Johnson to succeed Mainieri, accepts burden of championship expections

Published 8:47 pm Saturday, June 26, 2021

Jay Johnson took Arizona to the College World Series twice and was happy with the Wildcats.

But the opportunity to go beyond Omaha toe taps made the LSU job too attractive to pass up.

LSU confirmed Friday that Johnson will take over the Tigers baseball program, and the 44-year-old coach didn’t mince words when addressing the traditionally tough standards and expectations at the school.

He said he was humbled and honored to get the job, and excited to “serve as the steward of the next generation of national champions.”

LSU has six of those in the trophy case, one since 2000 and none since the retiring Paul Mainieri’s lone CWS title in 2009.

Johnson, this year’s Pac-12 Coach of the Year after leading Arizona to the conference regular-season championship and into the CWS, will be introduced to the state Monday with a news conference at Alex Box Stadium.

He’s a West Coast lifer with no connections to the South, but it won’t be his first trip to Louisiana.

His first Arizona team won the 2016 NCAA regional hosted by Louisiana-Lafayette en route to the first of his two CWS trips.

“I view this as the opportunity of my lifetime,” Johnson said in the school’s news release. “I will do everything in my power to have our team playing a brand of baseball that makes everyone at LSU, the Baton Rouge community, and the entire state of Louisiana incredibly proud.”

The brand was one of the things that attracted LSU Athletic Director Scott Woodward to Johnson.

“Ultimately, Jay’s track record of postseason success, explosive lineups, and highly ranked recruiting classes set him apart from the field,” Woodward said in the release.

That field, he said, was a crowded lot.

“LSU baseball is the premier program in the nation, and the interest we received from great coaches across the country was significant,” he said.

Johnson, who grew up in the Northern California town of Oroville, played at Division II Shasta and Point Loma Nazarene, the latter of which also gave him his coaching start.

He first attracted attention as an assistant at San Diego (2006-13) on the staff of Rich Hill when the Toros became nationally relevant, reaching the NCAA Tournament six of eight years — the school’s first appearances.

That led to his first Division I head coaching job at Nevada for two years (2014-15) where a tournament appearance led to the Arizona job.

He reached Omaha and the championship finals of the CWS in 2016, his first season at Arizona, before losing to Coastal Carolina.

The Wildcats made a return trip to the CWS this season and went two-and-out.

“He’s made an immediate impact at every program he’s led,” Woodward said, “and he’s one of the most energetic, innovative, and focused coaches in America. I am confident he is ready to add to our extensive championship tradition at LSU.”