Sunday, August 14, 2022

Mentoring Student Athletes Important to Mike Bianco 

By A.J. Gable

IMC Student

Editor’s Note: This story, written in April, 2022, has been updated.

In the summer of 2000, Mike Bianco was named the head baseball coach at the University of Mississippi after two years as the head coach at McNeese State University. On June 26, 2022, Bianco’s Ole Miss Rebels won the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The former player and assistant coach at LSU is a mentor to the young men in his Ole Miss program. That is something he has learned and appreciated even more through his many years in coaching. 

“The best part about what I do is teaching young people,” said Bianco, who is serving this summer as the manager of the 2022 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. “From 18 to 22 is such an instrumental time to be a part of someone’s life. That’s what’s neat about what I do.”

Bianco is the winningest coach in Ole Miss baseball history. He is one of 16 active Division One head coaches to win at least 900 games, and one of three coaches in SEC history to earn 800 wins. 

Under Bianco’s leadership, the Rebels have had at least 30 wins in each of his 22 seasons. But this season is when his program put it all together and made it to the mountaintop of college baseball.

It was a journey that began long before his coaching days at Ole Miss. Bianco started in sports at a very young age.

“I grew up playing all sports,” said the Seminole, Fla., native. “Football, baseball, and basketball. But, as you can tell, at some point basketball was no longer an option. I was missing so many baseball games to play football, because back then in Florida we played a lot of our baseball in the fall. So I ended up just playing baseball.”

What a great decision that would end up being for the Seminole High School and Indian River Community College Hall of Famer in the state of Florida.

“My last two years (of college) I played at Louisiana State University,” Bianco said. “I had a lot of great coaches growing up, guys who I admired. As a young person you sometimes do not completely understand or realize that. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college on either side. I felt that if I went to college and got a degree, that was like my lottery ticket to success.”

Bianco went on to graduate from LSU and worked for a few months as a financial planner. But that didn’t last long.

“I was miserable,” he said. “It made me realize that life wasn’t about money, it was about doing something you love to do. So I called up my former baseball coach at LSU, Coach Skip Bertman, and asked for a job. If I’m going to be poor I might as well be a poor baseball coach. He did not have a position open, but Jim Wells, his former graduate assistant at LSU then at Northwestern State (in Louisiana), did. Wells later became head coach at Alabama.”

Bianco’s coaching path had begun, but even before that he attributes his success to someone else through the years.

“Having a father who instills the ‘want to be great at anything you’ do is rewarding for any child,” he said. “My father, Ron Bianco, coached my brothers and me. You know growing up and in Little League, I felt I was blessed to have a father who knew a little more than the average father when it came to coaching.

“From high school all the way up to LSU, I learned a lot. I was blessed with really good coaches who all had their niche.”

Leading by example is something Bianco has done throughout his entire career. He and his wife, Camille, have five children, including four boys who all played college baseball.

“I didn’t want to force my boys into baseball. I never thought that was right,” he said. “If they wanted to play other sports, I thought it would be great. They didn’t have to be baseball players, and they didn’t have to be athletes. I just wanted them to find something that excited them, that they enjoyed.”

Of course Bianco has an intense love for the game of baseball. When it comes to watching a child on the field, he just wants to be a dad. 

“Yeah, my dad was my coach growing up, but in high school I had another coach. My dad was no longer my coach. Then in college, I also had another coach. I played for that man, and I learned from that guy. So it was my job to show that person that I could compete on his team, and that I could be a starter on his team.”

I felt that was a neat experience and I wanted my children, Michael, Benjamin, Andrew, Samuel, and Catherine, if they were good enough, to experience it also. 

Catherine, the youngest, was an all-star volleyball player at Oxford High School. She graduated in 2022. The boys were all already in college or, in Michael’s case, out of college.

“If they were good enough to play at Ole Miss, they were good enough to play anywhere,” he said of his sons. “I wanted them to have their own experience of college athletics, and I do not think they could have had that experience if they played for me. Here (at Ole Miss) they would always be the coach’s kid.”

Just last month, the family got to watch as their dad’s team won the College World Series. It had been a long time coming but certainly worth the wait.

“When you do this as long as I have, the wins and losses are going to take care of themselves,” Bianco said. The losses hurt and the wins feel really good. But I’m still doing it because it’s a steady puzzle you piece together.”

A puzzle that seems more complete now than ever before.


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