BATON ROUGE, La. — Blake Dean knows better than most that enjoying a victory in the visitor’s dugout at Alex Box Stadium is easier said than done. But the former LSU star was afforded that opportunity late Wednesday night — very nearly early Thursday morning — when his New Orleans team outlasted the Tigers for a grueling 7-4 win in 15 innings.
The Privateers swept a season series from LSU for the first time since 1997.
“To take two from these guys is pretty amazing,” said Dean, who played for LSU from 2007-10. “For me one would have been special, but two, that’s just icing on the cake for us.”
Considering the state of the program when Dean was charged with taking it over in 2016, the accomplishment is all the more impressive.
UNO was among the nation’s worst teams in 2015, finishing a dreadful 14-40 overall. But even that record was a step up for the Privateers, who went 4-50 in 2011 before dropping to Division II in all sports. A popular backlash brought UNO back into Division I the next year, but it has taken until now for the athletic program to become competitive again.
That slow climb to relevance has paid dividends lately with the UNO men’s basketball team reaching the NCAA tournament and Dean’s baseball squad making noise against LSU.
“It shows the direction we’re moving. New Orleans was in a bad situation. The university itself was on the cusp of shutting sports down or whatever they wanted to do with it,” Dean said. “It shows the direction we’re headed. Hopefully we start to see enrollment increase and more money given to athletics and things of that nature that will only make us a better program.”
The upside of being in the basement is that UNO had nothing to lose by taking a chance on a 28-year-old head coach. Dean managed to up the Privateers’ record to 31-26 in his rookie year, and now appears to have even bigger things on the horizon after twice beating the Tigers.
Mainieri still ‘Coach’
The biggest successes of Dean’s young coaching career have come at the expense of his mentor. No one has molded Dean more than LSU’s Paul Mainieri — so much so that he still refers to Mainieri as “Coach.”
“I talk to him regularly,” Dean said. “Every time I see him I ask him a couple questions about different things I’m a little unsure of. I’m sure he’s a little sick of it, but he’s kind of my source of knowledge that I go to.”
Dean was a cornerstone of the Tigers’ last national championship team in 2009, and finished his career No. 2 all-time at LSU in hits and RBIs. But being a star player doesn’t guarantee success in the dugout — there’s a reason no one talks about Ted Williams’ managerial career.
However, Mainieri has always sensed that Dean had the ability to make the transition to coaching.
“He’s doing a great job. I’ve said that all along,” Mainieri said. “He was an outstanding player and I thought he’d make an outstanding coach. He played four years in our program and he knows what it takes to win.”
Dean credits Mainieri with preparing him to mold a winning program.
“I’m not used to losing. It’s a winning mentality. If you lose (at LSU), you won’t stay very long,” Dean said. “Coach Mainieri has done a great job of building winners, and he’s done it consistently, which is a hard thing to do.
“For me, I can’t settle for mediocrity. These guys are getting there. We’re not there yet. But everything Coach Mainieri has instilled in me as a player and even now as a coach has been a big help in getting me where I am now.”