OU softball head coach Patty Gasso started coaching at OU in 1994.
500 wins for Gasso, 500 more to go
The winningest coach at OU doesn't make a million dollars. The winningest coach at OU doesn't have a radio show on the Sports Animal. The winningest coach at OU doesn't even play to sold-out crowds every weekend.
In fact, the Red-White football game draws more fans to Norman, and that's a glorified practice.
The winningest coach at OU isn't barking orders on a football field, or choosing which tie to wear with his blue shirt. Actually, the winningest coach at OU doesn't even wear a tie. Softball's Patty Gasso is just as comfortable in her OU warm-ups and visor.
Since the Big 12 started in 1996, OU leads the conference with 11 softball records. One national championship, nine postseason appearances, three Big 12 titles, 5 consecutive Women's College World Series berths, 17 All-Americans. The accolades travel as far as a dinger off the end of senior superstar Heather Scaglione's bat.
And Gasso achieved another milestone last week-500 wins at OU.
Against Lipscomb last Friday in the OU/Nike Classic, the Sooners earned an 11-1 run-rule, ending the game early in true Gasso fashion. The Sooners won the tournament for the seventh straight year and outscored opponents 46-4 over the weekend.
Former associate athletics director and Senior Women's Administrator Marita Hynes remembers her first meeting with Gasso, then head coach at Long Beach City College. She said Gasso would come up to her at the WCWS every year, shake her hand and ask about the OU softball coaching job.
When Hynes was asked to find a coach for the team in 1996, she remembered the tenacious, blonde-haired firecracker.
"I knew [Gasso] had the desire and the passion and the knowledge ... I knew she had the background and the knowledge to be a good coach," Hynes said.
Gasso began her career as a "speedy, strong-armed infielder with an above average bat" at Long Beach State. She became head coach of the LBCC Vikings in 1990. Four years later she made the move to Norman.
Hynes said Gasso is a very demanding coach. That drive to be the best is what puts OU softball so far ahead of other programs, Hynes said. Gasso only recruits the players that are the right fit for OU, not necessarily the best players.
"She came in and she wanted this, and wanted this changed," Hynes said. "I knew she was going to be a success."
OU Athletic Director Joe Castiglione said Gasso embodies the characteristics of a champion. She does so many things well, especially battling for the best players.
"We've often said that a champion is not solely defined by their finish, or the number of first-place awards they receive," Castiglione said, "but they understand what it takes to become a champion and a type of individual that others want to follow."
Intensity could define what Gasso brings to the field, but Castiglione said she is passionate about softball. Gasso's intensity and passion and focus is passed on to her team and become's its identity, he said. Those attributes have to be found in a head coach for a team to be great against the best talent in the country.
"Winning at the highest level doesn't come as easy as people think," Castiglione said. "It takes certain characteristics to make championship teams and championship programs, and [Gasso's] figured it out."
Gasso's players echo her philosophy on and off the field. They fight for every last inch of the diamond. Senior first baseman Christina Enea said Gasso makes intensity a requirement to play for the Sooners.
"Everyone [on the team] buys into it, and everyone [on the team] loves playing it," Enea said.
Enea said Gasso's knowledge of the sport and her psychological ploys during practice and games and combination of the two make her the best coach ever.
"A lot of coaches can know the game but not know how to teach it, and [Gasso] knows how to do both very well and I think that's very important." Enea said.
Freshman infielder Savannah Long said she came to OU because of Gasso. Her success and knowledge enables Long to mature into a better player and leave OU a complete individual. Gasso truly cares about her players becoming successful women and that's hard to find in college sports, Long said.
And you can't ignore her accomplishments, Long said.
"To do what she's done in the past years, there's no question in my mind where she ranks," Long said. "She ranks up there as my No. 1 choice and that's why I came here."
Off the field, Enea and Long both say Gasso is "like a friend." Hynes said Gasso becomes the team's surrogate mother, a woman the players can come to with any problem they need taken care of. The OU softball team is like a family and Gasso wants it to be that way, she said.
"She takes care of kids when she gets them here and makes sure they adjust well to college life and things," Hynes said.
Gasso is equally known for grooming her assistant coaches into valuable pieces of the machine. The group has garnered five Midwest Coaching Staff of the Year awards. In 2000, the team's national championship season, the OU coaches won the NFC Coaching Staff of the Year honor.
Assistant coach Melyssa Lombardi absorbed Gasso's teachings as a Sooner catcher and an assistant coach. Lombardi said the most important lesson Gasso taught her is to fight for everything- whether it be professional or personal-and never give up.
"[Gasso told me to] always give everything you can because you know the game is never over," Lombardi said.
Lombardi said her greatest memory with Gasso is winning the 2000 national championship and seeing how far the program has come the last 10 years. She said Gasso is actually very funny off the field, a stark contrast to the scowl she wears while patrolling the OU baseline.
"That's the one thing I really like about her," Lombardi said. "She's funny and a lot of people really don't know that because they always see her so intense during the games."
With Gasso's legacy firmly entrenched in history, she can put the 500-win milestone behind her. Gasso's future at OU is certain, Hynes wants to be on the field when she wins her 1,000 game, and Castiglione said she is the one constant in the continuous shift of college sports.
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