Approximately half of West Tampa was present in the Big East room Friday for the announcement of Lelo Prado as USF’s fifth baseball coach. Family, friends and acquaintances from the Cuban part of town were three rows deep.
So with Prado, 43, taking over the reins just two weeks and a day after coach Eddie Cardieri resigned, it became clear that the next five years of Prado’s life would be all about family.
“It was an opportunity to further his career,” said Pam Prado, Lelo’s wife, who grew up in Tampa with her husband. “But it’s always been a dream to be back (in Tampa). We never thought we’d have this opportunity. When it came up (Thursday), we knew it wasn’t something we could pass up.”
It was certainly something Athletic Director Doug Woolard couldn’t pass up. He had two interviews in Atlanta on Wednesday; one with Prado, the other with fellow Tampa native and Maryland coach Terry Rupp.
“We feel good about getting what we thought was the best fit possible for USF,” Woolard said. “It helped that he was from Tampa, but I made a lot of calls to baseball people I know across the country, and the one name that kept coming up was Lelo Prado.”
Prado, a 1981 Tampa Catholic graduate, has a reputation that precedes him, bringing a 320-302-1 record from 11 seasons at Louisville. His success also stems from seven seasons coaching at his alma mater, the University of Tampa. There, Prado holds a 278-124-1 record and won back-to-back Division II National Championships in 1992-93.
Prado signed a five-year contract with an annual salary of $95,000. Further stipulations include a 10 percent raise annually, along with postseason incentives. Cardieri, in his 21st season, made $63,220.
Prado is certainly happy to be back in his hometown.
“Spending 11 years away from my family, my parents, everyone – it’s now huge for us that I’m back,” Prado said while holding the youngest of his three sons. “That’s what you’re going to see on the baseball field, and my family being here is what made the decision to leave (Louisville) a little easier.”
Pam agrees with her husband that it’s good to be home, but said leaving Kentucky will be difficult.
“It was tough (having Lelo in Louisville),” Pam said. “Our kids went from infants to grown up without him. Louisville was nothing but fantastic to us, especially now that we have so many relationships. Leaving there is just as tough because (UL athletic director Tom Jurich) is a family friend, and saying goodbye is going to be tough.”
As Prado addressed the 200-plus people in attendance to witness quite possibly the biggest hire in Woolard’s two-year tenure, he first mentioned his predecessor Cardieri, thanking him for an early morning phone call.
“I also want to thank Eddie Cardieri,” Prado said. “This morning, when I got off of the plane, the first phone call I got was from Eddie Cardieri. He’s a friend of mine. He did a great job here. He’s a great baseball man and he will move forward and be successful because he is a good person and good human being.”
Prado also discussed a number of things, such as the state of the team, a new stadium and the talent in the area.
Prado said there is “no reason” that the team “shouldn’t be one of the best in America” and added, “Don’t tell me about the stadium. We’ll build a stadium, eventually. I promise you that. It will happen. (I’m) Not going to tell you that it’s going to happen next year. I’m going to tell you that it’s going to happen in three years.”
But in the end, it came back to family as his wife, children and parents sat in the front row unsuccessfully trying to hold back tears.
“Family is everything to us,” Pam said. “But in the end, it wasn’t hard for him to decide to come home.”
LELO PRADO’sLOUISVILLE TENURERecord: 320-302-1 (11 seasons)Conference championships: 0NCAA tournament appearances: 1Salary: $90,719
EDDIE CARDIERI’s USF TENURERecord: 731-546 (21 seasons)Conference championships: 3NCAA tournament appearances: 9Salary: $63,220