OU softball coach Patty Gasso: ‘I want a piece of the SEC’

OU softball coach Patty Gasso: ‘I want a piece of the SEC’

Just in case anyone took some recent OU softball news as a sign the seven-time national championship coach was considering retirement, Gasso clarified things on Tuesday in Oklahoma City.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Jan 23, 2024, 3:44pm CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Jan 23, 2024, 3:44pm CST

On Monday, OU softball announced JT Gasso’s promotion to associate head coach.

On Tuesday, Sooner head coach Patty Gasso made it clear her son’s title change doesn’t mean anything about her future.

“It’s not a message,” Gasso said while speaking to the Rotary Club of Oklahoma City. “You might go, ‘Oh, she’s leaving next year.’”

She shook her head.

“I want a piece of the SEC.”

Just in case anyone thought Gasso, 61, might be on the verge of retirement — or if anyone in the college softball world hoped she might be — it sure doesn’t sound that way. She is soon to begin her 30th season in Norman, and listening to her talk Tuesday, she seemed as enthusiastic about coaching as ever.

That can’t sit well with anyone else chasing a national title.

Gasso and her Sooners have made winning those championships a cottage industry. Seven overall. Three in a row. And as long as she’s coaching in Norman, it’s hard to believe OU won’t be a contender.

Even when it moves to the SEC.

OU is set to make the move officially later this year, so Sooner softball won’t play its first season in the SEC until the spring of 2025. Because the transfer portal can so quickly change the complexion of things, it’s impossible to know how the conference will shake out in another year, but the SEC has consistently been the best conference in softball for several years.

The SEC’s depth of good teams sets it apart.

ESPN.com and USA Softball released its preseason poll Tuesday — it actually dropped while Gasso was speaking to the Rotary Club — and the SEC has nine teams in the top 25. Nine. More than a third of the ranked teams.

No other conference has more than five.

Pac-12: five.

ACC: four.

Big 12: four.

Big Ten: two.

Sun Belt: one.

And of course, two of the four ranked Big 12 teams, OU and Texas, will be joining the SEC. It wouldn’t be too farfetched to think that next year’s preseason poll would have double-digit SEC teams.

Gasso wants to coach a team in a league as competitive as that.

Under her direction, OU has always sought out tough competition. The Sooners’ nonconference schedule regularly includes the premier early-season tournaments plus some top-notch mid-week opponents. OU will play a pair of top-10 teams, Duke and Washington, on the first weekend of the season, for example, in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. A year ago, the Sooners threw in one-off, mid-week games against Florida State and LSU. 

But in the SEC, those are the types of games that will come at the Sooners just about every weekend. 

How will OU fare? Will its dominance continue? Or will the uptick in conference competition mean more losses? How will the Sooners respond if they do lose six, eight, (gasp!) 10 games in a season? 

Gasso won’t know until her team is in that fight, and again, it sounds like something she’s ready for.

The other day, Gasso sensed a different vibe at practice. 

“There was a little negativity going on,” she said. “And so we had a sit-down conversation, and these athletes were very honest.”

Gasso seems to relish the challenge of managing teams. Yes, there is teaching and drilling and practicing that needs to be done. She jumps into that, too. But when she talks about what’s important to her as a coach, it’s the chemistry.

She talked Tuesday about the circle of safety that she wants on her teams where no disrespect, gossip, judging or negativity enters.

“I really pay attention to what’s going on in the culture of our team,” she said. “I’m not in the locker room, but do have some moles who will come to me and I’m like, ‘You’re in the witness protection plan; come talk to me and tell me what’s going on.’ It’s usually our leaders, and I want our leaders to learn how to lead.

“We’re just trying to learn a lot of lessons to become those types of women, and it turns into a little bit of maturity. If I have immature players, we’re not winning. If I have an ugly culture, we’re not winning, and our team knows that.”

If Patty Gasso isn’t energized, she’s hiding it well.

I know she can’t coach forever. No one can. Her son may well be in line to follow her — his hitters have been some of the greatest the game has ever seen, so JT’s resume is strong — but no one is taking over for Gasso any time soon.

Not when there are challenges still out there.

Not when the SEC awaits.

 

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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