As Paul Mainieri sat in the dugout watching the bottom of the ninth inning, he thought about a lot of things. He thought about his wife Karen, his son in South Bend and all of his children who made the trip to Knoxville to be there with him.
But most of all he was thinking about his best friend, his father Demie Mainieri. After 39 years in the dugout as a head coach and many before that learning the game from Demie, Mainieri tried to fight back tears in the postseason press conference, yet he couldn't help but succomb to those emotions.
"I don't want people to be sad for me. I've been the luckiest guy in the world," Mainieri said. "I got to live out a childhood dream, got to do what I wanted to do all my life. Who could ask for more?
"It's been 15 wonderful years and I've loved every second of it. I'll cherish it forever."
It was a heartfelt final farewell from a coach who has represented this program and this university with the utmost class during his 15 years as the head baseball coach. But all good things come to an end and the Tigers will now set focus to a number of offseason changes, starting with replacing the man who elevated the program to new heights in the age of modern baseball.
First and foremost, the immediate future of the program will be decided swiftly. A number of coaching candidates have popped up in the two weeks since Mainieri announced his retirement but there isn't much of a sense as to where the athletic administration is leaning.
East Carolina coah Cliff Godwin and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco are the two names that gained the most traction in recent days. Godwin saw his season come to an end this weekend against Vanderbilt and Bianco watched the Rebels season come to a close Sunday evening in 16-3 blowout fashion against Arizona. Based on Scott Woodward's track record, this will likely be a hire that moves relatively quickly now that LSU's season has come to an end.
Regardless of who the administration brings in, expect Mainieri to be there with open arms, aiding in any way he can to make the transition smooth for the players and new coach.
"It's not really what I need to do but rather what the new coach asks me to do," Mainieri said. "I'm not in any way going to overstep my boundaries. I'll be there when he asks for any advice or any questions but I'll make myself available to him. First I have to say goodbye to these kids and then we'll get everything prepared to transition to the new coach.
"I'll be around to give advice and help in whatever way they ask of me, just like Skip [Bertman] has done for me. I want nothing but great things for this program going forward."
The reason that Mainieri announced the retirement decision when he did was to give Woodward and the administration time to not only find the perfect candidate but to bring him in to assess the roster and move as quickly as possible to address areas of improvement.
There's no doubt there will be some weaknesses with this group, including figuring out the starting pitching, bullpen and some primary fielding positions with various players moving on.
"There's some good young talent on this team but there's also some areas that need to improve, there's no doubt about that," Mainieri said. "Get into filling some holes that maybe we weren't able to with our incoming recruiting class, maybe going into the transfer portal if necessary. Just make the team as strong as they can for next year but there's a strong foundation and I think we've put the program in very good shape."
One of those areas will be summer camp and assigning players to various summer leagues like Cape Cod in order for them to get some offseason work in before the fall semester. LSU will be returning many young stars to the roster including Dylan Crews, Tre Morgan, Jordan Thompson, Cade Doughty, Garrett Edwards and Javen Coleman so getting those guys as much work as possible to develop will be key.
"I have some things I'll need to do to help the new coach," Mainieri said. "We have summer camp, we've gotta make sure we're organized with that."
For now Mainieri will focus on saying goodbye to the players on this current team, the ones who will represent his final season in the coaching profession, and a team he'll never forget.
"Our kids battled like crazy and we got counted out a lot of times throughout the course of the year," Mainieri said. "Our guys never gave up, they're a resilient bunch and I love them to death. I'll always remember them."