Coach Drysdale to resign

Leo Ebersole

Evaluating her situation while strolling the Evanston campus several years ago, Northwestern softball coach Sharon Drysdale began thinking about a change.

And after 23 seasons and five Big Ten titles, the woman whose picture graces the cover of the NCAA softball rulebook has decided to move on.

Drysdale announced Monday that she will resign as the Wildcats’ head coach at the end of the season, leaving her familiar post in the Anderson Field dugout to begin a coaching certification school for the National Fastpitch Coaches Association and to eventually coach at the professional level.

“You take stock every now and then,” Drysdale said of her walk, “and I thought, ‘This is a great place to be.’ But I started to realize there were other things I enjoyed doing.”

Those passions include chronicling and teaching the game. Drysdale, a member of the NCAA rules committee, said she plans to continue her softball writings and establish a system of certification for coaches at all levels.

Drysdale told her shocked and saddened team of the decision in an emotional meeting Friday, players said.

“It has been her life for 23 years, so you never thought it would happen,” junior catcher Gretchen Barnes said. “But I guess there’s a time when a person’s got to do what she’s got to do. What was sad to us was that we were losing her not just as a coach, but as a friend.”

During her long and fruitful career, Drysdale has been what sophomore pitcher Brie Brown called “the softball legacy” at NU. She compiled a 259-183 career record against Big Ten opponents, earning her three conference coach of the year awards (1984, 1987 and 1995). She is NU’s winningest coach, having earned career victory No. 600 in March 1998.

“I’m going to have a little trouble adjusting to not wearing purple and white,” Drysdale said.

Initially, Drysdale intended to coach the Ohio Pride of the Women’s Professional Softball League next season, as was reported in an NU news release Monday. But Drysdale said the beginning of the Pride’s season would have conflicted with the end of the Cats’ season.

Instead, Drysdale said she will focus her efforts on creating a school for certifying coaches in the summer (there is currently no formal system of certification). She also said she has spoken with WPSL officials who told her she could possibly coach an expansion team two seasons from now.

NU, currently 2-2, took the news of Drysdale’s impending departure hard, and senior outfielder Stacey Austin said the coach “got a little choked up” speaking to the team.

But Austin and Barnes said Drysdale stressed that her resignation should not alter her players’ approach to the season, which began Feb. 4 with the Louisville Slugger Invitational in Tampa, Fla.

Nonetheless, Brown said the team will want to play well enough to send its coach off on a high note.

Drysdale made an impact on all of her players – young and old. Sophomore outfielder Jessie Wellnitz, a Daily staffer, called Drysdale’s departure “the end of a wonderful era.”

In particular, Drysdale is known for her uncanny knowledge of softball rules, which she helped author.

“Anybody who argued a play with us was immediately shot down,” Wellnitz said.

Drysdale expressed her wish to groom fourth-year assistant coach Kate Drohan – who was promoted to associate head coach at the beginning of the season – as NU’s next head coach.

Should Drohan be chosen as Drysdale’s successor, Brown said, the transition between coaches would progress smoothly.

“It’s funny how similar the two can be, even though they’re such different people,” Brown said. “It’s going to pass right on.”

For her part, Drysdale said the program’s future is in good hands.