Johns' Dismissal Disappointing, Not Shocking

Five years is enough time to paint a pretty accurate picture of the kind of program a coach is going to give a school. While some coaches, notably Ron Zook do not even get that long, Karen Johns did get five seasons as coach of the Gator Softball Team. Friday, Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley determined five was enough.

If you read my women's weekly column that was posted two days ago, today's news doesn't come as a huge shock. Florida had a disturbing pattern of late-season fades that had to be disconcerting. The Gators in five years managed just a 2-and-10 record in the SEC Tournament and 3-and-8 in NCAA play. That's just five wins in 23 "post-season" games. That string of failure peaked (or should I say bottomed out?) this year with consecutive two-and-out performances in the SEC and NCAA – both at home.

Under Karen Johns the Gators averaged 38.4 wins finished in the top three of the SEC East every year and earned four NCAA bids. That's the good news. The bad news is Florida only once finished higher than third in the division. But the bottom line to why Florida has made a change is that every year saw dramatic fades, beyond the aforementioned post-season stats.

Year High Point Finish
'01 31-and-17    .646 6-and-11     .353
'02 27-and-25    .519 5-and-10     .333
'03 30-and-10    .750 11-and-15   .423
'04 38-and-9      .809 3-and-11     .214
'05 36-and-12    .750 5-and-11     .313
Combined 162-and-73  .689 30-and-58   .341

It's hard to understand five straight teams failing this badly in crunch time because there are so many different people involved over that time. Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley also mentioned turmoil within the coaching staff as a factor in the total evaluation of the program, but there is little doubt Karen Johns is out of a job because her teams played so poorly down the stretch year after year.

Future Still Looks Good

Florida begins a "national search" for a new Head Coach, but there are some that believe the ideal candidate is over at the beach. Daytona Beach, that is. That's where Bethune Cookman Coach Laura Watten has impressed more than a few, including our own Franz Beard. Watten brought her team to Gainesville as supposedly the weak link in a four-team field and proceeded to win the thing. Not only that, but the Wildcats never trailed in winning three straight in Gainesville. Her team is 49-and-17 and takes on Texas this weekend in a Super Regional. Watten had coached Bethune to five straight MEAC Tournament Championships before being upset this year. However they received one of the last at-large berths awarded this year and put it to good use. That Watten's Wildcats even got an at-large bid speaks volumes about the respect she has garnered nationally.

Whoever gets the Florida job will walk into a very solid situation. The next Gator Coach will inherit some quality bats in Lindsey Cameron, Melissa Zick and Kristen Butler who combined for 31 homers this year. Savana Kelly and Lauren Roussell add five HR apiece. Florida also returns some pretty good speed with Stacie Pestrak (19) and Shelley Stevens (15) joining Cameron (12) and Zick (16) as double-digit base stealers. In addition, Stacey Stevens (24 wins, 2.19 ERA) returns in the circle.

Florida also has a strong recruiting class, led by Bartow pitching phenom Lindsay Littlejohn, Lake Gibson infielder Brooke Johnson and California hitter Kim Waleszonia. The incoming Gators have already been called in an effort to reassure them Florida's commitment to the softball program is not changing at all.

I don't like to see coaches replaced. Whenever it happens families are disrupted, players have to deal with the transition and prospects are left in a difficult situation. That said, I cannot imagine a more attractive opening anywhere in the country right now and that bodes well for the future of the program as well.

Still, I feel awful for Karen and her family. She's good people.


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