It took just five days following Bill Lajeunesse’s retirement for the Siena Saints to find their new head softball coach. The team promoted Casey Bump to the helm of the program, rewarding the assistant who spent seven years on Lajeunesse’s staff.
With the 2021 season on the horizon, Bump takes over the program in the first head coaching role of her career. Bump’s pitching staff has performed in impressive fashion during her tenure with the program, including posting a 2.98 cumulative ERA in her first season with the program.
Just a short time into her tenure as head coach, Bump sat down with JWOS to talk about her coaching career; assuming the role of head coach; and all things Siena softball.
Justin’s World of Softball: Was some kind of “succession plan” something that you and Laj had ever discussed, or did his plan to retire take you by surprise when you found out?
Casey Bump: I was surprised that it was happening now. I think that he was definitely planning to retire in the next year or two, but I think it happened a little bit earlier because of what’s going on. Laj is the type of person that wants to make sure he goes full-on with everything that he does, and if we had to get out recruiting and fly places, I think the unknown of where we were and where this was going to take us might have forced him to make that decision a little bit earlier.
JWOS: When you did find out that he was retiring so soon, what were your thoughts and emotions at that point?
Bump:I was sad, because he has been really great to work for; Laj and I have a fantastic relationship. We pretty much talk every day, and for me to know that he wasn’t going to be with me every day was sad. But then I had to immediately turn over to the mindset of ‘What do I have to do to get this job, and how can I work towards that?’
JWOS: Can you tell me about the process of looking to and ultimately becoming the head coach?
Bump: It was actually pretty quick. Once Laj retired and he told the girls that he was retiring, it was pretty fast. I sent an email to our AD and told him that I was interested in the job, and shortly after that he contacted me. We did a bit of an interview process; I’ve been here seven years, so I think he already knew what he was getting into a little bit. And then that was done, and he offered me the job, which was great.
JWOS: You were a full-time assistant all seven years, right?
Bump: Yeah, I was. When I first started, actually, Laj was still teaching at a local school. So I was the full-time assistant and, at that time, he was only part-time. Then he retired three years ago, I think, and then we both went to full-time.
JWOS: You have been a coach for several years now, but was becoming a head coach always “the dream,” so to speak?
Bump: When I first started coaching, I wasn’t sure where it was going to take me. I was working in the school district and coaching part-time at a college right down the road from the school district. And then when the Siena job came open, I talked to my husband about leaving my teaching job to go to that, and he was all for it because he knew that coaching was something that I would be good at. Once I really got into it and realized how much I loved it, I knew that it was going to be the career for me.
JWOS: Even though you’re only a few weeks into the new job, and those few weeks are still in the midst of the COVID pandemic and the quiet period, what do foresee as being the biggest learning curve for you in the new role?
Bump: The biggest part right now is the recruiting. A lot of teams are still playing and we’re having to watch games online and watch a lot of video, and if you know anything about me, I love people. So it’s kind of hard not to be sitting next to somebody and hanging out with them to have the usual conversations. But I have been able to watch some games and we’re just moving forward that way, so I think that that’s one of the biggest hurdles is how we’re going to get this recruiting stuff done. But another thing, too, is making sure that all of our kids, who pretty much lost this past season, come out ready to play next year.
JWOS: Do you feel like your process of preparing and coaching and getting ready for games is going to change at all with you now in this new role?
Bump: No, not at all. My plan is to make sure that I can hire the right position coach to be able to go right in and do some things there. And, obviously, pitching is my forte, so I’m going to continue to work there. But now I get a little more of an opportunity to work on other angles, too.
JWOS: You’ve been a part of Laj’s staff for seven years now, and you’re very familiar with the program and the way things are run. Is this something where you see yourself maintaining the status quo, or putting your own stamp on things?
Bump: I think what we’ve done has worked pretty well, and then working with Laj, he’s allowed me to do a lot more even in the past couple of years. So I was already doing some things, and I don’t plan to do too much differently. I feel like there’s some things that we need to do better and get better at, so we’ll work on those, but I do think that too much change so soon is probably not a good thing.
JWOS: Something you said there, about him progressively giving you more duties over the last couple of years; was that something where he was preparing you to eventually become the head coach, maybe even without saying so directly?
Bump: I think so, I do. I think he trusted what I had to offer, and he saw when something worked. And we always talked about things before and after we did them, so it wasn’t something he would just say ‘this is what you do;’ I would give an opinion… and with me being there for seven years, that’s a long time! You don’t see a lot of assistants that stay that long. So I do think he was trying to prepare me for the job and to have me as a backup with some of that experience.
JWOS: I have to ask this one; you’re an Albany grad, and now Siena’s head coach. What happens when those two teams play each other?
Bump: It’s pretty competitive. We play a regular game, and even though I’m really close with [Albany head coach Chris] Cannata, we act like we don’t know each other until the game is over… no split allegiance for me; I want to win.
JWOS: Going into next season, assuming is like we’re used to it being for a season, what do you want to be the identity of Siena softball?
Bump: I want to be a competitive team. I want them to know that, for every game that show up, they can win, and then they can win at the end, as well. I think that we’ve done a good job getting into the conference tournament every year, and that’s good, but we need to win the conference championship and we need to be there every year winning it and being competitive.