So Much For That Elite Hire: State Hires Chris Lemonis

Ever since Andy Cannizaro ‘resigned’ in February, Mississippi State Athletics Director John Cohen has promised the fans that he intended to bring in an elite coach.

“Obviously I know Mississippi State is a first rate program, a high caliber program, it’s one of the elite programs.  But I am really surprised with the amount of interest we have gotten, mostly through 3rd parties, and the stable of coaches who are interested in being at Mississippi State.”   – John Cohen, MSU AD

With those words, Cohen put the college baseball world on notice. Mississippi State was going to hire a big, big name. Over the past few weeks, rumors flew about all of the coaches that could land in Starkville.


But a day after the Bulldogs were eliminated from Omaha, word started to leak that Cohen had hired Indiana’s Chris Lemonis to be his new coach. Lemonis will be the 4th coach at State in less than 20 months.
Did John Cohen deliver on what he’d promised?

“This person is going to have serious college baseball experience as a head coach.  This person is going to have made trips to Omaha, Nebraska. This person is going to have expertise in an area of the game and all facets of the game.  And this person is going to make our fan base very happy.”   – Cohen

Is Lemonis really that good of a hire? Let’s break this down by Cohen’s stated criteria and other info that is swirling.

“This person is going to have serious college baseball experience as a head coach. This person is going to have made trips to Omaha.”


Well I guess Lemonis has “serious” experience because he had a D1 job in the 6th best baseball conference in the country.  He hasn’t made any trips to Omaha unless he went there on vacation.
When he was an assistant at Louisville, Lemonis went as a member of the Big East and American Athletic Conference. But obviously that’s not what Cohen was referring to.
As a head coach he is just around .500 vs teams in the RPI 100 but really good against bad teams.  How many 100+ teams is he going to find in the SEC West?
Lemonis hasn’t won a regional and is just 4-6 in NCAA play. And this year his program was just 8-14 against top 50 teams. He’s about to step up in class: in 2018, Mississippi State won more top 50 games than Indiana played.

“This person is going to have expertise in an area of the game and all facets of the game.”


Lemonis was the hitting coach at Louisville and they put up good numbers while he was there.  In his final year at Indiana they were a solid offensive team in a weak league. Cohen got that part right for sure. And the Hoosiers played just so-so defense (.976 fielding would have been 8th in the SEC).
But hitting Big Ten pitching and hitting top-flight arms like Knight, Singer, Kowar, and Hjelle is a lot different.

Lemonis … is known as a phenomenal recruiter.

This is the line that is being repeated by many State fans today. It’s baloney. Here are his recruiting rankings at Indiana (according to Perfect Game):
2015 – 29
2016 – 61
2017 – 39
2018 – 39
I would say those numbers are adequate but nowhere near phenomenal.
Lemonis was the recruiting coordinator at Louisville but the Cardinals have recruited better since he left. Louisville finished ranked 23 in 2011, 38 in 2012, 15 in 2013 and 33 in 2014 in recruiting.  In the 4 years since his departure they have finished 8, 20, 23 and 9th.
I never expected State to be able to snag Schlossnagle (TCU), McDonnell (Louisville) or Auburn’s Butch Thompson.  I always thought the hire would be a step down from those guys. I’ve watched too many college baseball searches where all the top names are mentioned and someone much further down the list actually gets the job.
In the last 2 years, Texas and South Carolina fans were certain that Kevin O’Sullivan was coming to their school.  Hell, A&M thought they were getting George Horton or Ray Tanner when their job was open.
In the end, State got a guy no one was expecting. And none of us know how this will turn out. But on the surface, it’s is a disappointing move. He’s a solid hitting coach, a decent recruiter, and a head coach that has gotten to a few regionals.
But he’s never produced when he got there. Add to that fact: Indiana has only had 1 player drafted in the top 20 rounds since he became the head coach.
Mississippi State baseball is an attractive job and in the best conference in the country. The last 3 years have produced 3 regional titles and a deep run in Omaha.  And the $55 million renovation at Dudy Noble puts it in the top 2-3 college stadiums in the country.
All of which makes this a failure on Cohen’s part from the get-go.  He publicly hyped a big-time hire and didn’t produce. He painted himself into a corner where anyone but an elite coach was going to be a let down.
The hire is even more puzzling because if you were just going to add someone with a mediocre resume, you could just chosen Gary Henderson. Mediocre, at least, before he led you to the final four in Omaha.


Towns played baseball for Houston in the mid-90’s. He is most famous for walking 9 LSU batters in just 3 innings.

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