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Transcript: Dan McDonnell recaps 2021 season, NCAA tournament exclusion

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All eyes turn now to 2022.

2017 NCAA Division I Men’s Baseball Super Regional: Kentucky v Louisville Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Dan McDonnell met with the media on Monday afternoon to react to Louisville’s exclusion from the NCAA tournament, recap the 2021 season and look ahead to 2022. You can find the video here.

(On missing the NCAA tournament)

I think throughout the weekend, what you realize is, if everything goes as planned, maybe there’s a good shot you make it. But you learn in baseball, there’s a lot of upsets. It just dawned on me as the weekend was playing out, not that I ever felt like we were 100 percent in, but I felt pretty good. I felt good last week, I was excited about (Jared) Poland coming back, excited about (Glenn) Albanese coming back this weekend. When our lineup clicked, boy, it’s a scary lineup. But, I just think as the weekend went on, and you start to realize there’s upsets, and at larges kind of get bumped off, then what the chatter was out there, I think reality sent it pretty good last night. I wasn’t feeling great about it today. But, was prepared. Had a practice scheduled for the week, and I was prepared for both, which is not fun as a coach, but just something we have to do. Prepare for getting ready for a regional this weekend, and then prepare for the season coming to an end. We worked out Saturday, we had sim-scrimmage yesterday, we had guys hitting in the cages, we had to be physically and mentally ready to go play good baseball.

(On dealing with missing the tournament)

I’d be lying if I said I was handling it well. It’s hard, it’s really hard. What it does it, it just reminds you how blessed we’ve been. It reminds you how fortunate I’ve been. It reminds me how special the players have been, and not just talented players, but players that produce. Players that perform when the lights were on. It’s a very emotional. The sadness, and the frustration, and the disappointment, but you also get to reminisce about, “Wow, this has been such a special run”. Not that we ever took it for granted, but having experienced something we hadn’t experienced in a long time is definitely not a place we want to be again.

(On what he can take away from the last time he missed the tournament and apply this time around)

We had a great program at The Citadel, and we were the winningest team in the decade of the 90s, but we didn’t win every year. We didn’t go to the regional every year, so there was a lot of highs and lows at The Citadel. At Ole Miss, our six years from 2000 to 2006, we were the winningest team in the SEC. We had a lot a lot of highs, but there was a year in there that was a low, and we had to live through not playing in a regional. Then as you mentioned, 2011. I’ve been here before, I guess fortunately not a lot, but enough to have experience. You just got to be real, and you got to go back to the drawing board. I told the kids when the meeting ended, I said “guys, I’m gonna talk to the media”. I’m responsible. I hold myself responsible for this, and where we’re at, and how we played, and so I have to look in the mirror first, and have to do my checks and balances. But what you should probably do every year, win or lose, is how do we get better, and looking ahead at the future. I would imagine now, that having such an unusual meeting, that you got their attention.

As you reminded the kids in the meeting today, we hope you learn a lot of valuable lessons from this program. One being there’s a fine line between winning and losing. As good as we’ve been for many, many years, I’ve always respected the fine line between winning and losing. I’d like to think myself, and our coaching staff, and our support staff, and ultimately the players - it’s a saying when you say cross every T and dot every i, but man, it really comes to life when you’re on the losing end. When you’re on the fine line of losing more than we’re used to.

(On the plan heading into the summer)

Well, whenever the season ends, and yes, when you end in Omaha three weeks later, you feel like you’re behind. But there’s no difference having the season comes to an end officially today. There is a sense of urgency. There is a high sense of urgency. For me, I’m very excited to get back to the previous summers. Last summer was obviously different, but for me it’s - we have a game plan for every player. I met with our coaches, and we do a really good job in recruiting, and we’re preparing for the future. We’ve got so many dynamics going on. I made it clear in our coaches meeting, most important right now is the current roster. Right now, this current roster.

