Ron Maestri era at UNO sadly comes to an end
Twenty-two months ago, he won the press conference. Ron Maestri’s performance that day was like throwing a complete-game shutout and going 4-for-4 at the plate, all in the same day.
“We’ve been broken-hearted to see what’s happened there the last several years,” former University of New Orleans player and LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri told reporters.
The room was full of Mase’s former players. It was like the president had finally returned to the Oval Office. Ron Maestri was making a comeback, after a 29-year hiatus, for a second stint as UNO baseball coach.
Twenty-two months later, it doesn’t seem fair that Maestri leaves on an 11-game losing streak. Ron Maestri is UNO athletics. He is the man who built a program that had a winning tradition in baseball and basketball.
In his first stint as UNO head baseball coach, Maestri won more than 500 games and never had a losing season. In hoops, UNO was a consistent winner. Maestri made several good hires, including future Chicago Bulls and Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd.
I don’t know if Maestri changed as much as the school around him. At the University of New Orleans, a malaise seems to hover over the entire school. Enrollment plunged post Katrina. Former chancellor Tim Ryan started an ill-advised process that would have put UNO in Division III non-scholarship sports.
As Ryan made his case in front of the LSU Board of Supervisors on a cold December afternoon, I couldn’t help but think: this is the University of New Orleans. UNO is a respected university in a major metropolitan city.
Maestri felt the same way. He would bend the ear of any reporter who was willing to listen. He believed that UNO deserved better. So, two years ago, he came back.
This winter, I had an inkling that all was not well. Maestri loves his wife and their family, UNO and Italy. We talked of one day both going back to Sorrento, on the incredibly beautiful Amalfi coast. Now, he can go, any time he wants.
Two losing seasons will not diminish Maestri’s legacy, not one bit. He was the first coach in the state of Louisiana to lead a team to the Division I College World Series in Omaha. It was 1984. UNO went to Starkville and beat Mississippi State in the South Region II championship game on a Sunday night.
That State team was great. It included future major leaguers Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Brantley and Bobby Thigpen.
It is because of Ron Maestri that I learned what Omaha was about. He will always be one of the best.
Nothing that happened over the last 22 months will change that.