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. Check out the most recent article in this series here. Next up: The 2015 offseason.
The number of head coaching moves at the Division I level jumped back into the thirties in number leading into the 2016 season. An even 30 jobs opened during that offseason, including seven Power 5 positions. The ACC (Duke and Syracuse) and Big 10 (Maryland and Illinois) led P5 leagues with two moves each.
Sixteen coaches who were hired during the 2015 offseason remain in the same positions at the current time. A 17th, Megan Bartlett at Ball State, held her same job through the 2020 season, but recently departed to join the staff at Texas. This group of coaches was easily the largest from the early part of the decade to continue in their jobs through the present day.
Kenny Gajewski took over the helm at Oklahoma State during the 2015 offseason, his first head coaching position after three years on staff at Florida. During his time at Florida, Gajewski helped guide the Gators to back-to-back Women’s College World Series championships and was one of the hottest commodities on the Carousel that summer. During his tenure, he has led the Cowgirls to the NCAA tournament in every season and guided the program to a WCWS berth of their own during the 2019 season.
In July of 2015, Duke named Marissa Young as the inaugural head coach for the Blue Devils’ program. Young, a Michigan alum, had spent the previous two seasons on staff at rival North Carolina. The Blue Devils would not begin actual play until the 2018 season, and recorded a sub-.500 record during the first two years of play. During the abbreviated 2020 season, however, Young led her program to their finest showing to date, a 23-4 record before the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the campaign.
Another home run hire during the 2015 offseason came when Arkansas named Courtney Scott Deifel as head coach. Deifel had just one season of head coaching experience under her belt, but took over the helm of a Razorbacks’ program that had struggled in recent memory. Since she arrived in Fayetteville, Deifel has led the Hogs to a trio of NCAA tournament berths; in 2018, the program hosted a regional and reached the Super Regional round.
Headlining hires from the mid-major ranks during the 2015 edition of the Carousel included Courtney Oliver at East Carolina; Geoff Harai at Seattle; Bartlett at Ball State; Shannon Salsburg at Monmouth; and Ashley Waters at Boston. Sami Strinz-Ward was named as head coach at Loyola Marymount, her alma mater, that summer, and led the Lions to the National Invitational Softball Championship title in 2018.
Some footnotes on the 2015 Carousel:
- Three head coaches that were hired during the 2015 offseason also spent the 2020 season as Division I head coaches, but at different schools.
- A pair of coaches – Carl Taylor at Drexel and John Seneca at Delaware – were elevated to full-time roles after spending the 2015 season as interim head coaches.
- Craig Nicholson departed as the Arizona State head coach during this summer; in his stead, Robert Wagner and Letty Olivarez were elevated as co-interim head coaches for the forthcoming 2016 season.
- Maine experienced a coaching change, with longtime head coach Lynn Coutts being promoted within the athletic department and her husband and assistant coach, Mike, taking over the program’s helm. Mike Coutts would lead the Black Bears to the NCAA tournament the very next season, just the second postseason berth in program history.