Mizzou Softball began its annual fall cameo this weekend with two easy wins; Ehren Earleywine's Tigers have set up doubleheaders for each of the next three Fridays (vs. Highland Community College this coming Friday, then Crowder College the week after, wrapping up with Evangel University the week after).
That's all well and good. But the big moment came afterward, when Earleywine had a microphone put in front of him for the first time in a few months.
"The second half of the season was difficult knowing that I wasn’t going to be the coach here, staying invested while thinking I was being booted," Earleywine said. "To be a part of that, it made me sick, but I’m not the one who started it." [...]
In the 131 days that followed that season-ending defeat in Ann Arbor, Mich., Earleywine remained silent publicly. His only forays with the media were a quote in the middle of a four-paragraph press release announcing he was returning for the 2017 season and an email to the Tribune that was released though a team spokesman after longtime assistant Pete D’Amour accepted the head-coaching job at Kennesaw State.
The Trib's Joe Vozzelli wrote that piece; he also posted a complete transcript of the interview. You can also listen to the audio here. It's something. (I'm posting pretty long blurbs below, but definitely read/listen to the entire thing. It's worth your time.)
Q: Looking back at it all, do you feel like you were treated fairly?
A: (Paused) "I probably shouldn't answer that." [...]
Q: When did you feel like you were about to lose your job?
A: "It was probably mid-March, and Mack called a meeting with me and no pleasantries, he basically looked at me and said you need to start looking for another job. And that was pretty much the end of the conversation."
Q: Do you have any idea why he didn't fire you right away?
A: "I don't know the answer to that. I can take an educated guess that he didn't want to disrupt the middle of the season for the team, probably hoping that I would fade calmly into the sunset. Obviously, it didn't turn out like that and ended up being quite a black eye for all of us and that's the thing that I regret more than anything is before being a softball coach at Missouri, I'm a Missouri fan and it's bothered me what's happened, not just with that incident but over the past year or two some of the things that have gone down and none of us like it and I didn't want to be a contributor to that. I felt like that situation was another nick. To be a part of that, it made me sick. I wish I wouldn't have been a part of that but I'm not the one who started it."
Q: How are you different as a coach?
A: "It makes me hesitate a little bit and makes me more cautious of what I say and what I do. The days of coaching on passion and instinct may be a thing of the past. I'm a little bit more cautious. You have to pick your words more carefully because we're in a place in our country that I don't like. Everyone is so politically correct now that people get their feelings hurt and kids have more power than they should have and the inmates run the prison a lot of times. It's a shame but it's where we're at and I either need to adapt to it or go ring a bell at Walmart. Those are my two options right now."
"[Paused]" should serve Earleywine well moving forward, though openly mourning that you have to pause and think about what you're saying probably isn't the best way to go.
Regardless, I maintain that a) he should have been learning how to more properly interact with his players a long, long time ago (if he had, things would have never gotten to where they got this spring and summer) and b) better late than never. He has a fresh start, and as he also mentioned in the interview, he recruiting seems to be going pretty well. Here's to hoping he and his program both end up better off (and we're not just right back here six months from now).
(Also: Not a good look, Mack Rhoades. If you were going to tell him he needed to start looking for another job, you should have probably gone ahead and fired him. What the hell?)