Ed Daniels' Blog @ SportsNOLA.com
Ed Daniels at SportsNOLA.com

Shot in the arm comes in form of Ron Maestri's return

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The hiring of UNO legend Ron Maestri brings Privateer Athletics back into the spotlight (Photo: Ron O'Rourke/UNO Athletics).The hiring of UNO legend Ron Maestri brings Privateer Athletics back into the spotlight (Photo: Ron O'Rourke/UNO Athletics).

NEW ORLEANS - The buzz in the room was palpable.

It was a buzz that has been missing from athletics at the University of New Orleans for a long time.

Ron Maestri returned as head baseball coach at UNO.

The place was packed and Maestri was full of one liners. My favorite? "Derek (Morel, director of athletics) told me the team bus had WiFi. That means nothing to me."

The room filled with laughter.

At UNO, Ron Maestri was a lot more than baseball coach and later director of athletics. He is an iconic figure.

Four years ago, Maestri was at wits end with his school. At that time, Chancellor Tim Ryan had proposed a move to Division III non-scholarship athletics. The LSU board of supervisors foolishly approved. Maestri howled in protest.

Fast forward.

On the afternoon of Tuesday July 2, UNO's credibility in athletics took a giant leap forward. It was a shot in the arm to the entire athletic department and the University itself.

In the misguided moves to D-III and then to D-II, UNO's signature sports have suffered immensely.

Baseball, after reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2008, was struggling to win just a handful of games.

Men's basketball's last NCAA postseason appearance came in 1996.

The hiring of Ron Maestri gives UNO a presence in a very competitive sports market.

When Maestri led UNO to the College World Series in Omaha in 1984, there was no NBA basketball team in New Orleans. Triple A baseball wouldn't arrive for 9 more years. There was no Arena Football League team. There was no New Orleans Arena.

Post Katrina, one of the biggest losers in New Orleans has been Division I college sports.

Both UNO and Tulane University have struggled mightily.

Ron Maestri gives UNO a profile it has sorely lacked.

Can the 71-year old Maestri win? He inherits a renovated ballpark that carries his name as well as a solid recruiting class.

Another plus: As of Monday, UNO was officially a member of a league that is a real match.

The Privateers are now in the Southland Conference, a league that includes four Louisiana schools. Two of them (Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana) an hour's drive from the UNO campus.

What Maestri can deliver, even before wins, is dollars. He can fund raise and can bring fans back to the ballpark.

Twenty-nine years ago, UNO made its first and only trip to the Division I College World Series in Omaha.

Days after his team beat Mississippi State in Starkville and hours before he and his team departed for Omaha, Maestri lit up a victory cigar at Privateer Park.

The scoreboard over his shoulder simply read, "College World Series Bound."

One year later and well before his 50th birthday, Maestri would walk away from coaching.

Now after 28 seasons passed, Maestri will be back in the dugout.

That is called baseball's version of shock and awe.

Which is just what UNO felt it needed.

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