Earlier this week, Whit Babcock announced that Virginia Tech softball head coach Scot Thomas had been relieved of his duties.
Thomas built an impressive legacy in his 23 years as the program's only head coach leading VT to a Women's College World Series in 2008, 8 NCAA regional appearances, 2 ACC Championships, almost 800 wins, and a victory over the U.S. National Team ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Whoever replaces Thomas as head coach of Virginia Tech softball will have a tall task in replacing the Blacksburg native who built the program from scratch into a softball program with all the resources and facilities to be a player on the national stage as they were for much of his tenure.
With that said, here are a few potential candidates to watch for the Virginia Tech softball head coaching job.
Sometimes, the best option is less than a few hours and in this case, one of Virginia Tech's top candidates should be Liberty's Dot Richardson. Richardson has seen Liberty transform from a Division I bottom feeder to one of the best programs in a single-bid conference. The best example of this comes in how much Liberty has improved from going 11-46 in year 1 to back-to-back seasons of at least 45 wins with significant improvements from 2014 to 2015 and 2016 to 2017.
Richardson should have some Virginia recruiting connections, but Richardson has proven that she can find talent from across the country, and has had lots of success bringing players from coast to coast to Lynchburg. In addition, her legacy as a two-time Olympic gold medalist shortstop in 1996 and 2000 likely would appeal to almost any recruit wherever she's recruiting.
While some may look for a coach who won almost immediately, Richardson has shown that she can build a program from scratch. While VT softball may need some rebuilding, the Hokies have a much stronger foundation to build on in addition to a quality roster headlined by pitching ace Carrie Eberle.
Richardson should be one of the top targets for Whit Babcock and senior associate AD Chris Helms in their search and, if interested, will likely be a top candidate. However, she may be content to stay at Liberty and continue to build on what she has there especially with the investment Liberty has made in athletics.
Over her 17-year tenure at Fordham, Bridget Orchard has built the Rams into the best softball program in the Atlantic 10. Orchard has led the Rams eight NCAA Regional bids in the past nine seasons including six-straight bids from 2013-2018. In addition, Orchard has won six-straight Atlantic 10 titles (2013-2018) with her first coming two years earlier in 2011.
Orchard has been the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year seven times during her tenure at Fordham as well, showing the respect she has from those in the conference.
Before Fordham, Orchard spent four years at Cabrini College where her teams went 129-42-2, an impressive record especially given how she took this head coaching job immediately after her playing career at Villanova wrapped up.
It's rare to see a head coach who has only been a head coach since the end of their collegiate playing days in any sport, yet Orchard has done exactly that at a high level. Her career arc is similar to that of Michigan men's basketball head coach John Beilein who has only been a head coach and had success everywhere from the high school level right after his collegiate career to West Virginia and Michigan.
It's only a matter of time before Orchard is running a bigger program, and Virginia Tech would be wise to consider her.
Pete D'Amour has only been at Kennesaw State for two years, but has already had impressive success with back-to-back 39+ win seasons while winning the Atlantic Sun conference title this year. D'Amour did this at a program that had never made the postseason since joining Division I in 2006, an accomplishment that shows just how good of a job he's done
One thing that makes D'Amour a guy to watch is his connection to Whit Babcock as D'Amour was an assistant at Missouri from 2007 to 2016 while Babcock was at Missouri for four years starting in 2007. During his time at Missouri, the Tigers made the NCAA Regionals all 10 seasons including three-straight College World Series appearances from 2009-2011 and 8 total Super Regional appearances.
One possible concern with D'Amour is the fact that his head coaching success is limited to a smaller conference like the Atlantic Sun while also not having much experience recruiting in the Mid-Atlantic. However, we've seen VT have success going for coaches who made a big jump in the level they were coaching at like John Sung who took the women's lacrosse team to their first NCAA Tournament in only his second year at the program's helm.
Whit Babcock's connection makes D'Amour a name to watch though he would likely be a candidate anyway given his success as an assistant at Missouri and a head coach at Kennesaw State.
Like Scot Thomas did for Virginia Tech, Chris Hawkins has built USC Upstate into a strong softball program that has transitioned up to Division I and become a stalwart in their conference (Atlantic Sun). After making five-straight NCAA Regional appearances from 2013-2017, USC Upstate missed out this past season to the aforementioned Kennesaw State, but what Hawkins has done continues to be impressive.
Hawkins had success on the Division II level making four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 2004-2007, the final four years before their transition, and then won the Atlantic Sun title in the program's first year at the Division I level in 2008.
While USC Upstate to Virginia Tech would be a big jump that would be appealing to many coaches, Hawkins may be more apt to stay where he is. Hawkins is also an associate athletic director at USC Upstate and as an alum who has been there for more than two decades, he may not have a lot of interest in leaving even for an ACC job.
Virginia Tech would be wise to at least reach out to Hawkins and gauge whether he would be interested in leaving his alma mater for an ACC job.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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