STARKVILLE, Miss. (WTVA/MSU Athletics) – After arriving in his new home on Monday, Mississippi State head baseball coach Chris Lemonis began a new era with an introductory press conference on Tuesday at the new Dudy Noble Field.
The 18th head coach in MSU baseball history, Lemonis was joined by his family, MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum and Director of Athletics John Cohen at the morning press conference.
“It’s been a whirlwind for the last, probably, 48 hours for me and my family,” Lemonis said. “I took notes – I had to takes notes because my head has been going in different directions, calling recruits or players or everything else – but I can’t tell you how excited we are to be here.”
Lemonis takes over a roster of talented returners coming off a trip to the College World Series and one win short of reaching the championship series. The Diamond Dawgs have reached the NCAA Super Regional round in each of the past three NCAA Tournaments (2016-18).
Below are quotes from the press conference:
MSU Head Coach Chris Lemonis
“All I could think about was ‘Does it get any better than this?’ I didn’t realize it was so hot in Mississippi, but if I was the AD, I’m showing off this park. It’s the nicest facility in the country. We spent some time last night, and I know John (Cohen) probably thought I was quiet, but it was hard to talk as you walk through facilities and realize what an opportunity you have to coach and work in this unbelievable ballpark that was built.
It’s been a whirlwind for the last, probably, 48 hours for me and my family. I took notes – I had to takes notes because my head has been going in different directions, calling recruits or players or everything else – but I can’t tell you how excited we are to be here.
As a college baseball coach, Mississippi State is a pinnacle job.
We’re so excited to be here. You don’t get here without people. I had a chance to meet with Dr. (Mark) Keenum this morning, and we had a great breakfast and a great talk about what makes Mississippi State great. I’m picking his brain. I did learn how to use the cowbell, that was part of our teaching, but I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and everything else has been great for us.
John, we’ve spent a lot of time on the phone the last couple of days talking, the opportunity to be here is very appreciated. I promise you we’re going to work hard and take advantage of that opportunity. And his wife, Nelle, has been awesome. Everybody has put their arms around my family since they’ve been here, and we really appreciate it. That’s one of the hardest pieces when you take a new job, is your family and moving, and we really appreciate that from you.
My mom and dad -- you know, I’m the only Greek coach in the country so I’ll probably get emotional. It’s good and bad. I’ll yell at umpires, but then I’ll get emotional with our guys. My dad was a State grad. He was an engineer here, and I went to school on an engineering scholarship. About three weeks in, I said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to be an engineer,’ and he wasn’t real happy, because you had to give the scholarship back. So I went from ‘E-E’ to ‘P-E’ real quick – and I’m sure he was real proud – but I wanted to be a coach. I loved the game, and my dad’s really happy now because he comes to all of my games and watches all of my games. If I would have been an engineer, he wouldn’t have anything to do but sit on the couch with my mom. But, man, I love them, and they’ll be here a lot. They’re so excited that we’re down here, they were in tears when I called them.
I haven’t been back to Starkville in probably 46 years. They were here, married, going to school, and I was probably one or two years old at the time. It’s nice to be back, and it’s a big piece because my mom just got done talking about what an experience they had here and what a neat part of life. As a parent, when you have young kids it is a neat part, and they are just ecstatic to be part of the community again.
My wife here, my beautiful wife, I couldn’t do it without her. Anybody who knows the coaching business, your wife is the rock. She’s raised two beautiful daughters. My oldest, Marissa, she’s a Gamecock but she looks good in our colors. And you’ll appreciate this, even though she went to another SEC school, she told everyone she wanted SEC football and palm trees. She got that in South Carolina. And then my youngest daughter, Mackenzie, she’s a senior in high school
Just a few quicks one, and I know ‘thank you’s’ take a while. I had a chance to play for two great head coaches, Chal Port, who is in the (ABCA) Hall of Fame, he’s no longer with us, and Fred Jordan, who was my mentor. I played for him, coached for him, and he was there for me. He just recently retired from The Citadel, and I’m just so thankful to play with him.
