Blevins at the top

BY MIKE SLUSARK | MAY 11, 2009 7:28 AM

She might not have the instant name recognition of Hayden Fry or Dan Gable, but Gayle Blevins deserves to be remembered as an all-time great in Iowa coaching.

Blevins quietly moved in to second place on the all-time Division-I wins list May 9 with a 2-0 defeat of Minnesota in the first game of a double-header. It was her 1,219th victory as a head softball coach.

During her illustrious coaching career, Blevins has been inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Indiana University Hall of Fame. She has been named both the Big Ten and national Coach of the Year.

Before Blevins took over in 1988, the Iowa softball program, which began in 1974, had only five winning seasons. The team only had one season above .500 in the Big Ten, an 8-7 conference record in 1983.

When she took over, the program immediately turned around. The Hawkeyes won their first Big Ten title and made their first NCAA Tournament. Since then, the softball team has won four more conference titles and made four College World Series appearances. Her overall career coaching record is 1,220-563-5.

In 1997, Blevins’ 22-0 Hawkeyes were the first team to go undefeated in the Big Ten. No other team has been undefeated in Big Ten play since.

When Blevins began coaching at Indiana in 1980, she was an innovator for the game of softball. She was one of the first coaches to use slap-hitting regularly. In 1983, one of her players was the first slap-hitter to earn All-American honors. Slap-hitting is now a regular tactic used by almost all softball teams.

She plays an aggressive style of softball that is immediately apparent to anyone who watches her teams. Her teams are always near the top of the conference in steal attempts, and they try to get extra bases on hits as much as possible. They force opponents to make plays defensively and are always poised to benefit from the defense’s mistakes.

This distinct brand of play has inspired coaches throughout all levels of softball. Six former players or assistants under Blevins are current collegiate softball coaches.

Carol Hutchins, the current head coach at Michigan who ranks fifth on the all-time wins list, served as an assistant under Blevins when she was the head coach at Indiana. Current Iowa assistant coach Diane Stephenson was an All-American at Indiana under Blevins in 1981. Stephenson was the head coach at Indiana from 1988-2002 and earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in 1994.

In total, 43 former players or assistant coaches under Blevins have moved on to head coaching or assistant coaching positions at the college level.

Under her leadership, 15 Hawkeyes have earned All-American honors and three Big Ten Player of the Year accolades.

Although it is often overlooked, college coaches have a responsibility to ensure their student-athletes are successful in the classroom as well as in competition. The recently released academic progress rates from the 2007-08 academic year list the Iowa softball team in the top 10 percent within its sport. Seven different players have received Academic All-American honors during Blevins’ tenure.

The state of Iowa is not generally thought of as a hotbed of Division-I athletic talent in most sports, but Blevins has consistently won with homegrown talent. Eight in-state players have gone on to be All-Americans for the Hawkeyes and eight of the 18 players currently on the team are from Iowa.

Blevins will probably never become the winningest coach in Division-I history — Fresno State coach Margie Wright has a solid hold on that spot — but the effect she has made on softball nationally and at Iowa cannot be overstated.

Quite simply, Blevins is Iowa softball.

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