A Q&A With MSU Softball Coach Vann Stuedeman

New Mississippi State head softball coach Vann Stuedeman talks one-on-one with Gene's Page.

You have coached in the SEC for quite a few years as an assistant softball coach. And the SEC is the toughest conference in the nation. Now you are a head coach in it at Mississippi State. That's got to be a big deal to you.
"You blink one day and you realize you are now the head coach in one of the toughest softball conferences in the land. This has got to be one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me. I am super excited because it is a dream job and a dream opportunity. This is a gold mine opportunity. I couldn't be prouder, happier, more excited, more honored."

"I am super impressed with Scott Stricklin and Ann Carr and super excited that they picked me. They didn't have to pick me for the job because there were a lot of people who wanted this job. I appreciate them believing in me. Now I'm ready to go to work."

Take us through the process of you being hired, from the moment Mississippi State first contacted you about the job all the way up to when you were called and told that you had the job.
"Ann Carr called me on a Sunday night. My phone didn't ring but I got the message. I called her back and she asked me if I was interested in the job. She then asked me if I wanted to come over and eat dinner with her and Scott. I said absolutely. Then, I was eating dinner with her and Scott on a Tuesday night. We probably spent two hours at dinner. It didn't feel like a formal type interview. It was a very comfortable conversation with a guy who loved this program, this school. He was awesome.

"On Wednesday morning I met with the executive staff and that was more like the drill; it was a question then an answer. It was like you were sweating bullets.

"Then, on Wednesday afternoon I was driving home, which was only an hour and a half away. I met with a friend, Laurie Ann Plumley who is my best friend, and we went shopping. My phone didn't ring again but I had a message. I called back and Scott asked me if I was ready to be a Bulldog."

Forget maturity, formality and tell the folks who will read this exactly what happened from the time you called him back to when you got off the phone.
"(Laurie and I) knew I was going to call him back and we were sitting in the car holding each other's hand and we had this tight grip. I called him back and I have a pen and piece of paper writing down what he is saying. I'm writing it down and Laurie would grab my hand and shake it, and she was kind of like faking screaming because she couldn't be loud while he and I were talking. When I got off the phone we were like two teenage girls both sitting there in the car screaming as loud as we could.

"We then immediatly drove over to Alan's (Reach) house - my new hitting coach - to tell him what happened. Unfortunately, he was cleaning out the car so he didn't hear me knocking on the door. I called him later and told him then.

"After I went to Alan's I called my mom, my dad, my sister, my brother and all my friends. And everybody was elated.

"Then, I had my press conference on Thursday. My entire family came to the press conference, including my family that lives in Mississippi. Laurie Ann, her boyfriend and her daughter were also here.

"And every day since the press conference my dad has texted me asking how the head ball coach is doing today. I've already gotten my text today."

I noticed while you were talking that the first person you contacted after you were told that you were the new head softball coach at Mississippi State was Alan Reach. He must have been in your vision of what you wanted once you were became a head coach.
"He was our manager at Alabama for two years, my first and second year at Alabama. And his sister played shortstop for four years for us at Alabama. And he was somebody that I instantly believed in. We talked a lot about sports. And he's also a quality human being. And you want to be around people who are great people. And in this position I am now in, you want to also be around great coaches. And he is that also.

"And (having him come with me) is something that we have always talked about."

Obviously, you have been preparing for this day to happen for several years. And that means you have a vision in place as to what you want to do as a head coach. What is your vision for Mississippi State softball?
"First, I would like to get all the people in the state of Mississippi fired up about softball at Mississippi State. The people of this state is my first priority. The very first thing I did (after being named head coach) was go to the Mississippi ASA state tournament in Clinton. My press conference was on Thursday and I went there on Saturday. I spent time meeting people and shaking hands.

"What I would like to see is our stadium packed with people. I want us to be a source of entertainment for people. What people consider it fun to do, I want us to be on their list. And sometimes softball and baseball play on the same weekend. It would be awesome for people to have the opportunity to be able to come here and watch softball, then go watch baseball.

"On the playing side of it we have a good team. And I look forward to helping the pitching become a little more stabilized. That's what I bring to the table. I think over the years Mississippi State has had a rotation in their pitching coach which has led to some instability with the pitching staff. That doesn't mean they aren't good pitchers, just that they haven't had consistent instruction. Sometimes, when you are trying to learn a coach's different way of doing things, that can be a little difficult for you, which means your success probably goes down a little bit. So, I want to bring with me a wealth of pitching experience to this program so I can stabilize the pitching staff.

"I want Mississippi State to continue to hit. They have been notorious for scoring some runs. There have been a lot of great players play for Mississippi State, but none of them have been pitchers. I want some of them to be pitchers in the future."

In softball, maybe moreso than in baseball, pitching is a huge reason a program is successful. To get to where you want to get to with this program, you'll need to sign a great pitcher or two won't you? You can develop a pitcher only so much. They still have to have that special talent.
"I agree with that. However, you can't coach some of those intangibles that a pitcher has to have. I think that you can take an average pitcher and she can be above average due to her heart and her mindset."

