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June 18, 2014
Coffee: McDonnell should be Coach of the Year
The title of this article might seem strange after the early exit of the University of Louisville baseball team from the College World Series for the second straight year. Many have expressed frustration at McConnell and his team for a less than stellar performance in both years. But I see it different. Along with assistant coaches Roger Williams, Chris Lemonis and Kyle Cheesebrough, McDonnell has performed a near miracle with this year's version of Cardinal Baseball.
This is a team that lost five starters on offense including the top two RBI hitters and two of the top three home-run hitters. Shortstop Sutton Whiting saw his batting average drop almost 100 points from last season leaving McDonnell scrambling to find a lead-off hitter all season.
The pitching situation was even more dire as the Cards lost all three weekend starters from 2013 and top reliever Cody Ege and his 1.04 ERA. The depth at pitching also suffered a blow when weekend starter Jared Ruxer went down toward the end of the season with surgery to repair muscles detached from the bone in his pitching arm. Many have forgotten that Ruxer was a little used reliever last season with a 5.63 ERA and a 0-1 won-loss record. This season he was 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA, a remarkable turn-around and a testament to the coaching abilities of Roger Williams. The Cards entered the 2014 season with pitchers that had won 20 games in 2013's 65-game season.
In spite of the apparent need to rebuild in 2014, the Cards didn't miss a beat. With over 50 wins the last two seasons the Cards became the only Division I school to win 50 games in both years. That happens with hard work by the players and good coaching from the staff. Very few would argue that this is one of the best staffs in the country.
As good as they can coach, at no time can they pitch, hit, catch or throw the ball during the game. Oddly, as good as the team played all season, I felt the two games in Omaha were as poorly played as any I had seen all season. I've seen almost all of the 67 games or listened to them on the radio and Sean Moth does a good job of describing the games and doesn't pull any punches. If the Cards are playing bad he says so. There were a few other stinkers such as Rutgers at home, USF in Orlando and Temple there, but all-in-all the Cards were an excellent college baseball team all season.
It's easy to quibble with coaching decisions in any sport, especially baseball since the game is played slowly and every decision generally plays out in a straightforward manner. Such as bunting players ahead to the next base, leaving a pitcher in too long or pinch-hitting at a crucial time.
Regardless of what decisions the coach makes as the game progresses success depends on execution by the players. If players are bunted to second and third with one out one of the next two hitters must get a hit for it to pay off. When they don't, it seems like a bad decision, but the possibility is that the bunter could have hit into a double-play and the fans would than ask "why didn't he bunt". That's a coaches dilemma. That's why they make the big bucks, to make those decisions based on experience acquired by years of previous decisions in the same situation.
Winning 50 games two seasons back-to-back is indication Dan McDonnell does a mighty fine job in his decision making. That's why I say Dan McDonnell should have been Coach of the Year in college baseball.