By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State identified the weakness of their softball program and believe their new head coaching hire is the perfect fit to solve that problem.
Former Alabama pitching coach Vonn Stuedeman was officially announced at a Thursday afternoon ceremony knowing she's got to turn around a pitching staff that was the worst in the Southeastern Conference.
"There are 11 schools that play softball and pitching (at MSU) was 11th in the conference – not because we don't have good pitchers at Mississippi State," Stuedeman said. "That's why I obviously come in. We have just got to get to work."
Stuedeman, 38, served as the pitching coach with the Crimson Tide for the past 11 seasons and helped that program reach the Women's College World Series six times. Stuedeman has guided 10 pitchers to All-American honors in the past seven seasons and had at least one All-American under her tutelage for six consecutive seasons.
Alabama pitchers have tossed 22 no-hitters, including a school record five in 2009 and 2011 under the guidance of Stuedeman.
"I'll tell you the two coaches I talked to during the process were (Baylor head coach) Glenn Moore and (Kentucky head coach) Rachel Lawson and everything about Van was positive," MSU athletics director Scott Stricklin said. "I have no doubt that she's tough enough to match up in the Southeastern Conference."
Stuedeman will replace Jay Miller, who was fired on May 13 despite compiling a 295-253 ledger in his nine years at MSU, the winningest mark in program history. However, after taking the Mississippi State softball program to five NCAA post-season tournaments during his first six years at the head of the program, the Bulldogs were just 78-89 over the last three seasons.
"There is no reason that Mississippi State can not be on a national platform in the next few years," Stuedeman said.
Stuedeman was dismissed when Crimson Tide head coach Patrick Murphy returned to Alabama after accepting the job as the head softball coach at LSU for three days but suddenly returning to UA.
The uniqueness of this hire is the perception that assistant coaches don't normally get opportunities in the Southeastern Conference and something Stuedeman was well aware of when she interviewed with MSU officials.
"(Scott Stricklin) talked a lot about doing things different and I said what you're going to do differently is hire an assistant coach," Stuedeman said.
Stuedeman announced Thursday after she was introduced that her first act as the leader of the softball program at MSU was to hire Tuscaloosa (Ala.) County High School coach Alan Reach as the Bulldogs new hitting coach.
"Right from the start I could tell Alan has the ability to sell this program immediately," Stuedeman said. "We are going to get first class athletes at Mississippi State."
In Stuedeman's mind that begins in the Magnolia State.
"I want the best player in the state of Mississippi every year and I will go after her hard," State's fifth-ever softball head coach said. "I am a firm believer in GRITS – girls raised in the south."
Prior to joining Murphy's staff at Alabama, Stuedeman coached at West Alabama, Alabama-Huntsville and East Limestone High School. A native of Birmingham, she's a 1994 graduate of Huntingdon College, where she was an All-American pitcher during her four-year career.
Stuedeman had her parents in the Bryan Building for the ceremony along with her older sister Les, who is the head coach at Alabama-Huntsville, and younger brother in attendance Thursday to watch her earn her first Division 1 head coaching job.
"I'm the girl for the job," Stuedeman said. "It's a no-brainer for me. All I need was somebody like Scott (Stricklin) to step out of the norm and believe in me."
Asked how long it would take for her to beat her old boss at Alabama in her new position in Starkville, Stuedeman's answer was unabashedly confident.
"Seven innings," Stuedeman said from the podium.