I’ve learned at every spot. The Citadel was my grinder spot. You’d recruit ten kids, and you wouldn’t get one. You’d ask them where they were going, they would say, ‘Coach, we don’t have any offers, but we’re not going there.’ But you just had to learn and keep working. You had to keep grinding, you had to keep moving forward, and it was a great place. I’m so thankful for my time at The Citadel.
I did get to coach at Louisville with an awesome staff. My best friend’s the head coach, that was a mentorship for me. All of the guys on the staff do an unbelievable job, and when we jumped in there and took that job over, they had been to like one regional, I think. You look up and see where that program’s at now, and building that program was one of the funnest times of my life.
And my last piece is Indiana. Fred Glass, the AD there, gave me all the support, gave me my first head coaching job, which I’ll never forget, and all the staff and administrators and players and coaches. The four years there were huge for me to be a head coach and to be in this position because the Big Ten is not an easy league. Maybe not SEC, but you deal with weather, you deal with travel, you deal with a lot of different things that as a head coach I think it really matured me over time and prepared me.
But lastly, and I am a recruiter, John spoke about it. It’s about the kids. I’ve had a chance to coach a lot great kids over time. My phone has blown up over the last few days like you can imagine, and so many old players have reached out. You’re not standing here in my job if it wasn’t for the players, and that’s a big piece and I’m looking forward to building that relationship with our group that we have here.
I spoke to the team last night. It’s a different dynamic. I don’t know if anybody’s ever taken over a team two days after they got eliminated from the final four in Omaha. And man, our guys they’ve had a rough year, but they had an unbelievable finish and they attracted the nation like I told them. We’re going to celebrate those guys, and we’re going to celebrate that team.
Gary Henderson and that staff, to keep that team together, and keep them playing, was a remarkable job. What happened that last month of the season will help us as we move forward in the future as we build tradition, and that experience, those guys will help us next year.
We talked about going to Omaha, and I told them I know the feeling. You get back, you have the Omaha hangover. You’re pissed because it’s over, and it was such a magical ride, but the reality is, you’re waking up and the 2019 season has already started. Our guys will get a couple of days off and then they’ll start heading out to summer baseball, or jump in the weight room and get going. I tried not to be too ‘rah-rah’ or do too much, I know these guys have heard a lot. My goal is to build that relationship with those guys one day at a time. I feel like I’m a good relationship coach. I enjoy coaching my guys. They’re never perfect, so we’ll deal with things. I’m just looking forward to that part as much as anything of joining this team.
As a recruiter, we will jump out there and try to find the best players for us. I’ve found that most of the high draft picks I’ve had weren’t the five-star recruits. I’ve never recruited with something like this [stadium]. I’ve recruited as a Big Ten school and a Big East school.
I’m glad to be in the SEC, because I haven’t liked the SEC as a coach on the other side. You have the opportunity to recruit, but baseball is one piece. The make-up is the other piece.
I talked to coach (Jake) Gautreau, who is staying on with us, that it’s a big piece for me to get the right fit. The second piece of the program is player development. Their development is the most important thing to me. They want to play pro ball, and I want them to play in the big leagues. I like the minor leagues, but we are preparing them to be a big leaguer. There’s not a guy in that clubhouse that doesn’t want to play professionally. As a coaching staff, it’s our job to help them get there. I challenge them. When I say player development, I know they are thinking about their swing. My piece of development is the whole man. It’s about being great in the community, being a great teammate and being great in the classroom. I think those are all related. I take a lot of pride in it, and they will hear it from me every day.
I am coaching men who will be future husbands and fathers. Baseball will be over at some point. These guys will have impacts all over the world, and I want to make sure that I don’t cheat them. I want to make sure they get the best experience there.
