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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


STARKVILLE — It was just a couple of months ago when I asked the then-burgeoning and bubbly 39-year-old rising coaching star what he wanted to be doing years from now, and he replied, "I think I'm doing it."

Mississippi State head baseball coach was a dream job for Andy Cannizaro.

Cannizaro was thought to be the perfect fit for Mississippi State, too.

In fact, that's how athletic director John Cohen introduced Cannizaro on Nov. 5, 2016, when Cannizaro, the former LSU assistant, pro scout and MLB journeyman, was named Cohen's successor. Quickly, Cannizaro's magnetic personality became a hit here. Barrel-chested. Outgoing. Fan-friendly. Media-friendly. Cannizaro was all of that - and he was adored for it.

He proved he could coach, too. Cannizaro led the Bulldogs to an unlikely super regional appearance last season despite deploying a pitching staff ravaged with injuries. Cohen affectionately called Cannizaro, a former big-leaguer, "the upgrade."

MSU heavily marketed Cannizaro as the face of the program. It invested in his vision of delivering the school its first national title one day soon. There's a new Dudy Noble Field set to open on March 6. MSU's recruiting classes are all highly ranked. There was no reason to mock Cannizaro when he often tweeted: "Is this heaven?"

Things are suddenly so different - and no one is answering why with specifics.

In a concerning statement issued by MSU on Tuesday morning, Cannizaro announced he resigned because he made "poor decisions" and asked for forgiveness. It's unclear exactly the extent of the wrongdoings or why a decision was made one weekend into the season, but sources indicated that rumors of an infidelity were investigated. Cannizaro has two young children and his wife is pregnant.

Cohen and Cannizaro have not responded to requests for comment.

Some inside and around the department said they were blindsided when news broke late Monday night. It was just days ago when school officials were endorsing him on Twitter for his appearances in light-hearted videos involving staffers and MSU's other teams.

Now, instead of being the guy who endeared himself to many and led Mississippi State to Omaha, Cannizaro has put the Bulldogs in a bind.

The Bulldogs were just swept by Southern Miss. They are 0-3. They are on the road for the rest of the month because of construction on the new stadium here. Now, their coach is gone.

Pitching coach Gary Henderson is now the interim head coach. Henderson is certainly capable - he was Kentucky's head coach for eight seasons and replaced Cohen there - but these are dreadful circumstances.

Awful. Disappointing. Mind-blowing. Those are some of the other adjectives some people affiliated with and around MSU used to describe the situation.

"As a parent, we're all concerned," Jennifer Horton, mother of MSU outfielder Elijah MacNamee, said. "We're sad for the boys. They've worked their whole life to be in this position and have big dreams. This is an important season for a lot of our guys, and it is tough being on the road already.

"I would love our fans to just be supportive from here on out - for the boys and the coaches here. It's a big shock and they have to process it and still go out and play."

This is a test for MSU's on-field leaders like Jake Mangum and Konnor Pilkington that they didn't deserve. But a few parents all said the same thing: The players are rallying around each other to get win No. 1. The first time MSU will take the field again is 6 p.m. Wednesday at Jackson State.

The Bulldogs will be playing under their third different head coach in 18 months. Henderson is in only his second season here, but he was the SEC Coach of the Year in 2012. Maybe he'll stick as the guy. Maybe he won't. Either way, Cohen has quickly established a track record that suggests he will have a plan.

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February 21, 2018


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