BATON ROUGE, La. — By now, the awkwardness is becoming routine for LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri.
On Tuesday night, Lamar head coach Will Davis will be the third Mainieri protege to face the Tigers this season, joining Air Force’s Mike Kazlausky and New Orleans’ Blake Dean.
“The older you get, these things start happening more frequently,” Mainieri said. “And it’s hard. I always find it difficult to coach against friends, because I root for them so much and your job is to be victorious against them.”
Davis is in his second year at Lamar, but this is his first trip back to Alex Box Stadium. Last year LSU visited Beaumont, Texas and lost a wild 12-11 game to the Cardinals.
“Will’s one of my favorite people in the world, really,” Mainieri said. “He was here nine-and-a half years. You don’t work with someone nine-and-a half years without developing really strong feelings for somebody.”
Davis played catcher at LSU from 2004-07 and was a senior on Mainieri’s first team in Baton Rouge. He became LSU’s director of baseball operations in 2008 and was promoted to a bench position the following year. He stayed at Mainieri’s side before he was hired just a month before the 2016 season to replace long-time Lamar coach Jim Gilligan.
“I knew Will was ready to become a head coach and I’m glad it worked out for him,” Mainieri said. “He had to leave before the start of the 2016 season but he did so with my support and blessing. It will be a really awkward feeling to have Will back in Alex Box Stadium. He loves LSU, though you probably won’t get him to admit that because his loyalty is to his own players and the school he represents.”
Playing old friends is among Mainieri’s least-favorite tasks.
“I’m just getting soft in my old age. I don’t get a lot of enjoyment in winning against friends of mine,” he said. “And I know it gets them down in the dumps. But I have a job to do.”
He’s not done yet, either. Former LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro is the latest to join the ranks as of the departed as Mississippi State’s head coach. The Bulldogs and Tigers close the regular season against one another in a series that figures to be fairly significant.
On one hand, Mainieri is mostly happy to see former players and assistants succeed because it reflects well on the LSU baseball program.
“You’re just proud of them and happy for them,” he said. “They’re young and have careers ahead of them. I’m towards the end of mine. I’ve had my day in the sun. I’m not ready to call it quits yet, but when you have young, former assistants in the business you just want to see them be successful.”
On the other, Mainieri tries to keep in mind the advice of his own mentor, former Creighton head coach and Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry.
“I remember asking Jim Hendry when he was at Creighton and I was at the Air Force Academy, I asked him how he did it,” Mainieri said. “And he said ‘I pretend you’re not even over there and focus on doing my job.’ And that’s what I’ll do.”