The guys that are here, and been here, what are they doing? What are they doing today, tomorrow, and it starts with, obviously, our big summer ball list. We’ll have a big list of guys going off to play summer ball. We obviously got a big list the group of guys that are in the draft mix. Some you know are gonna sign, some you don’t think you’re gonna sign, and then you got some in the middle. As is every summer, we have to get every kid in a position to get better, and have a game plan. We have to get ready for our camps, which is a big part of our program. As well as the tournaments, and the recruiting calendar. As most people know, college baseball, our summers are crazy. I’m looking forward to the getting back to the craziness of a normal summer.

(On if the cancellation of the Pitt series played a role in Louisville’s late season collapse)

In everything, we have to evaluate. You got to be careful, because in one sense, you don’t want to make a bunch of excuses. You list all these excuses, and then you go to bed tonight and you think, “well tomorrow, everything’s gonna be fine”. But on the other side, you want to be a realist too. It’s amazing when you look at it on paper, both Pitt and ourselves playing - they’re winning their division, and we’re a game or so out of our division, playing really good baseball. I never would imagine when I got that call on a Wednesday afternoon, that that would send us into a tailspin. And it did. I never imagined we would go to Clemson 10 days later, and play as bad as we did. Not to take anything away from Clemson, they deserved to win those games, so I don’t ever want to make it sound like it was all us. But, we were not the same team, and they weren’t the same team.

Now with that being said, we still had deficiencies, so we can’t blame it on a COVID thing. At the end of the day, when you break down our stats, when you dive into where we fell short, we had deficiencies. We probably had them going into the Pitt weekend, but we were still doing enough to win, and we’re putting it together enough to be in the position we were in, which was a really good spot going into that Pitt weekend.

(On if last season’s cancellation impacted the development of players)

Yeah. Just individually, there were several players that I think, when we met downstairs, we take pride in player development in our program. One of the responsibilities we feel as coaches, is to help each player be their best. But obviously, they have to want to be their best, so it’s a partnership. Here we are today, looking back on the ‘21 season, and we clearly had a lot of guys that were not their best. But again, I can’t blame it on one specific thing, because everybody in the country had to go through it. But for our program, and how we run and how we operate, as I mentioned earlier, I’m just super excited to get back at it. I’m super excited that, as the kids know, I look at box scores every morning, I’m texting kids throughout the week, we’re having phone conversations, I’m sending letters in the mail, I’m sending stuff to their host families. I’m getting back to the way we’ve always done things, and we just couldn’t do last summer. But, it is what it is, I guess. I hope I’m a better coach the next time something like that comes around, because I obviously didn’t do a good enough job this time.

(On of he has had contact with LSU regarding their vacant head coaching position)

No. I’ve always said it, it’s two-fold. It’s a compliment, it’s flattering to be mentioned by some of the prestigious programs out there. I think the flip side is, sometimes it’s a slap in the face to the program that we’re at. We’d like to think Louisville is a destination spot. But no I haven’t had any contact with them yet.

(On how much more difficult roster management will be with the MLB Draft later than normal)

Well I can tell you meetings, individually, start today at two o’clock. I don’t need anybody feeling sorry for me, because I’m typically not laying by a pool on Memorial Day anyway. Even though I’m very appreciative of what the military have done for me and this country, and I do like to celebrate. I’m just usually practicing, scouting, going to games. This is a busy, busy day for us. I’ll meet with most of the players through the evening, I’ll meet with the rest tomorrow morning, and then we’ll do our best. I think college baseball coaches have been the best of navigating a roster with a lot of challenging circumstances. I don’t care if we’re the number one ranked team in the country, or we’re not in the field, the draft being this late is going to create some real, real challenges.

