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Tuesday, October 20

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Revisiting the 2011 Coaching Carousel

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The softball Coaching Carousel is a popular topic every summer. Hirings and firings; resignations and retirements; whatever the precursor to a particular move, even small schools and lower divisions catch attention when a coaching transaction happens.

We decided to take a look back at some of the Coaching Carousels of years past. First up: The 2011 offseason.

Thirty-one Division I schools experienced a head coaching change in the summer of 2011, leading into the 2012 season. In later years, the Carousel was boosted in number by coaches leaving one head coaching position to take another, but this wasn’t particularly prevalent during the 2011 set of moves. Instead, a number of coaches were promoted from lower levels or from assistant’s positions.

Of the 31 moves during the 2011 offseason, eight coaches remain in the same positions in the present day. That list includes Chrissy Buck-Ziegler at Cal State Bakersfield; Kathy Bocock at Elon; Beth Torina at LSU; Natalie Poole at Memphis; Angel Santiago at Nicholls; Mandy Burford at Samford; Jim Clift at Western Carolina; and Kristi Bredbenner at Wichita State.

25% of the SEC’s member schools made head coaching changes in 2011. The conference included just twelve members at the time – Missouri and Texas A&M would join the league the following year – and LSU, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State all sought out new blood to lead their respective programs.

When Yvette Girouard retired that summer, LSU had stars in their eyes with respect to who topped their list of potential candidates. Then-Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva’s first call was to Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy, who would go onto accept the job. Just three days after being officially announced as the Tigers’ head coach, Murphy had a change of heart and spurned LSU to return and continue coaching Alabama. He went on to lead the Crimson Tide to a national championship just one year later, and was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2013.

Following Murphy’s about-face, LSU would go on to hire Torina, a Florida graduate who had been the head coach at FIU. The hire was met with some skepticism at the time, but would prove to be an absolute home run for Alleva and LSU, as Torina has since led the Tigers to four Women’s College World Series berths in nine years at the helm of the program.

Murphy’s exit from and return to Alabama also had a ripple effect on another program in the conference. Jay Miller was fired from Mississippi State after almost a decade leading the Bulldogs program, and the school ultimately hired Vann Stuedeman to replace him. Stuedeman had been the long-time pitching coach at Alabama, but following Murphy’s return, she was let go from the Crimson Tide’s staff. Stuedeman would go on to spend eight years in Starkville, collecting more than 275 wins and seven NCAA tournament appearances.

The trio of SEC schools hired new coaches within just days of one another; Ole Miss was the final school to make their decision, and the Rebels chose Memphis head coach Windy Thees to lead their program. Thees replaced Missy Dickerson in Oxford, and would spend just three seasons there, leading the Rebels to a 69-94 record before exiting following the 2014 season.

Outside of the SEC, just one other Power Five school changed coaches in 2011: Boston College, after fifteen seasons under Jen Finley, brought in program alum Ashley Obrest to take the helm. Obrest would go on to spend eight years leading the Eagles before departing following the 2019 season.

Notable other hirings during the 2011 Carousel included Mike Smith at McNeese State and Jennifer Patrick-Swift at Saint Francis. Both coaches would go on to lead those respective programs to great heights before moving on to new roles as they continued to move up the coaching ladder.

Some footnotes on the 2011 Carousel:

  • After dropping softball as a varsity sport in 1987, Lamar hired Holly Bruder as head coach to revive the Lady Cardinals’ program. She would lead the program until 2018.
  • Five head coaches that were hired during the 2011 offseason also spent the 2020 season as Division I head coaches, but at different schools.
  • The full-time coaching staffs formed at Alabama and LSU, respectively, during the 2011 Carousel are each still intact in the present day. Both schools are among the top ten nationally in longest-tenured staffs in Division I softball.
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