Much turmoil currently surrounds the Auburn softball program. Oft forgotten beneath the off-field saga with the coaching staff and athletics department, though, is that the program currently lacks a full-time head coach.
With fall ball ready to get underway in many places and the 2018 season looming, the Tigers' athletic administration will have to make a decision at some point as to who will lead them through the coming year, if not longer.
Let's take a look at some potential candidates who could answer the door should the Tigers come a-knockin'.
Head Coach, James Madison University
Dean's name has been and will be at the top of every major-program coaching candidates' list for the last couple of years, and that will remain the case. The work he has done at James Madison - both in recruiting and building all-star rosters, as well as putting together a truly terrific on-field product - is sensational and rightfully highly-praised.
2017 JWOS Player of the Year Megan Good is in her senior campaign, however, and Dean signed a contract extension during the 2016 offseason. He should listen if the Tigers make an offer, but with the Dukes in position to make another postseason run, would he depart to join a program on the Plains that is currently in such a questionable state?
Assistant Coach, University of Oregon
Kolaitis has found success wherever he has gone, including at South Alabama, where he gained a reputation as one of the business' best recruiters and an excellent offensive coach. At Oregon, he has helped shepherd some of the nation's best hitters in the Ducks' lineup, including Janie Takeda, Jenna Lilley, and Danica Mercado returning from injury in 2017.
For Kolaitis, a return to the state of Alabama would mean a trip back to his most familiar territory (he graduated from Troy and spent several years as a member of the Trojans' baseball staff) and could make for a grand homecoming. Thought to be in line for a promotion to "top dog" for some time now, this could be his time.
Head Coach, University of Alabama-Huntsville
The only coach in UAH softball history, Stuedeman has guided the Chargers to nearly 1,000 victories during her tenure began in the mid-nineties. Under her guidance, the program has never endured a losing season and boast of four postseason Region titles and a World Series runner-up finish in 2009 and 2011.
An extra advantage that Stuedeman would bring to the table is an automatic storyline, in that her sister, Vann Stuedeman, is the head coach at Mississippi State. In the midst of all that Auburn is going through, an off-field storyline that keeps both fans and broadcasters intriguged without mentioning the current happenings could be a welcome sight.
Associate Head Coach, University of Alabama
Habetz has been by Patrick Murphy's side on the Tide coaching staff for the past nineteen years, and the program's success is nearly as much of a credit to her as it is to Murphy himself. The energetic stalwart in the first-base coaching box, Habetz' passion for the game rubs off onto her players as much as her hitting instruction does.
When Murphy left Alabama for all of a weekend in 2011, Habetz followed him to LSU, then followed him back to Tuscaloosa when he changed his mind. By all accounts, Habetz is happy and content in her current position - a comfortable one, to be sure. But the question is less would she leave Alabama for an archrival, and more would she leave Murphy. If the answer to that is ever going to be anything close to "yes", this may be her best opportunity.
Associate Head Coach, University of Florida
Rocha has gained a reputation as one of the nation's best pitching coaches, a title that she has earned thanks to the successes of a number of hurlers under her tutelage, among them Lauren Haeger, Delanie Gourley, and Kelly Barnhill. The Gators' pitching staff has consistently been one of the nation's best over the last several seasons, and Rocha deserves a good portion of the credit for that success.
Though her single-season stint as head coach of the Dallas Charge in the National Pro Fastpitch league, to date her only head coaching position, was less than successful, Rocha remains a top name at the rumor mill for every major head coaching position that opens. Like Habetz, she is, by all accounts, content in her current role and is expected to help lead the Gators to another WCWS championship-challenging season in 2018, but also like Habetz, if she ever expects to take a head coaching position, this could be a golden opportunity to make her mark.
Associate Head Coach, University of Oklahoma
Lombardi was the architect behind the masterful pitching performances in two consecutive Women’s College World Series championships for the Sooners, helping guide the talented Paige Parker, as well as Kelsey Stevens and breakout star Paige Lowary, to mastery of some of the nation’s toughest opponents. An unsung hero of both championships, Lombardi is arguably the best pitching coach in the nation at the current time.
Much like Habetz and Rocha already mentioned, Lombardi is in a comfortable, successful position currently. There may be little motivation to leave a twice-defending National Champion, but of the things that could spark said motivation, a head coaching position at a national power – albeit a floundering one at the present time – should be near the top of the list.
A prevailing theory is that the Tigers, instead of attempting to hire a long-term, big-name head coach, might instead look a step lower, at a coach who can help in the immediate time, but may or may not be a long-tenured coach. With that in mind, here are three candidates who might fit that "stopgap" bill.
Head Coach, University of South Alabama
Clark presided over one of the most successful periods in the Jaguars’ program history, including leading her team to a top-sixteen seed and the opportunity to host a regional in 2013. Her team reached and remains among the top echelon of the Sun Belt, but has failed to find the continued success that’s seen in their rival Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns.
Sources close to the USA program confirmed Clark’s previous interest in the Tigers’ head coaching position, and it stands to reason that her interest should be no lesser at this point. With a solid head coaching resume and in-state success in both recruiting and on-field results, she could be a solid hire to help weather the current storm that the Tigers find themselves in, without completely “throwing in the towel” and starting over.
Head Coach, University of North Alabama
Cozart presided over the 2015 Division 2 National Championship-winning UNA club, a victory that should go far for her as resume fodder. A good coach, albeit a young one, a national title at any level is not an easy thing to obtain. While the promotion from Division 2 straight into the SEC could produce a bit of a learning curve, Cozart brings youth and championship experience to the table.
North Alabama is scheduled to depart Division 2 for a jump to Division 1 in just a couple of years, and the timing could be a bit surprising if Cozart were to leave. However, division jumps can sometimes be difficult and a move to a position at an already-established school, especially one in the Power Five, should be a virtual no-brainer.
Head Coach, Alabama State University
Wilcoxson owns nearly 400 career wins to her name in eleven seasons as a collegiate coach; her coaching resume includes stops at Reinhardt University, Auburn-Montgomery, and her current position at Alabama State. Under her guidance, Alabama State finished a single game over .500 in 2016 and won the SWAC conference tournament, earning them an NCAA tournament regional berth.
An Auburn alum, Wilcoxson brings familiarity with the program to the table and could help reenergize the fan base and alumni group that is sure to be downtrodden after the recent turmoil around the program. A 22-35 record during the 2017 season and a Division One win-loss record twenty-four games below .500 could serve as strong demerits for her candidacy.