'The standard in softball': Why OU's Patty Gasso is college softball's best coach going
Ask other college softball coaches about Patty Gasso, and the words they use to describe her are powerful.
Setting a standard.
That last one, by the way, came courtesy of Oklahoma’s biggest rival.
“OU's been there so long," Oklahoma State coach Kenny Gajewski said. "With Patty, what she's done, it's just been crazy.
"They are the standard in softball right now.”
On the day OU starts super-regional play against Washington, all of the softball world will be watching the proceedings in Norman. The Sooners are the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament while the Huskies may well be the most underseeded team in tournament history. Ranked in the top 10 much of the season, they were inexplicably seeded No. 16.
Truthfully, this is a matchup worthy of the Women’s College World Series.
Surviving the weekend will be no easy task, but for the Sooners, they have something no other team does — a head coach that's second to none.
Patty Gasso is the greatest college softball coach currently in the game.
There are lots of measures for determining such things, of course, but three carry a ton of weight: longevity, impact on the game and current success. Gasso tips the scales heavily in all three.
Look at longevity, and you’ll see Gasso has been at OU for more than a quarter century. During that time, the Sooners have won 18 Big 12 titles and made 13 WCWS appearances. They’ve also won four national titles, which accounts for more than a tenth of all national championships at OU.
Here’s a little context: only UCLA and Arizona, college softball's biggest stalwarts, have won more championships than OU since the NCAA started awarding softball titles in 1982.
But here’s a little more context: Arizona hasn’t won a title since 2007 and hasn’t been in the championship series since 2010. The Wildcats lost that year to the Bruins, who then went nine years without so much as an appearance in the championship series.
Stalwarts can swoon.
OU did, too. After winning the 2000 national title and becoming a WCWS regular, the Sooners went six years without so much as a WCWS appearance.
But since returning to the series in 2011, the Sooners have been to all but one WCWS, have advanced to five of the last eight championship series and have won it all three times.
“She’s just not content with winning one,” Texas coach Mike White said. “She wants to continue to improve her team each and every year.”
Gajewski said: “In a way, she’s remade herself. They won it in 2000, then they kind of went away for a bit. And now they’re back, and they’re not just back — they’re back as good as she’s ever been.”
And Gajewski says there’s no secret to the success — Gasso works as hard as anyone.
“She hasn’t lost her edge,” he said. “She hasn’t lost her drive.”
That longevity leads into our next category: Gasso’s impact on the game.
Before the Sooners had their run in the early 2000s, teams from the West Coast were dominating college softball. But those Sooners showed the rest of the country what was possible.
In the two decades since, we’ve seen SEC softball go from afterthought to behemoth. We’ve seen a team from a cold-weather school win it all (Michigan, 2005). We’ve seen the ACC win its first national championship (Florida State, 2018). We've even seen programs like James Madison on the verge of making the WCWS.
What Gasso and her Sooners did in the early 2000s didn’t make all of that happen, but they inspired other schools. They were an example of what was possible. Places like Alabama and Florida State could dream big because of what Gasso and the Sooners had done.
Or as Gajewski put it, “She has made everybody across the country invest in softball.”
Gasso’s impact goes beyond that, too. The branches of her coaching tree have spread far and wide. Florida coach Tim Walton, winner of two national titles, got his softball coaching start as Gasso’s hitting coach. Arkansas coach Courtney Diefel got her start in coaching at OU, too, working as a graduate assistant. Oregon coach Melyssa Lombardi was Gasso’s longtime pitching coach.
You could even consider Gajewski a branch of a branch of the Gasso coaching tree; he got his softball coaching start on Walton’s staff at Florida after a decade as OU’s turf and maintenance director.
Florida, Arkansas and OSU, by the way, are all in super regionals this week. If they all make the WCWS, that would be a huge nod to Gasso.
Of course, she and her Sooners might well be there, too.
Which brings us to our last category: current success.
This season, Gasso has one of her best teams, and these Sooners have done it with the most offensive firepower of her tenure. They have hit 142 home runs, an average of 2.84 a game.
Hawaii set the single-season record for homers in 2010 with 158, and while OU may fall short of that record, this COVID season has shortened the schedule. If OU kept up its average and played 66 games like Hawaii did in 2010, the Sooners would shatter the record.
Their projected total: 187.4.
The Gasso-era Sooners have long had good hitters, even back to that 2000 national championship team, but the power on this roster is something different. Every player in the lineup is a home-run threat.
These Sooners may well be a change agent in the sport.
Another one by Gasso.
“I don’t think they rest on their past successes,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said. “They’re always evolving.”
Patty Gasso has always evolved, but over the better part of three decades at OU, she has always won at the highest levels, too. That makes her a trend setter. That makes her a standard bearer.
Put all of it together, and that makes her the best.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.