With your pitching resume, you should be able to get those really talented pitchers to start looking at Mississippi State.
"Yes, I think people knowing that I have a good resume in pitching will help us bring in some good quality pitching. I know it is already getting us some looks. But we have to put in some work so they will buy into our vision. And if we can get them here on campus the campus will sell itself because it is great. We ate in Perry Cafeteria on our visit here. The facilities are great here. And the school is great. We just have to get that blue chip pitcher on campus."

Looking at the current Alabama roster, where you coached the past 11 years, 12 of the 17 girls on the softball roster are from Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Will that be an area that you and your staff will primarily key on recruiting-wise here at Mississippi State? I know you will also recruit Mississippi but Mississippi is still in the development stage as far as fastpitch software is concerned.
"Absolutely, out connections are in the southeast. And Texas will be in there as well. I want kids who know what it means to wear Mississippi State across their chests and also have pride and respect for their institution. And the kids from the south know that because they know what it means to play in the SEC. And the kids from the midwest will also know that because they watched Big 12 teams play SEC teams.

"But we can also teach that to kids from the west coast and east coast. We can get them in here and teach them our culture. In fact, Alan has already been out to California and Arizona making connections out there. So, we will also take looks out there. But to get a west coast kid it will have to be someone who can make an immediate impact and also someone who wants to be here. If not, I worry about homesickness with them. I don't want people to leave our program before their four years. I want them to have a great experience here and fall in love with Mississippi State and the state of Mississippi."

You mentioned that Alan Reach is a hitting coach for you. You also hired Beth Mullins as well. What does she bring to the Mississippi State softball program?
"She's very talented, she knows how to recruit, how to pick out talent, how to teach hitting, and how to relate to kids.

"I also tease her about this. There is the old saying about the midas touch. Whatever the person touches turns to gold. Well, she has that midas touch. Whatever she touches goes to postseason. She played at UAB then went to a small mid-major school, Georgia Southern, and they made it to a regional. UAB called her back (to coach) and they had not been to postseason until she came back and recruited and coached there. Credit goes to the entire coaching staff but she was there when they had their success. From there, she want to Western Kentucky where she was for a little less than 12 months. While there, they have put together a great team that I look to make some noise this year. She got some good kids there.

"The coach at Western Kentucky is a good friend of mine. I called her and asked her if she minded if I called Beth and asked her to come to Mississippi State. I thought she was going to start crying because that is how good Beth is. They even went to their administration to get Beth some more money to try to keep her there. That's unusual for a mid-major school. And they got her more money but Beth, obviously, chose to come here.

"I'm super excited to have Beth here because she knows what it takes to get a team to postseason. And, ultimately, we want to be at the College World Series and we need people here who knows how to get there and, ultimately, win the prize."

One thing I noticed is you mentioned that Beth relates to the players. Is that one of her main strengths as a coach?
"The kids on the team always stay 18, 19 up to 22 years old. The team may change from year to year but the ages stay the same. They don't age but I do. So, the age gap gets bigger. And I've never been the coolest person on the playground. I'm going to rely on her to keep the connection between the team and myself. I'll know what they are thinking, what they are feeling."

So, she's going to be that go-to assistant coach that the players can come to when they have a problem.
"Yes, I anticipate it to be that way. And she's very fair-minded and very calm about things. I think she'll be able to handle some of their problems in a mature way without getting involved in the problem and not involving others in it. She's really a neat person who really has it going on. She's going to be a huge piece to this puzzle."

After listening to you I get the impression that you brought in coaches that may have strengths that aren't your main strengths as a coach. Am I correct in saying that?
"Yes, you always want to get people who don't have the same weakness as you do. Their strength is my weakness and their weakness is my strength.

"Another thing I want to emphasize is we are in this together. I want them to realize that their roles are huge. They are huge pieces to this program. I'm going to have my hands on everything, just like you are supposed to. I'm going to be watching the hitting. I'm going to have my hand in marketing. I'm going to have a hand on everything and will know all that is going on. But the bottom line is they also have ownership in this program. Their names are on this program, too. All three of us are great people who work hard. And good things happen to good people who work hard. People forget that last piece of that. People say good things happen to good people. But good things (actually) happen to good people who work hard."

That sounds like John Cohen and his staff - good people who had good things happen due to how hard they worked.
"Absolutely. I am a huge fan of his. And he's done nothing but reach out to me. He called me during the interview process and after I got the job. His wife has already called me. They are great people. I will always be a Bulldog baseball fan forever. I was already a John Cohen fan. Although I didn't know him personally, I knew of him through his sister."

What will it take for Mississippi State to be successful on a consistent basis?
"I think Scott (Stricklin) said it best in my interview. It is harder to win our conference than it is to win the College World Series because our conference is tough.

"With that being said, you don't necessarily have to be number 1 in the conference to earn a good spot in the postseason. If you are .500 and are number 8 in the conference you are going to get to postseason. Now, are you making noise in the postseason? Probably not, unless you have an underdog finish. But as you work your way up the ranks in the SEC you can be number 4 or 5 in our conference and get a number 1 seed in postseason.

"To do that, what we need to do is put together a good, solid team based around a good, solid pitcher. And we need to get people excited about our sport so that we can have a 10th man, so to speak, so that we can have a home field advantage. Once we do that, then we'll make even more noise in postseason. And that can build on itself and we can do better and better. The better we do, the better players we will attract."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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