LEXINGTON, Ky. — One year after Nick Mingione transformed Kentucky baseball into a national contender, and just five games into the 8th-ranked Wildcats’ 2018 campaign, comes a sense of uncertainty as Mingione’s name will undoubtedly be on the short list for the Mississippi State job this summer.
“Yeah you know what, it’s a sad deal for everybody, right?” Mingione said when asked Tuesday night about the situation at Mississippi State. “Like anytime anybody loses their job, man that’s hard. You know what, that’s to be expected — my name, right? I spent over a decade with Coach [John] Cohen, like right? That’s like the obvious, right? Why wouldn’t they say my name?
“I just feel bad. That’s just an unfortunate deal. Man, I hate that for our sport.”
Andy Cannizaro officially resigned as Mississippi State’s coach Tuesday morning after a report Monday evening that he would be fired with cause. Gary Henderson, who coached eight seasons at Kentucky before resigning following the 2016 season, has been promoted from pitching coach to interim head coach.
Mingione, who was named SEC Coach of the Year last season, signed a contract extension in September that will carry him through the 2022 season. Mingione is due $575,000 in each of the next five seasons. He has several tiers of incentives: if UK makes the NCAA Tournament, reaches the super regionals, reaches the College World Series, wins the national championship.
The Kentucky and Mississippi State baseball programs are intertwined by the trio of Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen, Henderson and Mingione.
Cohen coached Kentucky’s baseball program before taking the Mississippi State job. Henderson replaced him at Kentucky, and Mingione replaced Henderson. And the circle kept spinning as Cohen brought Henderson to Starkville, Miss., following his resignation. Suddenly, Henderson is now leading Cohen’s program.
Mingione has deep ties to Cohen and Mississippi State. Mingione spent the 2006-07 seasons as an assistant at Kentucky under Cohen. He then followed Cohen to Mississippi State. Mingione was an assistant for the Bulldogs for eight years before taking the Kentucky job.
Kentucky doesn’t come close to matching Mississippi State’s brand as a college baseball powerhouse. Mississippi State has appeared in the College World Series nine times, most recently in 2013. Kentucky has never made it to Omaha, Neb.
But the program is on a rapid rise under Mingione. The Wildcats appeared in their first-ever super regional last season thanks to a thrilling 1 a.m. regional win that ended in a dog pile.
Record crowds filled Cliff Hagan Stadium as the Wildcats will move into a new $49 million home in 2019. But with the excitement of a new stadium in Lexington comes similar excitement in Starkville. The Bulldogs will soon play in a state-of-the-art $55 million stadium.
The 8th-ranked Wildcats are 4-1 this season and the crowd of 4,118 at Cliff Hagan Stadium Tuesday night was the largest ever for a home opener.
“To think the last time we played a game here was in that regional, that regional final, and then to come back out in the next game we play and it looks just like it,” Mingione said. “So, can’t think the Big Blue nation enough. Obviously wish we would have got the win for the, but man that meant a lot to us.”
Mingione, while not at all dismissive of the Mississippi State job, said the Kentucky job “checks off a lot of boxes.”
“I believe in out athletic director, Mitch Barnhart, and I believe in our president, Dr. Capilouto,” Mingione said. “This is a really neat deal and there’s a reason why the University of Kentucky is thriving.”
Mingione’s limitless positivity has willed Kentucky baseball into a national contender, but Cohen and Mississippi State will have a few months to wind up the perfect pitch that could pull Mingione back to Starkville.