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Chelsea Thomas on Ehren Earleywine investigation: "Maybe a few people not understanding his coaching style"

Yesterday afternoon, the Missouri Softball team announced it was playing in protest of Missouri's athletics administration. Later in the day, we found out a bit more about the situation. (UPDATED at bottom)

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Post-Dispatch: Mizzou softball team plays in protest of AD, administration

Missouri’s athletics department issued the following statement midway through Saturday’s game:

"In recent weeks we have received complaints concerning our softball program. These complaints have come from both inside and outside the program. In response, the university launched an internal review. The review is ongoing and involves personnel matters, therefore, the University of Missouri and Mizzou athletics will have no other comment at this time."

Earleywine, in his 10th season at Mizzou, was in attendance for Saturday’s game. He declined comment after the game as he walked to his pickup truck. "Not now," he said.

The Trib: MU softball players announce protest of AD Rhoades, athletic administration

Coach Ehren Earleywine, when asked by the Tribune last week whether he might not be back at Missouri next season, said, "I can neither confirm nor deny it," and deferred other questions to MU’s administration.

"I love the University of Missouri," Earleywine said then. "I love coaching here. I don’t want to coach anywhere else. I’d like to retire here."

Earleywine, a Jefferson City native who grew up a Tigers fan, has often stated that coaching Missouri is his dream job.

The Trib: Former, current softball players speak in support of Earleywine

Senior shortstop Sami Fagan said after Friday’s game that she’s seen a change in Earleywine throughout her four years at Missouri.

"Every single year, he gets just, I’d say, more positive and more personal with us," Fagan said. "This year has been the best of all. He’s grown so much as a person. I’ve never seen him on this level of positivity. He’s just a great coach, and he’s getting better and better over the years."

Fagan said Earleywine sometimes will join players for breakfast if he spots them eating at the Mizzou Athletics Training Complex cafeteria. That’s something he wouldn’t have done in the past, she said.

"It’s really fun," Fagan said. "I’ve gotten to know him a lot more this year, and it’s pretty cool. He’s a really great guy."

KC Star: Mizzou softball team upset with investigation into coach, plays game ‘in protest’

Earleywine, who became Mizzou’s softball coach in 2007, was reprimanded last year when emails obtained by ESPN exposed his rift with Missouri State coach Holly Hesse. He later apologized in a statement "for the unprofessional comments I made." The National Fastpitch Coaches Association issued a public reprimand of Earleywine in August.

Rhoades said at that time that such criticism "bothers me, and Ehren knows that, because I’ve told him."

The Missourian: Missouri softball team plays under protest of athletics director Mack Rhoades, administration

PowerMizzou: Missouri softball plays S. Carolina under protest

Over the last year or so, Ehren Earleywine has been reprimanded for talking smack to another coach over e-mail who called him a cheater and an a**hole. He has been suspended briefly by the NCAA for minor recruiting violations. In the past, he's blown up at umpires on quite a few occasions as well.

What produces your best qualities, also produces your worst. That's a fact of life. For everything we've really enjoyed about Earleywine through the years, beyond simple wins -- his pride, his irascibility, his bluntness and lack of coachspeak decorum -- it's not hard to see a downside in those characteristics. Sure, we can go down the road of "he's just old school" and "kids these days are weak" or whatever if we want, and that's fine. But I figure we have all, to some degree, had concerns about Earleywine going too far at some point, either in his toeing the line of NCAA rules or in bluntness with players that borders on meanness (which, fair or not, might be considered abuse by one person in a specific instant).

When I saw the university's statement yesterday in response to the softball team's statement -- "We have received complaints concerning our softball program ... from both inside and outside the program" -- my initial worry was that he indeed went too far in this regard. Chelsea Thomas' comments about "a few people not understanding his coaching style" more or less verified that worry.

I really, really hope he didn't go too far, whatever "too far" actually means. I hope whatever the university is investigating turns up nothing concrete, and I hope that, because he didn't actually cross any lines, he gets to remain Mizzou head coach until he retires. While I wasn't particularly impressed with the softball team's statement yesterday, I hope their "this is nothing; he's great" sentiment is validated.

But if there was a complaint, especially from within the program, the university has to address it and investigate it, whether or not that frustrates the team -- which, contrary to its own sentiment, technically doesn't have a say in who its coach is. And while his coaching style might be fine to most of his players and fans, that isn't necessarily enough. There are rules (written and unwritten) you have to follow in dealing with young athletes, and even if whatever he did was fine to most, it kind of has to be fine to all.

Hopefully the investigation turns up nothing.

UPDATE: Joe Walljasper's Sunday column at the Trib shines a bit more light.

A source said the athletic department’s investigation of the softball program didn’t hinge on a particular incident but rather concerned Earleywine’s coaching style dating back several years. The source said there were complaints from current and former players that Earleywine intimidated them and created a "culture of anxiety."

So if there was no specific incident, then this goes more to Mack Rhoades' expectations of conduct. Well, that, and what Rhoades thinks about players rebelling against him without the coaches stopping them (possibly because they didn't know).

Mizzou Tigers pennant Today's Mizzou schedule: Minimal

  • 12:30 p.m. CT: South Carolina at Mizzou Softball