University of Missouri

Mizzou announces softball coach Ehren Earleywine will remain

Mizzou softball coach Ehren Earleywine
Mizzou softball coach Ehren Earleywine

Missouri formally concluded a 4  1/2 -month investigation Friday into alleged verbal abuse of players by softball coach Ehren Earleywine, who will remain coach of the Tigers.

Earleywine, who The Star reported Thursday would be retained, said he was relieved to see the process come to a close.

“I deeply regret the attention this has brought to our program and University,” Earleywine said in a statement from the MU athletic department. “I do understand that the University was obligated to review the allegations. As I’ve said previously, I fully recognize that I need to improve in certain areas, and I am committed to working on those areas moving forward.”

Earleywine, a native of Jefferson City, is 453-154 in 10 seasons at Missouri, a .746 winning percentage. He’s guided the program into the NCAA Tournament each year, including eight Super Regional appearances and three Women’s College World Series berths.

“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue to coach this program, and I’ve said a thousand times, I love this place with all my heart and look forward to being the coach here for many years to come,” Earleywine said. “The support our program receives means so much, and I am grateful for our fans. Hopefully, we can now refocus on maintaining the great softball tradition we have built here and put this in the past.”

That seems to be a primary objective for Mizzou athletics as well.

“We have an opportunity moving forward to build on the rich competitive success of the Mizzou softball program,” interim athletic director Sarah Reesman said in a statement. “I look forward to working together with Coach Earleywine to provide a great total experience for our student-athletes.”

Reesman remains the interim athletic director until newly hired Jim Sterk settles in Columbia, a move that is expected as soon as next week.

As part of the investigation, Missouri made it clear that certain aspects of Earleywine’s behavior must change.

“We have had productive conversations with Coach Earleywine and he understands our expectations moving forward,” said MU senior associate athletic director Tim Hickman, who oversees softball. “While the process was a lengthy one, we know it was thorough and fair, and we’re now at a place of resolution. I am pleased to work together toward the continued success of our softball program under coach Earleywine.”

Interim MU chancellor Hank Foley announced Aug. 5 that Earleywine had been cleared in a separate investigation by the school’s Office of Title IX and Civil Rights, finding that he hadn’t violated federal non-discrimination statutes. Friday’s announcement also brings the athletic department’s investigation to a close.

MU said details of the Title IX and athletic department investigations are protected as a personnel matter and will not be released publicly.

Missouri began investigating Earleywine in April after former athletic director Mack Rhoades, who resigned to become Baylor’s athletic director last month, received complaints from team members. The investigation proceeded quietly until May 7, when the Tigers softball team’s Unity Council announced that the players were playing in protest of the investigation.

The rhetoric from the Unity Council ramped up after a first-round exit during the Southeastern Conference Tournament the following week, before Earleywine asked MU’s players to drop the protest on May 13 in the text message to several media outlets, including The Star.

The Tigers’ players confirmed May 18 that the protest had ended. Missouri won its NCAA regional before losing to Michigan in super regional play without Earleywine ever being suspended, but the investigation dragged on.

While the Earleywine investigation is over, he still faces potential challenges. Seven players, including pitchers Paige Lowary and Tori Finucane, have transferred since the 2016 season started.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer