South Carolina targeting legendary LSU coach Paul Mainieri to lead baseball program

South Carolina is reeling in a big fish.

Exactly a week after South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner let go of Mark Kingston, the Gamecocks are set to hire former LSU coach Paul Mainieri to take over the program, a source with knowledge of the hiring process told The State on Monday.

Baseball America was the first to report the news.

Nothing was official as of Monday afternoon, but the University of South Carolina announced a 4 p.m. Tuesday board of trustees meeting for the “Approval of Athletics Employment Contracts.” The school’s baseball, softball and men’s golf head coaching jobs are all vacant.

Mainieri, who coached at LSU for 15 seasons and led the Tigers win the 2009 College World Series, had been retired since 2021.

Mainieri is 66 years old.

He’ll be the one in charge of building South Carolina back to national relevancy and get the Gamecocks back to the College World Series for the first time since 2012. His track record should inspire confidence.

Mainieri’s teams have played in Omaha a half-dozen times (once with Notre Dame and five times at LSU), including the 2009 Tigers national championship team that won 56 games and lost just once in the entire NCAA Tournament.

“The move to hire Paul Mainieri has caused shockwaves across college baseball,” D1Baseball national pundit Kendall Rogers posted Monday to X (Twitter). “First heard about the possibility a few days ago, but assumed the #Gamecocks would go with different options. Mainieri most recently was in the mix for the Miami and Notre Dame jobs.”

Mainieri is the sort of intriguing, splashy hire that Tanner has never made with his baseball program. After stepping down in 2012 as the greatest South Carolina baseball coach to transition to athletic director, Tanner promoted assistant Chad Holbrook. When he was fired in 2017, Tanner brought in South Florida coach Mark Kingston, an unfamiliar name to most college baseball fans.

Mainieri’s first recruiting challenge at South Carolina will be convincing the Gamecocks’ current roster to stay in Columbia. That includes guys like sophomore slugger Ethan Petry and junior outfielder Blake Jackson, who would surely have SEC interest if they entered the transfer portal.

Second will be filling out his staff — including the question about Monte Lee. One of the most-respected baseball figures in the Palmetto State, the former South Carolina associate head coach and the Gamecocks’ interim coach for the last week campaigned publicly to land the South Carolina job.

It would be a massive early victory if Mainieri could find a way to keep Lee on staff, likely an instant help in retaining the roster and landing NIL dollars.

D1Baseball’s Rogers reported via X that: “SOURCE: All intentions from the South Carolina side of things is that they’d like to keep top assistant Monte Lee in the fold as an assistant in Columbia. Will take some work from the #Gamecocks, but their preferred route would be for Monte to stay. ... In addition to Monte Lee, all indications are that Terry Rooney will head from #LSU to South Carolina as his pitching coach. Lee is not a done deal to stay — yet — but the expectation is that SC will likely make it work.”

Once the hire is official, Mainieri will become college baseball’s new active wins leader.

In 39 years as a head coach for St. Thomas (‘83-88), Air Force (‘89-’94), Notre Dame (‘95-’06) and LSU (‘07-’21), Mainieri won almost two-thirds of all games he coached, good for over 1,500 victories.