Iowa softball coach Gayle Blevins, the second-winningest coach in NCAA Division I softball history, will retire after 31 years, the school announced Thursday.
Here’s more about her career:
Blevins, who coached at Indiana University (1980-1987) and Iowa (1988-2010), retires with a 1,245-588-5 record, including a 945-440-3 record in 23 seasons at Iowa. Her 1,245 wins are the second-most in NCAA Division I softball history.
“I am thankful for my time at Iowa,” Blevins said. “There are so many people who have been instrumental in the incredible experiences I have had over the last 23 years. I thank the many fans and the friends I have made through our softball family. When I was recruited to Iowa, I loved what I saw of those who followed the Hawkeyes. I wish the softball program and the University of Iowa continued success.”
While at Iowa, Blevins led the Hawkeyes to the Women’s College World Series four times, won five Big Ten regular season championships, two Big Ten Tournament titles and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances. Iowa was also selected to host eight NCAA Regionals during Blevins’ tenure at Iowa.
“This is one of those moments when you experience two very different emotions simultaneously,” Barta said. “On the one hand, I am thrilled and delighted for Gayle. She has earned a level of distinction in her profession that only a rare few ever achieve, and will now enter a new phase of her life. I am genuinely excited for her.
“On the other hand, the University of Iowa must now replace a true living legend in the sport of women’s college softball, a professional in every sense of the word who built the Hawkeye softball program into one of the nation’s very best and did it with style, grace and confidence. Gayle’s shoes will be very, very difficult to fill. The void will be great in many ways including many that go far beyond the softball diamond.”
Blevins never had a losing season in her 31-year career. During her time in Iowa City, Blevins guided Iowa to 40 or more wins 13 times, including three seasons with 50-plus victories. Under her direction, the Hawkeyes finished in the top three in the Big Ten every year but five from 1989-2010 and her Iowa teams never finished lower than fifth in the conference.
Blevins earned numerous awards and honors during her career. She was the 1986 and 1991 National Coach of the Year and the 1989, 1997 and 2000 Big Ten Coach of the Year. Blevins was also named the Mideast Region Coach of the Year six times (1986, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1997) and her staff was selected as the 2003 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Coaching Staff of the Year. Blevins was inducted to the NFCA Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Indiana University Hall of Fame in 2005.
In her 23 years at Iowa, Blevins coached 16 players to 27 all-America honors. She also coached a total of 109 all-Big Ten performers, including 54 first team all-Big Ten players. Her teams were also successful in the classroom, with 76 academic all-Big Ten student-athletes, 15 academic all-district honorees and nine academic all-Americans.
Blevins has left a strong mark on coaching around the country. Numerous former players and assistant coaches have moved on to coaching positions at various levels across the country. The group includes 15 collegiate head coaches, 34 collegiate assistant coaches and 30 high school coaches.
“Through the years I have been fortunate to coach and build strong relationships with a number of tremendous young women,” Blevins said. “These relationships will continue to be an important part of my life. Neither time nor distance will diminish them. I love these women, am proud of them, and I will continue to follow their lives. We will always be Hawkeyes.”
Blevins took over a struggling Iowa program in 1987. Before Blevins arrived in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes had produced only five winning seasons in the program’s first nine seasons (1978-1987). Blevins immediately produced success, securing the first Big Ten championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in program history in 1989. The 1989 Hawkeyes also finished ranked ninth in the nation, the first time an Iowa team had ever been nationally ranked.
Blevins built on that success and in 1990, the Hawkeyes won another Big Ten title and produced the school’s first all-American in Diane Pohl.
The 1995 season proved to be an extraordinary one for Blevins and her Hawkeye squad. After receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Hawkeyes became the nation’s Cinderella story. Iowa advanced to its first NCAA Women’s College World Series after defeating No. 8 Cal State Sacramento, and twice beating No. 5 Fresno State. At the Women’s College World Series, the Hawkeyes lost to No. 2 UCLA but rallied back to beat No. 9 Michigan in 14 innings and No. 3 Cal State Fullerton in nine innings. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes fell short in their quest for a national championship, losing to UCLA in the national semifinals.
The 1996 Hawkeyes paved their way to a second-consecutive appearance in the Women’s College World Series by winning the Mideast Regional held in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes finished third in the nation after losing to eventual national champion Arizona.
After a 52-9 record and a No. 5 national ranking, the 1997 Hawkeyes made its third-consecutive trip to the Women’s College World Series. During the regular season, Iowa marched through the Big Ten schedule with a perfect 22-0 record, marking the first and only time in conference history that a Big Ten team has completed the conference schedule undefeated.
Iowa returned to Oklahoma City and the Women’s College World Series for the fourth time in school history in 2001. Blevins guided the Hawkeyes to a 49-14 record and a Big Ten Tournament championship.
In 2003, Blevins coached the Hawkeyes to the Big Ten regular season and tournament championship, the first time an Iowa team had captured both in the same season. She also took the Hawkeyes to the Lincoln, NE, Regional championship game.
Blevins became only the third NCAA Division I softball coach to eclipse the 1,000 win mark during the 2004 season. The victory was also her 700th at Iowa.
In 2005, Blevins led the Hawkeyes to their third 50-win season in school history, where they advanced to both the Big Ten Tournament and Lincoln, NE, Regional championship game.
Blevins and the Hawkeyes finished 42-20 in 2008 and nearly won the Big Ten Tournament, falling to Northwestern, 1-0. Iowa was selected to host an NCAA Regional that season as the Hawkeyes advanced to the championship round of the tournament.
Blevins became the second winningest coach in NCAA softball history during the 2009 season, leading Iowa to a 42-16 record. She picked up win No. 1,219 to move into second place with a 2-0 victory over Minnesota May 9.
Blevins was one of the first coaches in the country to effectively use the “slap style” hitting as an exciting offensive weapon. One of her student-athletes at Indiana was the first-ever slapper chosen as a first team all-American in 1983. Blevins earned the reputation during her career as on the of the best coaches in the nation at using the speed game.
Blevins came to the UI after a successful career at Indiana University, where she led the Hoosiers from 1980-87 and compiled an impressive 301-146 record. She led Indiana to the Women’s College World Series three times and to three Big Ten titles.