Arizona interim softball head coach Larry Ray and his coaching staff are doing just fine, but they might have some help available – kind of a coaching version of a closer – at the Women’s College World Series.
UA head coach Mike Candrea, who is on a break this week from the U.S. Olympic team’s Bound 4 Beijing Tour, is dropping in to Oklahoma City to watch a little softball during his time off.
Candrea has kept his distance from the Wildcats, giving Ray the room and the authority he needs to be effective, mostly staying in contact with the players through text messages and e-mails.
But the man certainly has a way with words, and to say that Ray is no Mike Candrea in that regard is no slight to Ray.
You could line up every softball coach in the world from here to Oklahoma City, and there wouldn’t be another Candrea in the bunch. Heck, you could line up every coach in all the sports in all the world and few would be like Candrea.
UA swimming coach Frank Busch, who rarely takes second place in terms of people skills, humbly dismissed the notion he’s just like Candrea in his ability to bring a team together.
And this was just several weeks ago after Busch had won national titles with the men’s and women’s teams.
“That guy is special,” Busch said of Candrea. “That is one of the greatest coaches of all time.”
So, if the Wildcats are in need of a little inspiration or a pregame pep talk, it would be nice to bring in one of the greatest coaches of all time from his box seats.
“I hope he does,” Ray said. “He doesn’t want to feel like he’s stepping on someone’s toes. I told him, I know the kids would love to hear from you and love for you to be around, and I would, too. I hope he is around and is able to say a few words because it would mean a lot to the players and me.”
Said Candrea: “If that time comes, I would most certainly be ready.”
He’s always ready. The guy can probably find something uplifting from a fast-food menu.
He turned around the 2006 team with a story from a book on mental strategies for golf.
Last season, he posted at least nine different single-page printouts all over the dugout during the postseason. Some had inspirational stories, some had quotes from all sorts of sports figures, one was called “The Disease of Me,” about the dangers of selfish play. If there is a button to be pushed, Candrea will find the way to push it.
“Besides my parents, he’s the top role model I’ve had in my life,” said senior catcher Callista Balko.
Candrea’s leave is different than that of men’s basketball coach Lute Olson last season. Olson was taking time under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Candrea is technically on half time at UA, and still handles some operational duties with the program, such as the budget.
“I’m glad he’s done that stuff,” Ray said with relief.
In any case, contact wouldn’t be awkward, it would be welcome. Candrea sent the players a text message before last week’s super-regional at home against Oklahoma, saying: “We own Hillenbrand Stadium.”
“I just wanted to remind them to get back to that mind-set, that swagger that Arizona softball has had for years,” Candrea said. “The last few weeks, I’m just so thrilled to see how well they have been playing.”
Candrea is scheduled to arrive in Oklahoma City on Thursday afternoon in time for Arizona’s first-round game against UCLA that evening. The Olympic team arrives Sunday for a few days of practice before playing exhibition games there after the World Series.
“I haven’t watched many games from the stands in my career,” Candrea said. “It’s a little strange. But if I couldn’t be comforted by the job everyone was doing, then it would be tough. But it’s not.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Larry and the staff, and this team has done a tremendous job. I’ll be there to support and cheer them on.”
And a few words wouldn’t hurt.
• What: Women’s College World Series
• Who: No. 7 Arizona (38-17) vs. No. 2 UCLA (47-7)
• When: 6 p.m. Thursday
• TV: ESPN