College Pod: Louisville Coach Dan McDonnell

Image credit: Louisville coach Dan McDonnell

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Louisville coach Dan McDonnell joined Teddy Cahill on the Baseball America College podcast this week to talk, among many things, the Cardinals’ approach to recruiting. 

Baseball America recently re-ranked Louisville’s 2014 recruiting class as the best class from that year. 

Of course, it helped having Brendan McKay, arguably one of the best college baseball players ever. McKay was a decorated three-year star who won the 2017 ACC and Baseball America Player of the Year awards and a central figure during Louisville’s run to the College World Series in 2017. 

“I can’t get over the consistency he had for three years,” McDonnell said.

“To me, that’s what is so impressive. A slump for him was a bad couple games. Maybe a bad week. But it was three years of putting up numbers, punching the clock, showing up every day. You understand, the great teams or the great groups always have the star player. You have to have the Michael Jordan, the LeBron James, the Tom Brady, the Derek Jeter. They make everyone better. That has to go down as one of Brendan’s greatest accomplishments.”

But McKay was not alone. Louisville had a strong core mostly comprised of under-the-radar recruits from the midwest. The Cardinals’ 2014 recruiting class was initially unranked in 2014.

A quick scan of Louisville’s roster this season shows plenty of players from Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio, which aren’t necessarily thought of as baseball hotbeds. 

McDonnell said this is a conscious choice. He credited his assistant coaches (Roger Williams and Eric Snider) for having a trove of connections across the midwest. It also made sense at the time — Louisville was a a Big East school, then briefly re-aligned to the AAC before landing in the ACC. 

They found a type of player that gelled with what McDonnell believes in. 

“Then we realized there’s something about these Midwest kids,” he said.

“They’re a little raw when we get them because they might lack reps. But they’re a tough kid, a blue collar kid, a team-oriented kid. A competitive kid. It fit my style perfect. I’m from the northeast and grew up playing three sports. You played football, then right to basketball, then right to baseball … I loved that mix of toughness, athleticism, multi-sport kids. Kids who have to play in bad weather. Kids who bring several qualities who fit in well with our system.”

Louisville has an experienced lineup returning looks primed for another strong season in 2019. It also enters the season with the No. 4 recruiting class in all of college baseball. 

And the key to continually finding success in recruiting? 

“You never arrive or kick your feet up and think alright, well, we won so many games, now they’re just going to come show up,” McDonnell said.

“You have to work today like you didn’t do anything the year before. It doesn’t matter what you did the year before. Kids just aren’t going to fall on your lap. You have to get out there and recruit, evaluate, talk to a lot of people and you have to trust certain people. I think that’s where Eric and Roger — who they trust has gone a long way toward what kids we’ve made moves on.”

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