All good things must come to an end sometime, and for Iowa softball coach Gayle Blevins, that time is now.
On Thursday, Blevins announced her retirement after spending the past 31 years coaching the Indiana (1980-87) and Iowa (1988-10) softball teams to national prominence.
Junior left fielder Jenny Schuelke said Blevins called the team before making an official announcement.
“She called me [Thursday] afternoon and told me that she had decided to officially retire,” Schuelke said. “She wished me the best of luck with my senior year and that she was contacting the players first so we wouldn’t have to hear it from someone else. I was very surprised.”
Blevins’ 1,245 wins are the second-most of any coach in NCAA Division I history, and she never had a losing season. Athletics Director Gary Barta must now find a replacement for the person he labeled a “living legend”; he said in a release that it will not be an easy task.
“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,” Barta said. “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 arrived at Iowa following a successful eight-year stint at Indiana, and quickly turned a struggling Hawkeye program into a national power. The team won its first Big Ten championship and appeared in its first NCAA Tournament in 1989.
Under Blevins, the Hawkeyes won five Big Ten regular-season titles and two Big Ten Tournaments, with 16 NCAA Tournament and four College World Series appearances along the way.
The first World Series was in many ways the most special — the Hawkeyes only made the 1995 NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid. The team defeated both No. 9 Michigan and No. 3 Cal State-Fullerton in extra innings in the World Series before falling to eventual champion and No. 2 UCLA in the semifinals.
Despite Blevins’ success on the diamond — her 945 wins and .680 winning percentage are by far the best in Iowa softball history — she is quick to deflect the credit to her players.
“Through the years, I have been fortunate to coach and build strong relationships with a number of tremendous young women,” Blevins said in a release. “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.”
The Dayton, Ohio, native emphasized excellence on and off the field with her players, 76 of whom were named to the academic All-Big Ten list. Blevins also produced 16 All-Americans and nine academic All-Americans at Iowa, and several of her former players and assistants have had successful coaching careers. Seven former Hawkeyes are current college head coaches, seven are collegiate assistant coaches, and 13 are coaching at the high-school level.
Blevins made her mark on the Iowa softball program as few coaches have ever done in any sport, and Schuelke said she appreciates her former coach.
“As a player, it was a big respect thing,” the senior said. “She’s a very personable person, and after three years, I’m a different player and a different athlete. I wish her the best of luck.”