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Missouri fires softball coach Ehren Earleywine

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UPDATE: Earleywine released a statement to local media on Saturday evening.

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With the 2018 season set to begin in under two weeks, Missouri announced on Friday that softball head coach Ehren Earleywine has been relieved of his duties.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – University of Missouri Head Softball Coach Ehren Earleywine has been relieved of his coaching duties, Mizzou Director of Athletics Jim Sterk announced Friday.

”I met with Coach Earleywine this morning and informed him of our decision to make a change in leadership within the softball program effective immediately,” Sterk said. “We do not take action of this magnitude without careful thought and consideration, however, we have lost confidence in Coach Earleywine’s leadership to foster the type of healthy environment we expect for our student-athletes, and as a result, believe it is in the program’s best interest to make a change at this time.

”Since my arrival at Mizzou, I have had a chance to consider concerns within the softball program that arose before my time and observe Coach Earleywine’s leadership of our program,” he added. “This decision was based upon a culmination of leadership concerns, not just one incident, which caused me to reevaluate his position within our softball program at this time.” [...]

”While we are appreciative of the many successes Coach Earleywine’s teams have enjoyed on the field during his Mizzou tenure, we had serious concerns about the culture within the softball program and the experience our student-athletes were being provided as a result,” Sterk said. “I recognize that the timing is less than ideal, but I did not believe I could hold off in making a decision to ensure that our student-athletes experience a constructive environment that is consistent with the department’s expectations and values.”

Earleywine led the Mizzou program for 11 seasons and took the Tigers to 11 consecutive NCAA Tournaments. Mizzou went to eight Super Regionals and attended three consecutive Women’s College World Series from 2009-11.

Earleywine was long a favorite of Rock M Nation; the annual Tremendous Stubble drive, named in his honor, raised around $50,000 for Missouri Children’s Hospital through the years. But his temperament came into question in recent seasons, and his conduct came under investigation in 2016.

Former MU athletic director Mack Rhoades, who resigned in July to become athletic director at Baylor, never suspended Earleywine during the investigation, which was made public May 7 when the MU softball team’s Unity Council released a statement objecting to the investigation. The Unity Council took Rhoades to task for his handling of the situation and announced the team was playing under protest.

Earleywine, who subsequently revealed that he had voluntarily entered counseling to improve the way he communicates with his team, called for the players to drop the protest six days later in a text message sent to several media outlets, including The Star. Missouri’s players obliged and ended the protest in the days leading up to NCAA regional play in Columbia, which the Tigers dominated behind junior ace Paige Lowary.

The Star learned in late May that the investigation also included MU’s Office for Civil Rights & Title IX. But interim MU chancellor Hank Foley announced two weeks ago that Earleywine’s conduct had not violated any federal non-discrimination laws.

After a wave of transfers, Mizzou struggled for much of 2017, just barely eking out a postseason bid to keep its streak alive.

The timing of the firing suggests an incident or new complaints of some sort, but we will refrain from speculating for now. As more develops, we will share it.


UPDATE: Earleywine released a statement to local media on Saturday. In it, he stresses that there was no single incident that led to his firing and that he was blindsided by the decision. He also aims a pretty angry fire hose at basically everybody in position of leadership in the athletic department.

“I think this all boiled down to a philosophical coaching difference between MU and myself. We’ll never know for sure, but here’s what I think: I believe in winning. Winning isn’t always warm and fuzzy. It’s not a love fest, it’s a fight. Being a highly competitive coach means occasionally getting on your players when they aren’t giving their best effort. A tool they will need if they want to be successful in life. That approach is heavily frowned on at Mizzou (and is the trend nationwide nowadays) which is evident by the response I received from Brian Brown a couple of months ago when I asked “do you think Nick Saban and Geno Auriemma with their hard-nosed approach could coach at Mizzou?” He responded, “You know, I don’t know, that’s a good question.” You know there’s great administrative confusion about what a good coach is when those two can’t qualify as “Mizzou-Made.”

“The University and Athletic department is obviously trying to straighten things out and find itself after a series of bad decisions over the past few years, but somehow keeps stepping in it. Political correctness, allowing kids more power than people in positions of authority, and their love affair with soft-coaching has gotten the University where it is today. I used to care deeply, now its someone else’s problem.

I really have tried sympathize to a degree. I truly have. But it gets pretty damn difficult.

Gary Pinkel thought of himself as old-school, as the product of a different generation, and complained at times about how things have changed over time. He also adjusted to it and won big. And good god, Nick Saban is a friend and colleague of Pinkel. He wrote the intro to Pinkel’s damn autobiography. Pretty sure his style would work just fine here.

Cuonzo Martin was referred to as old-school in articles as recently as last week, but he manages to lead without “allowing kids more power than people in positions of authority.”

Also: neither Pinkel nor Martin would have gone off on everybody in power had they been fired. They at least try/tried to play the game. Good coaches usually do.

Whatever. It is indeed someone else’s problem now. I’m going to say that’s good for everyone involved.