By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Incredible as it might seem, the once-proud Iowa softball program faces a major rebuild.
A Big Ten power just a decade ago under legendary head coach Gayle Blevins, Iowa is now a Big Ten bottom feeder after Marla Looper’s disastrous eight-year reign that was made worse by her inability or refusal to recruit players from in state.
Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta would have been justified in firing Looper after the 2017 season, but the circumstances wouldn’t allow for it in the wake of the Jane Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum discrimination settlement.
Looper was given one last chance to save her job, but failed to deliver as Iowa finished 21-32 overall and 6-16 in the Big Ten this past season.
A change had to be made and Iowa picked as its next softball coach the exact opposite of Looper, who never had been a head coach before replacing Blevins.
Renee Gillispie was hired as the new Iowa coach last week and the Danville native brings a wealth of head coaching experience.
Gillispie talked about her new job as our guest on the KCJJ/AllHawkeyes radio show on Monday.
She described the Iowa job as her dream job, and let her administrators at UCF know that it was the one and only job she would leave for it became available.
Gillispie started UCF's Division I program in 2002, and averaged more than 36 wins per season. She has coached 75 all-conference honorees, 35 all-tournament selections, and 25 NFCA all-region selections. Eighty players have earned academic all-conference honors.
Prior to UCF, Gillispie spent four years building the Texas Tech program. She led the Red Raiders to a No. 17 national ranking in 1998 and a No. 24 ranking the following season. Her team finished runner-up at the 1999 NCAA Regional.
Before her time at Texas Tech, Gillispie rebuilt softball programs at Bradley University and Joliet Junior College. In 1993, she took over a Bradley program that finished 12-25 in 1992, and in two years posted a record-breaking 33-8 season. The 1994 team finished in second place in the Missouri Valley Conference and ranked fifth in the nation in winning percentage.
Only time and performance will prove if Gillispie is the right person for the Iowa job, but she certainly looks the part based on her experience and her success at multiple schools.
She also understands the importance of recruiting in-state players and aspires to have at least 80 percent of the Iowa roster filled with players from in state.
Gillispie confirmed a rumor that she had offered Minnesota All-Big Ten catcher and Ankeny native Kendyl Lindaman a scholarship as an eighth grader.
Looper, on the other hand, didn’t offer Lindaman a scholarship and barely recruited her despite the fact that Lindaman belted 71 home runs during high school.
Lindaman has since become a star in college, twice being named the Big Ten Player of the Year as a freshman and sophomore.
Gillispie hopes to lift Iowa back to where it was under under Blevins, who built the Hawkeyes into a Big Ten power during her 23-year reign as head coach from 1988 to 2010.
Blevins won 40 or more games in 13 of her 23 years at Iowa, including a career-high 53 wins in 1991, 52 wins in 1997 and 50 wins in 2005. She also led the Hawkeyes to 16 NCAA tournaments, four Women's College World Series appearances, five Big Ten regular season championships, and two Big Ten Tournament titles.
Blevins gave Gillispie a rousing endorsement when news broke that Gillispie would be Iowa's next softall coach.
Blevins also attended Gillispie's introductory press conference, and it seems apparent that Gillispie will lean on Blevins for support and guidance.
"She's done so much for the sport and for the Iowa program," Gillispie said of Blevins.
Gillispie's interview takes place about one hour into the 90-minute podcast and lasts for about 20 minutes. She addresses a number of topics, including which band or performer she would pick to fill Kinnick Stadium.
You'll have to listen to hear her answer..