Some of Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine’s most interesting thoughts ahead of the NCAA regionals, which begin Friday at University Field, were self-reflective.
Earleywine is known as a fiery, non-nonsense coach. His teams take on that persona and eschew the typical rah-rah culture of softball.
While some opponents find him abrasive, some find him heavy-handed, some might even call him thin-skinned^, Earleywine’s also a winner.
^ He rankled when Alabama celebrated clinching the SEC title outright with a dogpile on Missouri’s turf, creating as close to a scandal as there is in softball circles. Still, for what it’s worth, from my personal experience, Earleywine is engaging, insightful and brutally honest — in other words, awesome to work with. Those traits aren’t always appreciated in combination, but he’s a man after my own heart.
The Tigers are 367-120 — a .754 winning percentage — since Earleywine took over before the 2007 season. He went 145-55 in three seasons at Georgia Tech, giving him a 512-175 overall record in 11 seasons as a head coach.
On Thursday, one day before the Columbia regional swings into action, Earleywine discussed his coaching demeanor, especially ahead of big games — fight mode, as he calls it — and how if impacts his team.
“The most important thing that I can do is stay calm and try to be as relaxed and low-key as possible,” Earleywine said. “For natural reasons, I’m in competition mode right now. I’m in fight mode. I’m in battle mode.
“When that happens with me, I get quiet, I get mean and I’m probably uncomfortable to be around. So, that trickles down to them, and they get tight. I’ve got to do a better job of just trying to stay as relaxed as possible regardless of the storm that’s going on inside of me.”
Earleywine has worked on retooling his approach to the postseason in recent years and hopes that, especially with a young team, it will help Missouri rediscover its offensive punch and confidence in time to reach a Super Regional for the seventh consecutive season.
“I felt like I’ve gotten in their way so many times,” Earleywine said of past postseason appearances. “Whether it’s them recognizing that I’ve prepared a little harder for our opponent or that I’m a little quieter, which is what happens when I get mad and get in fight mode.
“I’m just trying to grow up, just trying to get better. But that’s the way I played, and it worked for me as a player. I guess innately you think, ‘Well, it works for me, surely it will rub off on everybody else, and it doesn’t work that way for everyone.’”
Ultimately, it’s a personal undertaking that’s bound to make him a better coach, perhaps even a better person, moving forward.
It’s also an awesome demonstration to his players that learning and growing, refining one’s craft and putting into practices lessons learned from past mistakes, is a never-ending process.
Now, rather than Earleywine’s postseason angst rubbing off, maybe the Tigers can take a life lesson that’s arguably has greater value away from the field from their coach’s example.