We will put them in a system for success at the highest level of college baseball. We are playing baseball. Baseball is a working man’s game. You show up every day, punch the clock and play hard. John sent me numbers today that looked like an NL All-Star team of people who played here before. You play for the respect of that tradition. When you put this jersey on, you play hard for the guys that came before you.
I had to get on one of my players in the very first meeting. Elijah MacNamee told everyone after the last game that we would win a national championship next year. I told him thank you. As the new coach, that’s the expectation, and we won’t be scared to talk about winning a national championship. It’s a tough grind in the SEC, but that’s what we’re gearing for. Our dreams are big. I want our kids to dream big. I joked with him, but he was sincere and passionate. I want our guys to be passionate.
I asked our guys a question in the meeting. I said, “Why Mississippi State?”. One guys said, “It’s the SEC.” Another said, “These are the best facilities in the country.” One player said, “This is home.” That hit me right between the eyes because I was listening for “national championship”. That’s what it is here at Mississippi State. It’s home. I just thought it was a huge statement from the kid. These guys take so much pride in playing for their fans.
We will do everything we can to play hard and make you all proud. We will get after it to put a great product on the field. My family is happy to call Starkville home.”
On reaching out to current and prospective draftees…
“We are working on it. It’s a big piece right now, but it’s been such a whirlwind. We will be on the phone all afternoon. That’s item No. 1 once we finish today.”
On installing a new system…
“I want some continuity with the staff, but I will bring in some new staff. We will jump out in the fall and put our system in place. We may call some things differently, but it’ll be baseball. We have a good team coming back. I’m excited for them, as we will figure out a couple things. It’s the game of baseball. I want to make them feel like a million bucks. Confidence is a big key in this game.”
On why it was the right time to come to MSU…
“It was tough. I enjoyed my time at Indiana, but I compare this to Indiana. Indiana has basketball. This is Mississippi State baseball. I wake up every day, my feet hit the floor and I want to go to Omaha. I am motivated, and that’s my reason. You have a better opportunity to go there from here.”
On keeping assistant Jake Gautreau on staff…
“I spoke to Cohen, watched the games and you could see it in the buy-in from the players. I’ve known Gautreau for years as a recruiter. I felt like that continuity would be huge for us. Recruits get nervous during a process like this. I’m joining a team today that is probably nervous. My goal is to reach out and start building that relationship.”
Junior – Jake Mangum – OF
On the team’s response to meeting Coach Lemonis…
“We were excited. His message was great. I’m sure it has been a crazy couple of days for him. His track record speaks for itself, and we are excited to work with him.”
On getting over the “Omaha hangover” …
“It took us a day or two to get our sleep back, but other than that we are ready to go. Some guys will be going to play summer ball and will have a short turnaround because of us making such a deep run in the postseason. Some of us other guys will be staying here taking summer classes, working out and getting ready for next year.”
On having his fourth head coach in four years and finding stability…
“The consistency has been there. In three straight years, we have competed no matter who we have played against. It’s not that we’ve been inconsistent, but I do think Coach Lemonis will be the right guy to lead the way.”
On his meeting with Coach Lemonis…
“It went great. He gave me a game plan of what his goals are here at Mississippi State. He asked me a few questions about the past couple of years, and we went back and forth on a few other things.”
On the feeling now that the season is over and the desire to get back on the field…
“Yeah, we’re sad that it is over. We all wish we would have won three more games and brought the national title back to Starkville, but we are excited. This fall will be a lot different than last fall. We will actually have somewhere to practice this time. We are going to put our work in.”
On the drive for the team after making it to Omaha…
“The goal for every team is a national championship. We’ve won the SEC, made three Super Regional trips and a trip to Omaha in our time here. It is time for us to take that next step at Mississippi State. We are all looking for that first national title here at Mississippi State.
On what stands out about Coach Lemonis…
“His positive attitude. He understands that he is stepping into something that is really good here. We are excited to welcome him in and see what he can do to make us a better team.”
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