Dan McDonnell returns to Swayze Field as Louisville faces Ole Miss

Photo courtesy of GoCards.com
Photo courtesy of GoCards.com /

Dan McDonnell is a name you’ve heard before. If it isn’t, you probably aren’t tuned into the Ole Miss baseball program. He, along with current head coach Mike Bianco, are two of the main reasons Ole Miss is currently a national power on the diamond.

The head skipper at Louisville told Chase Parham of RebelGrove.com on the Oxford Exxon Podcast, it was a memorable trip from the Memphis Airport that started it all.

Click here for the full audio via iTunes of the RebelGrove.com, Oxford Exxon Podcast.

"“My first recruiting trip, all I had was a radar gun and a flip phone. Bianco told me to go find some players. I came back from the Memphis airport with Matt Tolbert and off we went,” McDonnell said.“We knew we had the vision and passion for what we wanted to do and it worked. Between Stephen Head and Matt Tolbert, we had some great players and we won a lot of games.”"

Photo courtesy of GoCards.com
Photo courtesy of GoCards.com /

A graduate of The Citadel, McDonnell remembers the beginning times in Oxford.  What you see now in regards to facilities and support were lean and he knew it was going to take work. Work is what they did, as Ole Miss would experience success it hadn’t seen before.

In his six seasons in Oxford, Ole Miss averaged just over 40 wins per season and finished in the top three on four occasions, winning the 2006 SEC Tournament and sharing the 2005 regular season title, according to GoCards.com

His recruiting classes produced three first-team Freshman All-Americans, one second-team Freshman All-American and two honorable mention Freshman All-Americans. Per GoCards.com, former Rebel outfielder Seth Smith, who played for the Colorado Rockies in the 2007 MLB World Series, was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2002 and first baseman/left-handed pitcher Stephen Head earned the honor in 2003.

Head, who currently serves as an assistant coach at Ole Miss, was also selected as one of four National Freshmen of the Year by Collegiate Baseball in 2003. The one thing Ole Miss couldn’t do is get to Omaha, Neb. This, of course, is the site of the College World Series.

"“It’s so hard to get to Omaha because you need luck and you need a few breaks. It’s a two out of three series and about who’s going to get hot,” McDonnell said. “When I was in Oxford we won the SEC Tournament, hosted both regular and Super (NCAA) Regionals. We were so close (to Omaha.)”"

McDonnell knows the route from Louisville to Omaha very well now. He’s led the Cards to the mecca of college baseball three times; 2007, 2013 and 2014. In the end, he was happy to see all of those hard nights pay off early in his career when his friend and former team punched their ticket.

"“It’s not easy and what Ole Miss did last season is cool. Lafayette is a hostile place to play and I was glued to the TV. We had already clinched our spot in the CWS and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way to see Ole Miss make it as well. I was so happy they won,” McDonnell said."

Photo courtesy of GoCards.com
Photo courtesy of GoCards.com /

Ole Miss released additions coming to Oxford-University Stadium, in what is already, a state of the art facility. They include the possibly of premium seating options down right field and updates to the left field terrace area. The biggest are the updates to the inside locker areas of the stadium in regards to player amenities. To McDonnell, the opportunity to play in this environment is only a plus.

"“I told our kids to play at a venue like Ole Miss has with its fans and environment, it will help us prepare for our road games in the ACC this season. We’ll need this because we have to trip to Miami and Florida State,” he said."

In the end, McDonnell feels like he is coming home.

"“I take a ton of pride in my time at Ole Miss. I am very appreciate of the opportunity Mike Bianco gave me and to grow, not only as a coach, but as a person,” McDonnell said.“It’s special for me to come back here and always a time for me to thank Mike (Bianco) and what Ole Miss did for my career. I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. It truly was a blessing for my family,” he added."

If you ask Ole Miss fans, Dan McDonnell was the blessing, along with Bianco, for a program in need of sustained success. It will be no surprise when public address announcer Glen Waddell announces his name and an applause follows.

For Dan McDonnell, he wouldn’t have it any other way.