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It’s amazing sometimes what a single game, or NCAA Tournament bid, can mean in the life of a coach.
Take Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, for example. If his Rebels had beaten Arizona and coach Jay Johnson in the best-of-three Super Regional title game last June 13 in Tucson, Arizona, to reach the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, Bianco could be LSU’s coach today.
“No doubt about it,” even Johnson said before the 2022 season.
And who knows, maybe LSU and Bianco are playing this weekend in a Super Regional in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against Southern Mississippi with Omaha on the line?
Intead, LSU and Johnson lost at USM, 8-7, in an NCAA Regional final on Monday in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Bianco and Ole Miss (35-22) will play at USM (47-17) in a Super Regional Saturday (4 p.m. eastern, ESPNU) and Sunday (4 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU). A third game – if necessary – will be on Monday at a time to be announced.
No. 3 seed Ole Miss advanced to play at No. 1 seed USM because Bianco’s Rebels beat Johnson’s old Arizona team, 22-6, in an NCAA Regional final on Monday night in Coral Gables, Floria. That was after Ole Miss knocked off No. 1 seed and host Miami, 2-1, on Sunday and No. 2 seed Arizona, 7-4, on Saturday.
But none of that happens, if Ole Miss does not receive a bid to the NCAA Tournament on Monday, May 30. And at No. 40 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) following a 3-1 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament play-in game on May 24, things did not look good for an Ole Miss bid at the time. The Rebels did finish fifth out of seven teams in the SEC West at 14-16.
“I didn’t think we were done,” Bianco told OutKick on Thursday. “But I wasn’t real comfortable.”
But they got in with the last of 33 at-large bids.
SEC PUTS 5 TEAMS INTO SUPER REGIONAL PLAY
Had Ole Miss not received that last bid, several close to the Ole Miss program said Bianco could have been fired on May 30.
“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve done this for 22 years here, and I know it sounds like coach-speak, but it’s the truth – I don’t know,” Bianco said. “I don’t listen to anything. I don’t read anything. I’m on Twitter, but I only follow 48 accounts. I do that because I only follow things I want to hear. So, those questions are probably better directed towards an athletic director than myself.”
Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter did not return a call from OutKick on Thursday.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here over 22 years,” Bianco said. “We had a tough year, but the truth of it is, what you’re talking about was at a point where the season wasn’t done, the story wasn’t written yet.”
A firing of Bianco was more imminent on May 1 when the Rebels were in the throes of that “tough year” than even on May 30 pre-bid. The Rebels, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation in March, lost their second straight at Arkansas on May 1 to fall to 24-19 and 7-14 in the SEC – their worst mark after 21 SEC games since Bianco took over in Oxford, Mississippi, before the 2001 season.
Even with an 8-2 regular-season finish that included a three-game sweep at No. 9 LSU on May 15 and a win at No. 11 USM, Bianco had to reach an NCAA Regional, insiders said, to keep his job. Then he needed to get to the Super Regional, insiders said.
And now, some even say, he has to win the Super Regional at USM. If he does that, what’s next? Bianco has two win a couple in Omaha? And if he does that, does he have to win it all?
“People talk about hot seat and all that,” Bianco said. “I think common sense would say at the end of the day, you’ve got to look at the whole picture. I don’t know how else to answer it. But I don’t really feel like that (coaching for his job) – ever. I think people respect what we’ve accomplished here. We averaged 10,000 people (9,998) a game this year, So, that’s not bad.”
But “Super Regional” has become two four-letter words under Bianco, even though, Ole Miss reached the NCAA postseason just seven times in 107 years of baseball before him. He has Ole Miss in the postseason for the 18th time and in a Super Regional for the eighth time in just over 20 years. But he is 1-6 in Super Regionals, including three at home after winning the first game. The only Omaha appearance was in 2014 after winning the last two at Louisiana-Lafayette.
So, many at and around Ole Miss are Bianco brand weary. He consistently gets close, but the fact he hasn’t reached Omaha more diminishes the “super” accomplishments among many.
MIKE BIANCO LOST LSU JOB TO JAY JOHNSON, BUT HE GETS SWEEPING REVENGE
Adding to that issue is the fact that Bianco angered some Ole Miss people’s feelings when he obviously showed interest in the LSU job and interviewed with LSU athletic director Scott Woodward last year. He was not offered the job.
Ole Miss fans should remember, though, that Bianco played at LSU (1988-89), met his wife Cami at LSU and was an assistant coach there from 1993-97. He also turned down the LSU job after the 2006 season as he was just starting to roll at Ole Miss with Super Regional host sites in 2005 and ’06.
“I can’t speculate on that,” Bianco said about possibly hurting his job status with the LSU interview last year. “But I think if you can kind of pull yourself away from just being a fan and realize that we’ve had some special moments there at LSU. My wife and I both graduated from there. I started my coaching career there. My first child was born there, and I had three of them who were born in Louisiana.”
Bianco was the coach at McNeese State in Lake Charles, La., from 1998-2000 before coming to Ole Miss. His son Drew has played at LSU since the 2019 season.
“Still have a lot of family in south Louisiana,” he said. “So we felt, and still do, that when they called and wanted to have a conversation, we deserved to have that conversation. We didn’t know where that was going to go and how we were going to feel. It (LSU) still means a lot to us. We still got a son that plays there. We still have those memories, but we have a lot of neat memories here. I think if you ask our children where they’re from, they say Oxford, Mississippi. And I think after a couple days, we realized that this is home. At the end, we felt that this is our home.”
Bianco makes $1.2 million a year and has two years remaining on a four-year contract after this season.
And if Bianco can reach Omaha with the Rebels for a second time, home may be that much more comfortable.
“I think it would be the ultimate, ‘Right back at you,’ to the Ole Miss people who wanted him fired,” an old friend said. “He’s safe now anyway, but that would be really sweet.”
2 CommentsLeave a Reply
$1.2M? Wow, good for him. He’s earning it, that’s for sure.
Interesting story, but more context, please. Without the background info, this interesting story becomes confusing. For the non-LSU-insider or the non-College-baseball-regular, one piece of information can help us in the second paragraph: “LSU’s baseball coach Paul Mainieri retired at the end of the 2021 season, leaving a position open that the winning Pac-12 Coach Johnson would accept instead.” Without that background knowledge, no mention of Mainieri, following all these Sliding Doors hypotheticals between Arizona/Ole Miss/LSU and Omaha (and later USM) is a puzzling exercise for the general sports reader.