When Trisha Ford took over the Fresno State softball program in 2012, she was stepping into the shoes of the school’s all-time winningest coach who had led the Bulldogs to four trips to the national championship game, 17 conference championships, and a national title.
To add to that, she inherited the youngest roster in the Western Athletic Conference, and the team’s top two pitchers had just graduated.
If that wasn’t enough, the program was transitioning from the WAC to the more competitive Mountain West Conference – and pre-season predictions had the Bulldogs cast as the favorites to win the conference title in her first year at the helm.
So Ford has dealt with the pressures that come with a new job and a lot of high expectations. And that should make her a good fit for her new position as head coach for the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The hiring of the California native was announced Wednesday. She will be the third head coach for the tradition-rich program in the last 11 years.
Her challenge will be to return the program to where it was during the eight years that Clint Myers ran the show, during which time the Sun Devils collected two national titles. Myers left after the 2013 season to take over the Auburn program and Craig Nicholson ran it for two more before resigning for health reasons. ASU used co-interim coaches to fill the void the past season.
Expectations for a program like ASU’s involve frequent trips to the Women’s College World Series – there are four national championship trophies on the mantle. But for the past three years, none of the teams have even been able to get past the regionals and this year’s team finished the regular season next-to-last in the Pac-12 standings.
Ford managed the step up from WAC to MWC play. But the Pac-12 is another animal altogether.
The first order of business will be to make sure the incoming talent follows through with their commitments. At Fresno State, she was able to keep the entire recruiting class of six freshmen intact. That’s a good sign.
She will also bring another important attribute to the program: recruiting and developing great pitchers. She was the primary pitching coach in her previous job at Stanford and at Fresno State, Jill Compton was honored as the conference Pitcher of the Year – twice.
And that’s what it’s going to take to get the ASU program back to Oklahoma City.
After nine seasons on the coaching staff at Stanford, the last four as associate head coach, Ford was able to continue the work her predecessor, Margie Wright, had begun at Fresno State. Her overall record for four years was 142-71-1 (.667) and her 2015 team won the Mountain West title. Her teams posted 40-win records each of the last two years and Ford was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year both seasons.
One thing the Fresno State program has in common with ASU is the fan support. The Bulldogs enjoy one of the country’s largest softball fan bases.
The Sun Devils have always had that kind of support. But a deep run in the playoffs after three years of early elimination would help energize a fan base that was beginning to settle into complacency.
Of course, that has to be just the first step. Ford knows her success at ASU will be judged by how often she takes her teams to Oklahoma City, and whether she is able to bring home another national title.
Pretty simple. No pressure. Just go get the hardware.