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Mainieri's first title only the beginning

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Texas singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen made a name for himself with a song called "The road goes on forever and the party never ends".

It might soon be the theme song for LSU's baseball program.

Legendary coach Skip Bertman put LSU on the map. He made the Tigers a consistent winner and led them to the school's first national title in 1991. Bertman wasn't done. He added titles in '93, '96, '97, and again in 2000. The dynasty was born.

Bertman felt he had done all he could do with the program and retired.

He turned the reins over to long-time assistant Smoke Laval. Laval guided the Tigers to a few more College World Series appearances, but was unable to win a national title. He also proved to be an imperfect fit with a fan base that takes the word passionate to another level.

Bertman – the athletic director at the time – decided to make a coaching change after the 2006 season. As much as he loved Laval, a dear friend, Bertman felt the program needed refreshed.

Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, a former LSU player, was rumored to be in the mix for the coaching job. The Tigers even made a pitch to Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin.

Bertman then turned his attention to Mainieri.

Mainieri had a strong resume. He was a winner at St. Thomas in Florida and had guided Air Force to new heights. Then, at Notre Dame, Mainieri surprised many by leading the Fighting Irish to the CWS in 2002.

Most intriguing about Mainieri was his ability to relate to coaches, media and fans alike. Mainieri loved college baseball and coaching. He also had a passion for winning and molding the lives of young men.

Mainieri was exactly what the Tigers needed.

"Skip is the reason I chose to come to LSU," Mainieri said. "He chose me to be the coach at LSU, and I'll be forever grateful for that. LSU was a situation that I didn't want to regret turning down someday. So like I tell my players, I decided to take a swing at it."

Mainieri's tenure at LSU got off to a rocky start when the Tigers failed to make an NCAA regional. But Mainieri and Bertman both knew rebuilding wouldn't be easy and stayed the course. Mainieri proceeded to weed out some of the bad attitudes around the program. He was focused on the future and how he could help the Tigers get back to the top.

Just a year later in 2008, the Tigers were back to winning. They set an SEC record for consecutive wins, won the SEC tournament and stormed through regional and super regional play before displaying their magic once more in the CWS against Rice. Their run was ended by North Carolina.

But it set the table for this season.

With pitcher Louis Coleman and others back this season, the Tigers entered the spring with high hopes. We had the Tigers ranked No. 2 to start the season. Some had the Tigers ranked No. 1.

Expectations were high and Mainieri loved every bit of it.

The Tigers got off to a great start before losing a surprising home series to Illinois. But LSU would waste no time bouncing back. It put together a fabulous SEC regular season record, won the conference regular season and capped off its SEC dominance with a conference tournament title.

The Tigers also had little trouble advancing to the CWS.

Perhaps North Carolina and Cal State Fullerton were the title favorites going into Omaha, but the Tigers proved the last two weeks they clearly were the nation's best team the entire season.

This LSU team fed off their coach. When someone had a bad performance, there was someone there to pick them up. LSU starting pitcher Louis Coleman didn't have a great performance in Game 1 against Texas. But freshman reliever Matty Ott picked him up like a veteran. Then, in Game 3, LSU outfielder Jared Mitchell spotted starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo with a three-run cushion in the first inning with a three-run home run into the right field bleachers at Rosenblatt Stadium.

To say this team was special would be an understatement.

Looking forward, the Tigers definitely have some important pieces to fill. Jared Mitchell, DJ LeMahieu, Blake Dean and Ryan Schimpf likely will sign professional contracts this summer. And Coleman was a senior and now will focus on a pro career.

But don't worry LSU fans, the program is in great hands.

The Tigers will welcome back Matty Ott, Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Hanover, Austin Nola, Anthony Ranaudo and Micah Gibbs, among others, next season. They also will welcome another fabulous recruiting class to campus.

LSU is still celebrating this year's national title. But with Mainieri only 51 years of age, the Tigers very well could have more titles to celebrate in the future. He's not going anywhere for a while.

The road continues. It likely won't end anytime soon.

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