I’m going to start this piece with a story about softball.
On May 29, Kate Fagan of ESPNW wrote a story detailing a contentious email exchange between Missouri softball head coach Ehren Earleywine and Missouri State softball coach Holly Hesse.
In response to Hesse declining to consider a future matchup between the Tigers and Bears due to Earleywine’s perceived disrespect of Missouri State, his perceived disregard of NCAA recruiting rules, and his team’s perceived disrespect of the Bears’ field, Earleywine did not mince his words:
“This really isn’t about my character though, its about yours…or lack there of,” Earleywine wrote. “The truth of the matter is you’re scared to get your ass whipped yet again by old mizzou.” [sic]
Earleywine issued a public apology through a school spokesman immediately after the email was publicized through an open records request. (Working at a public university can be a bummer sometimes.) Then, about a week ago, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association reprimanded Earleywine in its newsletter.
The story effectively split public perception of Earleywine into two camps: Those who think he’s an asshole; and those who think he’s an asshole, but the best possible kind. What isn’t debatable is Earleywine’s .743 career winning percentage.
Looking past the specific personalities involved, however, the story suggested that the public perception of coaches’ relationships might not be totally accurate.
That perception is of mutual respect and collaboration. When a coaching hire is announced, the press release often includes compliments from past coworkers. I covered an NCAA baseball regional in Springfield (the Missouri iteration) this June, and every press conference began with a coach congratulating his counterpart for a well-played game. Craig Keilitz, executive director of the American Baseball Coaches Association, will gush about the camaraderie among baseball coaches. It really is like a fraternity, cliché aside.
However, no fraternity—or sorority, or any Greek conglomerate—is without inner conflicts.
“I’ve never heard of two coaches in particular, but I think I’d be naïve to not think there are some feuds going on,” Keilitz said.
The ABCA is an organization dedicated to education and advocacy, not discipline. But for someone who deals with as many coaches as Keilitz to never once hear of proverbial bad blood suggests that when coaches to have conflicts, they’re really, really good at preventing them from going public.
They’re not perfect, however. A recent example is the unspecified, perhaps non-existent feud between Miami head coach Jim Morris and Florida International coach Turtle Thomas, detailed in this AP article. Thomas bolted from the Hurricanes immediately after they won the 1999 College World Series and has basically disavowed himself from the program.
It might have been recruiting practices, or sign stealing, but whatever happened between the coaches, neither is telling.
The juiciest of all baseball coaching beefs involves a current MLB manager. Current Padres skipper Pat Murphy had an exceptionally successful college coaching career, but not without gaining the reputation of something of a jackass, as Alan Schwarz of Baseball America details in his brilliant profile from 1997.
The first quote of the story is a bombshell in itself: “I don’t know of anyone that has anything good to say about Pat,” Evansville head coach Jim Brownlee told Schwarz. “He does not have any friends in baseball. He’s going to be pretty lonely when it’s all said and done.”
Murphy’s bad rep might have remained a secret if not for one incident with UCLA. When Murphy was at Arizona State, Sun Devils pitcher Ryan Bradley hit Bruins third baseman Troy Glaus in the head and knocked him unconscious. The pitch was ruled intentional and Bradley was ejected.
When Bradley hit Glaus in the back in a later game, however, he stayed in. This incensed UCLA coach Gary Adams, who had the next night’s starting pitcher bean Arizona State’s leadoff man. Adams and the pitcher were tossed, and Adams then took the incident as an opportunity to speak out against the role of “the coach” in beanings.
“The player is not four times guiltier than the coach,” Adams said. “If anything, the coach is four times guiltier than the player. The throwing at batters will never cease until you punish the coach.”
I wonder which coach he was talking about? Still, Adams never mentioned by Murphy by name. I saw that no-complaint, no-criticism attitude extensively while reporting this piece earlier this year. The issue of scholarships in college baseball is of haves and have-nots, and it’s no secret which schools have the biggest advantage.
But nobody names names, and nobody criticizes work ethic. Complaining and feuding publicly is indicting his own work ethic, his own ability to move past difficulties and focus on an issue at hand. Not complaining becomes a matter of ego.
“I just think, ‘what do we teach our kids?’” Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell said. “Don’t make excuses. So as coaches, you don’t want to make excuses.”
Coaches complained plenty when interviewed for that piece, but it was always against the indeterminate specter of inequality and unfairness, which is never spoke well of in the first place. Multiple coaches asked not to be quoted just due to nervousness of the implications that could be drawn from their comments.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered much, because the reality is that people talk, and people complain, and people remember who complains.
“The same coaches keep complaining about it, but they find out different ways to complain,” one coach said of the scholarship issue.
Coaches are extraordinarily good, perhaps better than any other part of their job, at not letting news of on-the-job feuds get out. But sometimes, even Aroldis Chapman blows a save.
Thank you for reading
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