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Ex-Arizona softball assistant Larry Ray eager to continue coaching

Larry Ray. Photo courtesy Nicholls State.

Larry Ray. Photo courtesy Nicholls State.

Larry Ray, following his departure from the Arizona Wildcats softball coaching staff last summer, found a full-time job this spring.

One problem.

“My base salary was zero,” he said.

Ray spent last season as an unpaid assistant at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La., working for a good friend, head coach Angel Santiago.

“It was an experience living down in Louisiana, a tremendous weather change and culture change,” Ray said. “Being away from my family wasn’t a lot of fun.”

Ray, 62, has returned to Tucson and his family, and he still has the coaching itch, eagerly looking for (paying) work.

His time at Arizona ended last year after he faced a domestic violence charge, forcing him to miss the last three weeks of the season. The UA announced his resignation in June. The charge was dismissed in November, but that came too late for Ray to find something of a permanent job for the 2013 season.

Ray spent 21 seasons in two stints at Arizona as an assistant coach at Arizona, twice serving as interim head coach when Mike Candrea was coaching the U.S. Olympic team. In between his two tours with the Wildcats, Ray was the first head coach in Florida history, going 169-106 in four seasons.

“I told Mike a couple of years ago that I wanted to work until I was 65,” Ray said.

“Like him, I will go as long as I’m healthy and I’m enjoying it. I’m both of those. I don’t really want to set a time when I’m going to retire. I would like to stay in it.”

Ray, who arrived with Candrea at Arizona in 1986, has long been noted as one of the top teachers of slap-hitting in the game.

When Caitlin Lowe — who would become an Arizona All-American and U.S. Olympian — was on an unofficial recruiting trip to UA, Ray asked, “Who taught you how to slap hit?”

“You did,” she replied. “I watched your tape.”

Lowe’s early development was aided by Ray’s “Teaching the Slappers” instructional video he produced in the early 1990s.

Ray said he followed the Wildcats as much as he could this season, when Arizona struggled to a 33-26 record, eliminated in the NCAA regional in College Station, Texas.

The Cats have failed to reach the Women’s College World Series in each of the past three seasons, a startling decline for a program that won eight national titles from 1991 to 2007. Arizona’s pitching hasn’t worked out as planned for several years and there has been a decrease in elite talent, which, Ray acknowledges, can be traced to when Candrea was coaching the U.S. team in 2008 and not available for recruiting.

“I feel responsible for where they are right now,” Ray said. “I was one of the major recruiters on a lot of those kids who are in the program right now. … Arizona softball has a special place in my heart and I want to see them continue to be successful.

“And they will be. Mike will get them back on track.”

Ray is hoping to get back on track, too. With a championship pedigree, he’s still in demand for camps and clinics, and he’ll be working events in San Antonio, Chicago and Atlanta this summer.

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