This is not something college baseball voted for. Was it our first choice having it during the Super Regionals? Well, no, but I always said, “Hey man, I’d rather be one of the eight teams or 16 teams having to deal with it”. There’s 275 teams that would like to trade places with us. But I don’t think college baseball is going to benefit from a middle-July draft date. It’s nice I guess that maybe kids can now transfer, but you have to be in the transfer portal by July 1. Yet the draft is not till July 11, and there are a lot of kids across the country that, like the school that they’re at, would like to be the starting, whatever where they’re at. But if Johnny, let’s say, doesn’t get drafted where he thinks on July 11, and Johnny’s the starting whatever and he wants to come back, what about the player that thought he was stepping into that role? I brought this up, as I bring up many things that I don’t necessarily know where they go, but this is something we brought up as college coaches. There’s a real dynamic to these roster and how this is all going to shake out. This being the first summer definitely won’t be the smoothest summer, but when it’s all said and done, I don’t know if any sport has had the practice and the experience that the world of college baseball has had, even with the challenge of this later draft.

I think we’ll do a pretty good job, but it’s not going to be an exact science. There’s going to be some unfortunate situations that come out, and hopefully we can make some tweaks over the next year or two to make this process a little smoother. Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about the student-athlete. We want what’s best for the student-athlete. I’m going to meet with kids this afternoon. On May 31, I don’t know what’s best for him. I honestly don’t, because I don’t know the roster. I don’t know what kids are coming back, and I don’t know what signees are coming in. So there’s going to be a lot of a lot of gray area, which I’m not a fan of, but it just is what it is.

(On the resumption of in-person recruiting and the transfer portal)

The reason we’ve had all the success we’ve had, number one, is recruiting. I always say we don’t sprinkle magic dust on these players. We recruit a lot of good players. Yes, we’ve helped them get better, and they bought in, and all the right factors line up. But, we’re gonna jump right into recruiting, and it never stopped. It just stopped in person, but now we can get back out. Recruiting is so far ahead, that all these kids in the ‘22 class and the ‘23 class, a lot of these kids have been committed for a couple years anyway.

The transfer portal is, I want it to be a win-win. I want to help kids that might be a little low on the depth chart, and they can get to school X or Y, and they can play. I played at a mid-major, and had the time of my life. Great memories, great friends, I wouldn’t trade for anything. There are a lot of positives to the transfer portal. The negative is, yeah, you’re hearing what’s happening in other sports. I won’t say which, but you know. You’re hearing it. I can just tell you from our standpoint, I’m not gonna act like we wouldn’t take somebody from the transfer portal. But it’s not like we’re waiting for somebody to jump in there. I trust the kids we recruited, I trust the kids who’ve committed. But again, I’d be a fool if you have the right kid in the right situation. Maybe it’s a coaching change, or who knows. Maybe it’s a kid that we recruited and he chose another school, and realizes this is a better fit for him. We’d be fools to not pay attention to it, but it’s not choice one. We’re not going to live and die in the transfer world.

(On what the first thing he is telling players to improve upon heading into the summer)

It’s about being their best. Each kid has his own set of notes. Some kids are getting stronger, some kids are becoming better athletes, some kids have to get a little quicker, some kids have to get better defensively, some kids have to get a better breaking ball. Each kid has his list. Our job is to be clear - where they need to improve, and help them put them in a situation to do that. Whether that’s playing in a summer league, or whether that’s staying here, and getting in the weight room for the next four to eight weeks. That’s part of the meeting process.

At the end of the day, if each kid is striving to be his best, and we keep doing what we’re doing, I have no doubt we’ll bounce back. But it’s it’s not given, it’s not an automatic, but I like our process, I like our system. I don’t mind the challenge either. I’ve already had a chip on my shoulder to begin with. We welcome the doubters, and we welcome those that are down on us. I’d like to think enough people will believe in us, and support us, and do what they need to do if they can help us in any way to get back to the program that we’ve been.

(On what he’s learned as a coach over the last two years to make sure Louisville does not miss the NCAA Tournament again)

I think you’re always learning. I’ve got notes for a few younger guys, you’ve never arrived. Don’t think you’ve arrived, you got to keep learning, you got to keep getting better, you got to adjust, you got to adapt. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. We could win the national championship, I’m not gonna act like I’m not learning, and I’m not going to continue to learn and try to get better.

