

Our take. It’s only a matter of time before McDonnell gets courted by a big-time program in the SEC or ACC, but he may just make Louisville, Ky., his permanent home. Imagine that. What McDonnell has accomplished at UL in three seasons is amazing. He led the Cardinals to their first CWS appearance in his first season. He also led them to a regional appearance in his second season and a super regional berth last season. McDonnell has made an unlikely program a national name. That’s very impressive.

Billy Godwin, East Carolina

Our take. Many were unsure about Godwin when the Pirates decided to hire him after the removal of former coach Randy Mazey. What a fantastic match he has been, though. Godwin guided the Pirates to 40 wins in ’07 and ’08, and also led the program to a super regional appearance against North Carolina last season. The Pirates also return several key cogs in the spring and are expected to return to a super regional in ’09. Godwin is a hot name and has a chance to guide ECU to the CWS. Can the Pirates finally take the ultimate leap forward?

Kevin O’Sullivan, Florida

Our take. It’s only a matter of time before the Gators return to the CWS for the first time since they played for the ’05 national title. O’Sullivan will get the job done. O’Sullivan earned a wealth of praise for his stint as an assistant at Clemson, but has elevated even more in his two seasons at UF. O’Sullivan guided the Gators to an NCAA regional in his first season and took a step forward last season with a super regional berth. The Gators are recruiting exceptionally well and expect to compete for a CWS berth in ’09. UF will be very good as long as O’Sullivan sticks around.

Jim Schlossnagle, TCU

Our take. Schlossnagle experienced some success at UNLV and hasn’t skipped a beat in a few seasons with the Horned Frogs. In addition to dominating the Mountain West regular season race, the Frogs took a giant step forward last season by hosting an NCAA regional and reaching an NCAA super regional against Texas. The Frogs also welcome back enough key cogs in the spring to make another deep postseason run. TCU used to be an afterthought in the state of Texas. Thanks to Schlossnagle, though, things have changed for the better.

Chris Finwood, Western Kentucky

Our take. Quietly one of the hottest coaches in America, Finwood has an opportunity in the spring to really help his case on the national stage. He surprised everyone two seasons ago by guiding the Hilltoppers to an NCAA regional. Last season, though, the Hilltoppers tallied 42 wins and reached the Oxford Regional final against Mississippi. Finwood already is becoming a hotter commodity in the southern part of the country, but really could help his case on the national stage with another strong season. He certainly is a name to watch moving forward.

Mike Gillespie, UC Irvine

Our take. Gillespie certainly will not be coaching at another program before he retires, but he still is one of the hottest coaches in the country. Gillespie decided to take a stab at the UC Irvine job a couple seasons ago. What a match it has been between he and the Anteaters. Gillespie guided the program to a super regional appearance in his first season. He also led the program to a No. 1 ranking for several weeks last season. The ‘Eaters were unable to get to Omaha, but it still was a special season. Gillespie finally has his magic back. We’re all wondering, though, how much longer it will last.

Dave Van Horn, Arkansas

Our take. The best is still yet to come for Van Horn. It wouldn’t surprise us if Van Horn won a national title at Arkansas before his coaching days are over. He has made the Hogs a mainstay in the postseason race. Last season, the Hogs won the Norman Regional before taking care of business against Florida State in the Tallahassee Super Regional to notch another CWS appearance. What is scary about the Hogs is that they should be even better in the spring. Can the Razorbacks capture the big prize sooner rather than later?

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Friday, Dec 18, 2009