Eye on MSU: Shining star of Cannizaro faded very quickly at MSU

Joel Coleman
Staff Writer

Honored. Privileged. Humbled.

In November of 2016, Andy Cannizaro was hired as Mississippi State’s new head baseball coach and Cannizaro used those three words to describe his feelings in the very first sentence of his introductory press conference.
It’s probably a safe bet as we all sit here now, some year and a half later, that Cannizaro didn’t realize that initial day on the job just how honored and privileged he really was. It’s a near certainty that Cannizaro has now never been so humbled.

Cannizaro submitted his resignation as MSU’s head baseball coach on Tuesday, just three games into his second season. In a university press release, Cannizaro admitted he had “made some poor decisions” thus necessitating his resignation. Just like that, the Cannizaro era with the Bulldogs was done. Like a shooting star in the night sky far away from city lights, Cannizaro was as bright as could be for a moment, but almost just as quickly his career has now faded to darkness.

To say that I hate it is an understatement. I’ll confess, though media members are supposed to remain impartial, I really liked Andy Cannizaro. In my three years covering MSU for the Starkville Daily News, no coach in any sport has been as accessible and friendly to me as Cannizaro. It wasn’t just some act either. In fact, just last week, Andy welcomed me into his office for about 10 minutes for a one-on-one interview. As always, he was forthcoming and insightful.

Yet something from that last meeting I had with Cannizaro now rings in my head. If you’ll remember back last week, Cannizaro suspended a pair of unidentified baseball players. I asked Cannizaro how he goes about handling discipline in his program.

“We expect (the players) to be a first-class citizen and a role model off the field,” Cannizaro said. “There’s a policy and procedures book that they all sign at the very first of the year. They know exactly what our standards are and I tell them all the time, ‘I’m not dealing with (misbehavior). I’m not putting up with it. If you can’t do the things that are expected of you in this program, then this might not be the program for you.’”

Ironically, it was Cannizaro himself who apparently wasn’t setting an exemplary standard off the field. So Tuesday, it was made official that, even in accordance with his own rules, Mississippi State wasn’t the program for him.

I won’t get into the “poor decisions” that Cannizaro made too much here. Rumors swirled Monday night and Tuesday. What is known is that based on multiple sources, possible infidelity has been investigated to some extent. Exactly what Cannizaro did or didn’t do might never be known, but what is known is that whatever it was, it was severe enough that MSU director of athletics John Cohen believed so strongly Cannizaro must go that he pushed out the very man he deemed worthy of being his successor. It was the first hire for Cohen, who jumped from the baseball dugout to the athletic director’s chair in late 2016.

That speaks volumes. Cohen loved Cannizaro. He called Cannizaro “the perfect fit” for MSU when he announced his hiring. He frequently deemed Cannizaro “the upgrade.” By any measure, Cannizaro was, in the end, a letdown. He let down Cohen, he let down his players and he let down the Mississippi State fan base.

It’s sad really. I’m sad for Cannizaro. I sincerely hope he bounces back from this. Despite any bad choices he has made, I hope he figures things out, gets his life on track and has another chance somewhere someday. I’m sad for Cannizaro’s wife and two (soon to be three) children. I pray that if that home is broken in any way that it can be restored. Far too often when coaches fall, fans are quick to make jokes and poke fun. The reality is, real people are affected – real husbands, real wives and real children. None of this could possibly be a laughing matter to any of them.

It’s a shame any of this had to go down this way, but the harsh truth is Cannizaro has only himself to blame.

The other day, after our meeting in his office, I walked with Cannizaro back out to his vehicle. We had some small talk. We chatted about his former New York Yankees teammate Derek Jeter. We even had another brief discussion about team discipline. Again, something he said sticks with me now.

“You find out really quickly who you can trust,” Cannizaro told me.

I guess he was right. Very quickly, barely a year in, Mississippi State found out it couldn’t trust Andy Cannizaro.

Like Cannizaro said on day one, it was an honor and privilege for him to get the chance to coach at MSU. Little could Andy Cannizaro possibly know though how humbled he would eventually be.

Here’s hoping all parties involved in these unfortunate events can come out better on the other side someday soon.

Joel Coleman is the Mississippi State beat writer for The Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are Coleman's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SDN or its staff.