BY PARRISH ALFORD
OXFORD – Mike Bianco said no to LSU Wednesday and yes to Ole Miss.
The Rebels' baseball coach had been mentioned frequently in connection with the coaching vacancy at his alma mater and was considered the popular choice among the school's immense fan base.
However, Bianco emerged from a two-hour morning meeting with athletics director Pete Boone with a contract extension through 2010 and a sizeable raise, news he reported to LSU athletics director Skip Bertman – his former coach – in an afternoon telephone conversation.
“Yes, I spoke to coach Bertman this afternoon,” Bianco said Wednesday. “We talked briefly, and I told him that I was really excited to be here, that my family loves Oxford and that the people and the administration have been overwhelmingly supportive.”
It's the same message Bianco has preached since Bertman fired LSU coach Smoke Laval, Bertman's successor, June 4.
The name of Bianco, a popular former LSU player and assistant coach, was drawn like a magnet to discussions about the next LSU coach, even while Bianco led his rebuilding team to an NCAA Super Regional against Miami.
The Rebels' season concluded Monday in a Game 3 loss, leaving them at the doorstep of the College World Series for a second straight year.
Bianco called Bertman's interest in him “flattering” but reiterated the contentment that he and his wife, Camille, and their five children feel in Oxford.
“This is our home now,” he said.
Under contract through 2010
Bianco's old contract paid him $300,000 a year.
The new one makes him among the top two highest-paid coaches in the Southeastern Conference. One SEC coach is paid $500,000 a year.
Bianco, 39, has additional income sources, including a contract with Easton, a maker of baseball equipment and apparel, that pays in excess of $100,000.
Bianco is now under contract through 2010. A four-year contract is the longest granted by the state college board.
Assistant coaches will also receive pay increases.
Boone said his meeting with Bianco was smooth.
“There was really very little consternation about financial issues,” he said. “If things like this can be done in a prompt and efficient manner, that's best for everybody, but that rarely seems to happen. In this case it was much easier, because of Mike's desire to finish what he started at Ole Miss.”
Bianco is 242-132-1 in six seasons at Ole Miss. He is 116-88 against SEC teams and coached the Rebels to the SEC tournament championship this season.
Ole Miss has hosted NCAA regionals the last three seasons and super regionals the last two seasons.
The 2006 team, picked fifth in the Western Division after key personnel losses from 2005, finished third in the SEC West and fifth overall with a 17-13 mark. The Rebels were 44-22 overall.
“It was evident to me that Mike is one of the best coaches in a conference with a lot of great coaches,” Boone said. “That was proven to me over time, and I want him to be compensated like that.”
More financial commitment to the baseball program is coming this summer with stadium improvements and coaches offices at Swayze Field.
Expansion of the grandstand and the addition of amenities like club seating are expected to begin in the summer of 2007.
“Yeah, in one sense it's been a long day, but the feeling I have is one of excitement and just proud that the school wants me,” Bianco said. “Everybody believes we're headed in the right direction and that there are bigger and better things for us.
“We've been close (to the College World Series) two years in a row, but our work's not done. We're on a mission, and there's more to accomplish.”