University of Missouri

Ehren Earleywine fired as Mizzou softball coach

Ehren Earleywine
Ehren Earleywine AP

Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine, who took the Tigers to 11 straight NCAA Tournaments but whose recent tenure was marked by controversy, was fired Friday by athletic director Jim Sterk, days before the 2018 season opener.

Sterk said in a release issued by Mizzou Athletics that he met with Earleywine on Friday morning and informed him of his decision. The school is expected to announce an interim coach early next week.

“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,” Sterk said.

“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. 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.”

A message left with Earleywine seeking comment was not returned.

He entered 2018 in the final year of his contract and was 482-182 (.726) in 11 seasons at Mizzou, reaching eight NCAA Super Regionals and three Women’s College World Series in 11 tries.

But Earleywine had multiple issues off the field.

He was investigated for four months in 2016 under former A.D. Mack Rhoades for alleged verbal abuse of players. Earleywine was retained as coach for the 2017 season in August with the conditions that he seek help to improve on his coaching methods. Rhoades left Missouri to take the job at Baylor shortly after.

He was in the news in May 2015 after an ESPNW story revealed Earleywine had a heated email exchange with Missouri State softball coach Holly Hesse. In the emails, Hesse accused Earleywine of comparing her program to a high school team. In his response, Earleywine used derogatory and expletive comments at Hesse for her job performance.

On May 7, 2016, the team’s players announced a boycott where it still played in its games but protested Rhoades’ investigation. The team announced its actions through its Unity Council, a leadership committee on the team that consisted of one player from each class. A softball player passed out the statement to members of the the media in the press box before the team’s game against South Carolina that day.

Six days later, Earleywine called for his players to end the protest in a text message sent to several media outlets, including The Star. Missouri’s players listened and ended the protest right before they started NCAA regional play in Columbia.

The athletic department announced the investigation after receiving complaints from multiple players. MU’s Office for Civil Rights and Title IX was also involved with the investigation.

Former Mizzou shortstop Corrin Genovese told The Star on Friday that her phone blew up with messages from old teammates after Earleywine was fired. She said some saw this coming for years, while others expressed shock.

“It broke my heart a little bit to see, there’s been so many rumors the last few years. It stinks because I feel like I have a different relationship with him,” Genovese said. “He’s a hard coach to play for. I have nothing negative to say on him. He made me a better persona and no doubt made me a better player. …

“Coach E’s fiery attitude and his personality probably shot him in the foot more times than not coaching women. I’m not here to rag on the school for firing him or players (who liked) him or didn’t. I’m just saying middle of the road, I feel very bad for him. His passion ultimately is probably what got the best of him.”

A Jefferson City native, Earleywine said repeatedly throughout his tenure that Missouri was his dream job and that he didn’t want to coach anywhere else.

According to his contract, Earleywine is owed an amount equal to his most recent annual salary or portion remaining under the contract in equal monthly installments. His base salary under the contract is $155,000.

Mizzou opens its season Feb. 8 vs. San Jose State in Tempe, Ariz. The Tigers also are scheduled to play a Black & Gold scrimmage before the season-opener, on Feb. 3.

Alex Schiffer: 816-234-4064, @TheSchiffMan