University of Missouri

Mizzou softball coach Ehren Earleywine expected to return in 2017

Mizzou softball coach Ehren Earleywine
Mizzou softball coach Ehren Earleywine

After a four-month investigation, Ehren Earleywine will keep his job and return for an 11th season as Missouri’s softball coach, a source confirmed Thursday to The Star.

MU’s decision to keep Earleywine was first reported by Chris Gervino of KOMU-TV in Columbia. Missouri is expected to make a formal announcement soon.

Earleywine, who is 453-154 in 10 seasons at MU, has been under investigation since April for alleged verbal abuse of players. The athletic department announced the investigation after receiving complaints from several team members early last season.

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.

But Foley did not indicate if Earleywine would be retained at that time, saying that “senior leaders in athletics are currently discussing next steps.” Several sources indicated that the school intended to put Earleywine on a social contract that outlined expectations for his behavior.

Last month, Lowary announced that she was transferring to Oklahoma. Fellow Tigers pitcher Tori Finucane also opted to transfer and will finish her career at Minnesota, becoming the seventh player to leave the program since the start of the 2016 season. Erin Gilliland, Sara Harvey, Chase Nelson, Sydney Sprague and Morgan Walters also left Mizzou, which finished 42-16 last season and won the eighth regional championship during Earleywine’s tenure.

The Tigers reached the Women’s College World Series in three consecutive seasons under Earleywine, from 2009-11, and were chosen as the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Midwest staff of the year in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

Earleywine received a public reprimand from the NFCA last August for disparaging comments about other programs, including a less-than-polite email exchange with Missouri State’s Holly Hesse, and a series of ejections during the 2015 season.

He was suspended for the 2016 season opener for a secondary violation of NCAA rules when he emailed a prospective student-athlete a scholarship offer before Aug. 1 of her senior year. Had Earleywine made a verbal offer, it would have been within NCAA bylaws, but by putting it in an email it became a Level III infraction.

Earleywine was the 2011 Big 12 coach of the year after leading Mizzou to a regular-season title in the penultimate season before moving to the Southeastern Conference.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer