Ole Miss softball has been one series away from the Women's College World Series on two separate occasions. New head coach Jamie Trachsel plans to take them over that hurdle.
Keith Carter made yet another major hire in his short tenure as Ole Miss athletics director last week, bringing in Jamie Trachsel to run the softball program that's made it to the NCAA Tournament in each of the past four seasons.
"I want to come down and try and lead this program to the Women's College World Series and try to ruin a couple of teams' day and take home that national championship," Trachsel said on a Tuesday Zoom call, talking to media for the first time since taking the job. "I'm excited for the opportunity and ready to get down to Oxford and get to work."
Trachsel comes to Oxford from the University of Minnesota, where she led the Gophers to a 46-14 record in 2019, making the program's first ever Women's College World Series by knocking off LSU in the Super Regionals.
She'll take over for interim coach Ruben Felix, who's 12-13 record in the shortened 2020 season did not show enough to retain the job. Felix took over after Mike Smith resigned this past December, just weeks after being placed on administrative leave with the school citing a “non-financial, external audit” of the Rebel softball program.
Prior to Smith's arrival, Ole Miss had never made an NCAA Tournament. From 2016-19, under Smith, they made four consecutive NCAA Tournament's, hosting and winning Oxford Regionals in both 2017 and 2019. They never made it past the Supers.
Now, it's up to Trachsel to build on that prior success.
Carter said they cut a long list of potential head coaches to six after the first round of interviews. During that second round of interviews, Trachsel really made an impact on the committee.
"While we were interviewing her the rest of us on the committee were texting each other behind the scenes how impressed we were with her even five or 10 minutes into the interview," Carter said. "We feel like our program and its foundation is set up to take that next step and we think Jamie is the coach to do that for us."
What stood out about Trachsel? For Carter, it was her maturity and composure, plus her named desire to bring a national championship to Ole Miss.
That level of maturity something that is certainly needed for a program that's been through a lot of undiagnosed turmoil during the Smith era.
What led to the fallout surround Smith's resignation is still not entirely clear. Softball America reported in December that a big part of it had to do with "a heated dispute between a player and her family about guaranteed scholarship money—or lack thereof." However, no one in Oxford has been able to back up that report. Smith is now serving as the Executive Director of College Scouting for NSR.
Regardless, in months since Smith's resignation, Ole Miss had its worst start in years, ending the 2020 shortened season at 12-13. They just saw one of their best players transfer to Auburn.
It's now Trachsel's time to stabilize the program and move forward.
“Yes, we needed someone that could come in and stabilize. I think that our young ladies have been through a lot. When Coach (Trachsel) met with the team, there was a sense of being ready to move forward and have some stability," Carter said. "With Jamie I felt like she could come in with a long history of being a head coach and understanding lots of personalities and dealing with situations over the years."
Trachsel is yet to move to Oxford amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent stay-and-home measures. She'll be leaving behind her family in Minnesota, her hometown of Duluth, Minn., to move to Oxford.
For someone who had a "HOME" sign hanging above the chair in which she conducted her introductory press conference virtually from Minnesota, it was admittedly a difficult decision.
“I wasn’t looking to leave, but like every good recruit you should always be open to new opportunities and I was... when it's the right fit at the right time, you just kind of know," Trachsel said, pausing a moment to fight back tears. "This was the right feel. I’ll be honest, it’s hard to leave home, but each opportunity presents something different and I’m excited for what’s in front of me.”
Trachsel took a leap to come to Ole Miss from her home state. But Keith Carter is making a leap by his investments in the program. According to university spokespeople, Trachsel will be making $245,000 per year, signing a four-year contract – the longest allowed by law in Mississippi. Her contract at Minnesota was paying her just $140,000 per year, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune.
Following the 2017 season, in which Mike Smith led Ole Miss to the program's first Super Regional appearance, he got a raise to $190,000. Carter is investing considerably more in Trachsel.
But it's not just her salary. Carter has budgeted over $200,000 for assistant coaching salaries, and is planning on making some upgrades to the softball facilities in the near future.
It's unsure how much the impact of the COVID-19 crisis will hurt the Rebel athletic department financially, but it's fair to assume that number will be considerable. After the department returns to normal stability, Carter said softball will be a "priority among capital projects."
The actual Ole Miss playing surface and the newly redone locker rooms at the Gillom Center are up to the SEC standards, if not above. The players commodities are there – it's the stadium that will likely see an upgrade when the time comes and funds rebound.
"We need to do some things for our fans, new seating, new press area where you guys can come and watch the game where you can fit in. What we have found when we start hosting these Regionals that are on television is we don’t have the infrastructure to handle that," Carter said. "We want to put the resources in because we think softball can be something that is really great at Ole Miss and something that can be a long-term investment that people really enjoy."
Trachsel spoke to the team for the first time later last week. She's been in regular contact, trying to get to know her girls despite not being in town.
In those meetings, there seems to be a consistent message from the team, according to Trachsel and Carter: the girls are ready to put everything that's happened in the last year behind them and get back to focusing on softball.
It'll be up to Jamie Trachsel to lead that charge.