Again, as the message is with the players, it’s just about being our best. In 2011, we just weren’t great. We had an older group that really wasn’t that good, and we had a talented younger group that was pretty good, but they were young. We just we went through a normal transition that happens to all programs. This was different. We had a lot of talent. We had plenty of talent. Now we had a lot of issues on the mound, and that’s a whole story in itself, but we had a lot of talent. I’m proud and happy for the kids, I mean we’re going to pump out a couple first-rounders, and a second or third, and fourth and fifth. We’re going to pump several guys into pro ball, as we’ve been doing for a good stretch. We just had a lot of guys that didn’t play up to that level. We had a few, but we didn’t have enough. But again, as coaches, you always feel that’s our job, that’s our responsibility to help these kids be their best. It’s a growth mindset.

I talk about it a lot with our players, you can’t have a fixed mindset. I talked about Corey Ray, and when he got here, what type of player he was. By December, I was 50/50 on if he was going to make it at Louisville, and by April I was 75/25 he was gonna make it at Louisville, and by the postseason I was 100%, because Corey Ray had a growth mindset. He was willing to adapt, willing to make changes, willing to make adjustments, willing to learn, willing to try something new. The fixed mindset, you got to be careful.

As successful as we’ve been, I don’t ever want to have a fixed mindset. I believe me, I got to grow in areas, and I got to get better. We don’t we don’t want this to happen again. I don’t want those kids to sit in that meeting room and be on the bubble, and not get that call. The cool thing about being in that meeting room, on the bubble, if you get the call, I learned is a powerful thing. It would have been fun to take this group into a regional, with cheers and real excitement and real energy and real “I got a second chance at life here.”

With the pitching staff, we felt starting to come together, it would have been real fun. I don’t want to act like we’re above ever being on the bubble, and being in the position we were in today, because I’d be foolish to act like that. But the players have to know, and the program has to know, there’s an obvious standard when you choose to come to Louisville. This year wasn’t the standard.

(On the incoming Class of 2021)

It’s arguably one of the most important things we do. If you look back at the press conference when Vince and I sat there in ‘18, he talked about three things. The first thing he talked about, because it was that important to me and to our program, was summer school. We take these kids that have been committed to us for years, or maybe you committed last week, and we get you here in July.

We do like football does, and we bring you in, and we get you in our system for a month, you get all the attention. From the strength coach, to the nutritionist, to our mental coach, to our trainer, to our Academic Coordinator, to our FCA director, you get it allYou get a five week, I call it a combine. For five weeks, you get to learn and live as a Louisville baseball player with all the attention. Late August when school starts, and all the returners are back, you are now ready to go, you are prepared. That and that started with Jeffrey Thompson, Chad Green Adam Engel, Cole Sturgeon, Cody Ege, it started with a group. I remember when we started it, we took our program to another level. We are ready and excited in all fronts. It’s a big class, because the expectation is we’re losing a lot of kids. I’m so excited about the young arms. Man, we need an influx of young talented arms. They are going to get a great opportunity, these young guys. I think of when Detmers and Miller, and those guys were freshmen, as Thompson, Green and Ege when those guys were freshmen. I’m so excited about the influx of arms. Position players, there’s definitely a handful of them that can help us right away. It’s how they adapt.

Again, Corey Ray ended being the fifth pick of the draft. But his freshman year, come Christmas, I didn’t think he was playing, and he wasn’t playing his freshman year for about halfway. So I’m always a little cautious when I talk about the position player group. But, let’s face it, our star power was position players this year, and we’re losing a handful of position players. Whether it’s due to the draft, or even some older guys. I just think it’s an exciting time if you’re coming in in the 2021 class. Now are they gonna bring me a lot of stress next year, and are we gonna be a young team? Yeah, we will. But I can deal with young talent, as long as you buy in, and you’re willing to compete. So I’m looking forward to it.