Mississippi State Hires Chris Lemonis As Head Coach
Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen wasted no time in hiring the program’s next head coach. On Monday, two days after the Bulldogs lost to Oregon State in the College World Series final four, Cohen named Chris Lemonis head coach, hiring him away from Indiana.
Mississippi State had a roller-coaster season after former head coach Andy Cannizaro in February resigned, just a week into the second season of his tenure, due to off-field transgressions. Gary Henderson was promoted from pitching coach to interim head coach and kept the Bulldogs afloat during the regular season, securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a sweep of Florida on the final weekend of the regular season. Mississippi State was on the verge of going 0-2 in regionals, however, when Elijah MacNamee hit a walk-off home run in an elimination game at Florida State, sparking the Bulldogs on a improbable postseason run.
Mississippi State went through the losers’ bracket to win the Tallahassee Regional and then won a thrilling super regional in three games at Vanderbilt to return to the CWS for the first time since 2013. The Bulldogs won their first two games in Omaha before losing on back-to-back days to Oregon State, ending their season Saturday.
That late-season push, however, was not enough to land Henderson the job on a permanent basis. He had succeeded Cohen as head coach at Kentucky a decade ago and went 258-199 in eight years in Lexington. But he had a .439 winning percentage in Southeastern Conference play, finished better than fourth place in the SEC East just once and only twice made regionals. So, while he guided Mississippi State to a 39-26 record and to the precipice of the CWS finals, Cohen went in another direction for the program’s next head coach.
Cohen’s search ultimately landed on Lemonis, who has spent the last four years as head coach at Indiana. Previously, he was recruiting coordinator under Dan McDonnell at Louisville, where he was named 2013 co-Assistant Coach of the Year. Lemonis went 141-91-2 in four years at Indiana and guided the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament three times, though he never won the Big Ten Conference or a regional.
Lemonis is known for his prowess both as a recruiter and for his ability to teach hitting. Louisville had never had a Top 25 recruiting class before he joined the staff. He landed five top-25 classes in his tenure and recruited players such as Brendan McKay, the 2017 College Player of the Year, and Corey Ray, the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft.
Lemonis now will be handed the keys to one of college baseball’s highest-profile programs at a time when it is primed to take off. Not only did Mississippi State advance to Omaha, it did so with a rather young roster and returns several core players next season, including leading hitter Jake Mangum and closer Riley Self. It will also open the newly renovated Dudy-Nobel Field, a $55 million project that promises to turn the stadium instantly into one of the sport’s showpieces.
All of that raises expectations in Starkville, but Lemonis has been well prepared for the opportunity.