It’s no secret that the culture surrounding Auburn Tigers softball is one that needs repairing.
The program finally capsized with allegations after drowning in speculation for much of the 2017 season. Head man Clint Myers retired, many players transferred and University athletic director Jay Jacobs was tasked with finding a leader who could right the ship.
For new Auburn softball head coach Mickey Dean, there exists a trio of key components to building and maintaining a successful program.
“Trust, love and commitment. I talked to the team about the trust part,” Dean said during his introductory press conference. “I’m going to have trust them and they’re going to have to trust me. That’s where it has to start. We have to start at 100 percent.
“They just want to play softball. They’re excited. We want to take that excitement and run with it.”
After introducing his family and thanking the university for its hospitality, Dean recognized the legacy of Auburn softball.
“This is one of the programs, when you first get into the business, you really want to be at,” Dean said. “The ceiling is unlimited.”
JMU faced Auburn during the past two seasons, gifting Dean a sneak peek of his new ballclub.
“The atmosphere is unbelievable,” Dean said. “The excitement, the crowd and the community support is just amazing.”
Dean receives an Auburn team that has experienced success in recent years. Since 2015, the Tigers have captured a pair of SEC championships, three NCAA tournament berths and two Women’s College World Series appearances in 2015 and 2016.
Dean arrives on The Plains following a five-year stint at James Madison, where the coach compiled a record of 237-56 (.809). The Virginia native led the Dukes to four regular-season conference titles, three conference tournament titles, five consecutive NCAA tournaments and a Super Regional appearance in 2016.
“My philosophy is all about culture,” Dean said. “There are two types of culture: culture by default and culture by design. My responsibility as head coach is to make sure we have the culture we want, and that’s by design.
“I don’t think you can be great in one thing. If you want to be great, you have to be great in all aspects of your life. Academically, socially, on the field, work ethic. I told the team, ‘The only time we’re going to have a problem is if I’m outworking you or if you’re outworking me.’”
The coach met with the team for the first time on Saturday. Dean says that the first order of business was to wish pitcher Makayla Martin a happy birthday.
“We had a great meeting,” Dean said. “We just talked about the things that we want to get done this year. I just want to get to know them.”
Having faced the Tigers in recent years, Dean recognizes the talent and depth of the squad he is now inheriting.
“They’re pretty good,” Dean joked. “They pitch well, they play good defense and they hit well.”
Dean’s coaching background lies primarily in pitching, a position of which Auburn returns a pair of stars in Kaylee Carlson and Martin. During their tenure with the program, the players in the circle had been taught by Myers and company not to pitch for strikeouts, but to let the ball into play occasionally and allow the defense to make plays.
That method of pitching will apparently be altered ahead of Martin’s junior and All-American Carlson’s senior year.
“My philosophy is to strike everyone out,” Dean said. “I don’t want to get too much into specifics. But, I guarantee if you ask a young lady what she’s trying to do every pitch, it’s not to throw it in there and try to let somebody hit it. She’s trying to throw her best pitch.
“It’s just a mindset, they’re both great pitchers. We’ll come to common ground.
Dean now transitions into the Southeastern Conference, which is widely heralded as the topmost conference in terms of softball performance. Dean initially joked that his perception of SEC softball was that it seemed “laid back.”
“It’s exciting,” Dean said. “I get to do this in the SEC. We get to do this together as a family, the Auburn Family. We get to go out and compete and work. The SEC is the top conference in the country. To be here and to have this opportunity, I’m so grateful.”
The coach plans to begin practice on Tuesday, Sept. 19, adding that the team’s practices will now be open to the media and to the public.
“I don’t hold closed practices. If we get enough fans, we’ll probably start charging at the gate,” Dean laughed.
Dean encouraged the Auburn fanbase to support the team in practices just as they would in a game setting.
“How would you like to go out and practice every day with 2,000 or 3,000 people in the stands?” Dean said. “That’d be awesome. Can you imagine how much more work we’re going to get out of those kids and that coaching staff?”
On the subject of practice, Dean’s anticipation towards working with the team shone through.
“I just want to get out there on the field,” Dean said. “I want to hit some ground balls. I want to run some bases, watch them dive. Just let them do what they love to do.”