Expectations are a fickle beast. One person’s bounty is another’s burden. The expectations that greeted former college teammates and roommates Link Jarrett and Mike Martin Jr. when they arrived as head baseball coaches at Notre Dame and Florida State, respectively, just three years ago are now intertwined.
When Jarrett took over at Notre Dame in the summer of 2019, the Fighting Irish program was the equivalent of Jon Snow in Game of Thrones; cast out north of the wall to seemingly never be heard from again.
The once proud beacon of northern college baseball programs had become irrelevant in the post-Paul Mainieri era. Mainieri averaged 44 wins in his dozen seasons at Notre Dame, while leading the Irish to NCAA berths in his last eight seasons at the helm, with a resume-crowning first College World Series appearance since 1957 at the end of the 2002 campaign.
No northern program matched Notre Dame’s dominance in the early 2000s, but the 2000s are ancient history. If you don’t believe me, check out the flip phones on Better Call Saul before the series wraps up next month.
But Jarrett didn’t follow Mainieri to Notre Dame after seven years as head coach. He followed the Dave Schrage/Mik Aoki 13-year stretch from 2007-2019 that saw Notre Dame baseball sink to the bottom of college baseball’s frozen lake.
Schrage was overmatched in his four seasons at the Irish helm. He was a nameless combatant who was gobbled-up by Wight Walkers at the battle of the frozen lake. His Big East Conference regular season finishes were 7th, 3rd, 5th and 9th place. A far cry from the five straight Big East Tournament titles Mainieri garnered before leaving South Bend for LSU.
Schrage’s dismissal paved for Aoki’s arrival. The New Englander brought a different toughness to the Irish program. Aoki got the Irish back to the NCAA Tournament after an eight-year absence in 2015, but his reign at Notre Dame ended with four straight sub.-500 seasons after that.
So Jarrett’s expectations were modest when he walked through the Frank Eck Stadium gates in the summer of 2019. Just sniffing the NCAA Tournament – even being in the NCAA Tournament conversation – would have been a giant step for the Irish program.
Jarrett is a Florida State alum, who played for legendary Seminole head coach Mike Martin Sr. He helped his mentor reach the College World Series three times as an FSU shortstop in the early ‘90s.
When Martin retired after the 2019 campaign, Jarrett interviewed for the job. The only thing that stood in his way was a candidate that had something Jarrett’s seven-year head coaching experience could not overcome – his name.
Mike Martin, Jr., who roomed with Jarrett during their playing time together for Martin’s dad, was promoted from assistant to head coach when the elder Martin departed the Seminole program.
Martin, Jr’s lineage and the legacy his father built in his 40 seasons in Tallahassee. Martin, Sr left the game with 2,029 wins. the most of any coach in college baseball history.
Martin Sr’s Seminoles never failed to reach the NCAA Tournament and reached the College World Series 17 times in his 40 years at the helm.
The bar was set considerably higher for the younger Martin when he followed in his father’s footsteps.
If the younger Martin had been hired at Notre Dame and gone 77-54 overall with a 36-33 ACC record and two NCAA Regional bids in the last two-plus seasons, his future would be trumpeted in South Bend.
But those exact results as Florida State’s head coach now have him on the unemployment line.
Meanwhile, Jarrett’s led a remarkable renaissance in the same time with the Irish. He’s 80-29 overall with a 44-21 mark in the ACC, along with the first back-to-back Super Regional appearances in program history.
And now, add a College World Series trip, the first for Notre Dame in two decades, to the stellar resume Jarrett has compiled in just three years with the Irish.
When northern coaches, especially those at private schools, win like that the college baseball world takes notice, because the expectations for success above the Mason-Dixon line are incredibly low in a sport that's dominated by southern schools.
It’s the reason why former Irish coaches Pat Murphy and Mainieri were lured to college baseball powerhouses Arizona State and Louisiana State, respectively.
Similar jumps came for former Indiana coaches Tracy Smith, who left for Arizona State a season after leading the Hoosiers to Omaha, and Chris Lemonis, whose three NCAA bids in four years in Bloomington vaulted him to Mississippi State, where he won last year’s national championship.
What happens to Jarrett now that Notre Dame’s magical College World Series season is over? From the moment Martin Jr. was fired it was reported that Jarrett had become Florida State athletic director Michael Alford’s pick for the job.
Now Notre Dame begins another coaching search, having lost a rising star to a southern powerhouse. The Irish decision makers will look to find a new coach that can overcome the issues that plague northern programs, and continue building on what Jarrett established.
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