ASU softball still seeking stability as Nicholson resigns

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                </div>  Looks like Ray Anderson has another opportunity to make a major coaching hire at Arizona State after the resignation Monday of the Sun Devils’ head softball coach. This will be […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Looks like Ray Anderson has another opportunity to make a major coaching hire at Arizona State after the resignation Monday of the Sun Devils’ head softball coach.

This will be the fifth major coaching hire for Anderson, who was an NFL exec before taking the ASU job 22 months ago.  He has also added new swimming, wrestling, baseball, and basketball head coaches.

As the list expands to softball, maybe Anderson will take up the suggestion we made two years ago when ASU began its search to replace Clint Myers, who resigned to take a similar position at Auburn after winning two national softball titles during his eight years in Tempe.

Craig Nicholson was hired six months before Anderson was named AD, so he had nothing to do with hiring Nicholson, who was plucked from Ball State, a small D-I school in Indiana, to take over one of the most storied softball programs in the nation.

At the time, we suggested the search committee take a short road trip to Tucson to see if Stacy Iveson might be interested in taking over the job.  The sticky part of that idea, of course, would be that Iveson is still on Mike Candrea’s staff at University of Arizona.

And now that’s even more problematic since Iveson, who won four national titles with two different Arizona JUCO programs, was promoted last year to associate head coach as the school appears to be grooming her for the boss’s seat when Candrea decides to hang up his spikes.

But the 59-year-old Candrea, who is getting ready to begin his 30th season as the Wildcats’ head coach, hasn’t indicated any plans for retirement in the near future.  Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the 47-year-old Iveson.

So loyalties aside, a big fat contract and chance to take over one of the top softball programs in the nation would be very tempting.  And it’s been four years since she left Prescott’s Yavapai College, which she led to her second national title before leaving in 2011 to join Candrea’s staff.  So she might be getting the itch to run her own program again.

Nicholson resigned for “personal medical reasons,” according to a statement issued by the school.  But doubts about his hire were beginning to surface after the program failed to meet expectations during his two years in charge.  He won ball games, but couldn’t produce in the post-season.

And this newest development just adds to the instability in that area of the ASU athletic programs. The head baseball coach, Tim Esmay, was pushed out the door in June of last year and the Devils had to break in a new guy last season. Tracy Smith, hired away from Indiana University, posted a 35-23 record and third-place conference finish – which is kinda like running in place since Esmay went 33-24 and also finished in third place.

Nicholson took over a program that was returning two of the premier pitchers in the country, Dallas Escobeda (who is now serving as the team’s graduate manager) and Mackenzie Popsecue, and almost its entire roster from a team that went 50-12 the year before.

Myers had filled the cupboards with plenty of talent before leaving for Auburn, so expectations were high for the 2014 season.  Nicholson responded by leading a talent-rich team to 44 wins and a No. 4 national ranking in his first year, but lost in the regionals in two straight games – the first time in nine seasons the Sun Devils failed to get out of regional play.  Last year, a 36-22 squad again fell short of making it into the Super Regionals.

For a tradition-rich program like ASU’s, anything short of a trip to the Women’s College World Series is considered under-achieving.

His replacement will face the same expectations, and the pressures that come with the high-profile job.  But with a weaker returning line-up than Nicholson enjoyed.  The Devils graduated All-everything catcher Amber Freeman, third baseman Haley Steele, and outfielder Elizabeth Caporuscio.

That lack of program experience will also be shared by the coaching staff that will be tasked with holding down the fort until a new head coach arrives to take over.  Letty Olivarez and Robert Wagner have been named co-interim head coaches.  This is the first season on the bench for Olivarez, who has been working as pitching coach, and Wagner has just one season under his belt after being hired from Scottsdale Community College.

But, based on Anderson’s past record, it won’t take him long to fill the void with a new head coach.

Memo to Ray: It takes just two hours to make the trip to Tucson.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)