Former Citadel player and assistant coach Dan McDonnell is taking Louisville’s baseball team to the College World Series for the second time in seven years. Here, Mac talks about The Citadel’s 1990 CWS team, assistant coach Chris Lemonis (another former Bulldog), Rick Pitino and advice from former USC coach Ray Tanner:
Dan, they are calling it the Louisville Slam: Louisville is the only school this year to win a BCS bowl game, make the Final Four in men’s and women’s basketball, and make the CWS.
A: It was clear when I got here in the fall of 2006 that his campus was built to succeed, with the facilities and expectations. I challeged our team that to be part of this, we had to get on this train of success and add something to it. That year, our football team went to the Orange Bowl, and little did I know we’d go to Omaha. Every year, you want to do your part, because you know in every sport how hard everyone is working.
Q: Have you been able to hang around with Rick Pitino much, and have you learned anything from him?
A: When I was in high school, I went to his camps at Providence, so I was always a Pitino fan. When I got here, I felt it was the opportunity of a lifetime. When we bring in recruits, the highlight of every recruit’s visit is when they meet Coach Pitino. The kid is right in front of me, on his cell phone, and says, ‘You won’t believe who I just met – Rick Pitino.’
He is always really gracious with that, and we try not to wear out our welcome. But he lets us come over at the start of practice and always says hello.
His weekly press conferences here are so big during the season, and I’ve actually learned a lot from him, his sayings and phrases. I use a lot of Pitino cliches and lines, because I believe in them. He’s so open with the media, and I try to be like that and tell the media what’s going on – tell them what you told the team, what you told a player.
Q: Chris Lemonis has been such a big part of your success at Louisville. Is he ready to run his own program, like you were when you left Ole Miss?
A: He’s more than ready. I spent six years at Ole Miss, and it seemed like each year I got closer and closet to getting a head-coaching job. By year six, I almost had to to, I was just itching to run my own program. I don’t know if Chris is as itchy as I was, but from a passion and ability standpoint, he’s more than ready. He could have had three or four different jobs in the last three or four years. But when you are at a place like Clemson or South Carolina or Lousiville, it’s tough to go to a place that doesn’t have that type of commitment.
Q: What has that 1990 Citadel College World Series team meant to your career?
A: I don’t know if I’d be here today if it weren’t for that 1990 team going to the College World Series. You learn an awful lot, and it gives you a lot of confidence. I took that 1990 experience into coaching, and I had such a chip on my shoulder. I had to recruit at The Citadel for eight years, which was great – The Citadel has a lot to offer, and I’d love for my kids to go there. But when I got to Ole Miss, I had been going against those SEC and ACC schools for a long time. I remember I put on that Ole Miss shirt for the first time and went to a tournament, and I said, ‘Okay, let’s see who can win the battle now.’ I was just relentless and steamrolling.
And when I got the job at Louisville, I felt like Lemonis would do what I did. He’ll thake that Citadel blue collar, underdog work ethic and bring it here. You take all those intangibles and it’s great to step out of that umbrella and compete against other schools nationally, and he’s been phenomenal.
I still call Fred Jordan ‘Coach.’ At 22, he gave me my first job, and he gave me a lot of responsibility and freedom, but also taught me a lot. He gave me the courage to go to Ole Miss and compete with the best, and he told me I needed to do it. I will never forget that.
Q: Your team this year went 0-2 in the Big East Tournament, then knocked off No. 2 national seed Vanderbilt to make the CWS. How did you do it?
A: I called Ray Tanner after we went 0-2 in the Big East Tournament, and say, ‘Ray, don’t get mad at me, but you guys went 0-2 in the SEC Tournament and went on to win the national championship. Tell me what you did with those teams.’ He was great, and I really needed that. He told me exactly what he did and why, and I thought that was gold. I followed it to a T. We were in uncharted waters for us, and he mapped it out and I’ll be darned if it didn’t work. We beat Vanderbilt and I got 250 texts, and one was from Ray. He said, ‘Two and out in the conference tournament is not a bad way to go.’ He showed me you can wipe the slate clean and get the guys to buy in, and that’s what they did.”
Q: Louisville joins the ACC in 2015. Will baseball be ready for the step up to compete with North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson and the rest?
A: We’re preparing for it every day. As soon as the word came out, our meetings ramped up, the check lists of what they have and what we need. In basketball, Louisville thinks it can beat the Knicks, and we’ve got football going with Charlie Strong. I’m sure baseball was a bit of a ‘Gulp’ like, oh boy, what are we doing. I got that realization moment on a conference call with ACC coaches, and they ran down the list of coaches on the call: Mike Martin, Jim Morris, Danny Hall, Jack Leggett, Mike Fox. I’m listening to the names and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, I really better bring it.’ That was my realization moment to say you better come in loaded and ready to compete. I don’t know how good we’ll be in 2015, but we’ll do everything in our power to be ready to compete.