It may not have been the most surprising announcement in recent memory, but the important thing is it’s official.
USF softball coach Ken Eriksen was named head coach of Team USA for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics last week. The 2020 Games will be the first time softball has been in the Olympics since 2008.
Though the announcement may not have been shocking — after all, he has been head coach of Team USA since 2011 — Eriksen can now move forward with planning for next year’s Summer Games, which the U.S. has already qualified for by way of winning the 2018 World Baseball Softball Confederation World Championship in 2018.
Though, fortunately for Eriksen, some of that work has already been completed.
“Right after the World Championships, even though I may not have been given the [Olympic] job yet,” Eriksen said, “I think it was really responsible for me to continue in the job that I was at — was deciphering all the information still, putting together the plan for the next two years — no matter who took over, that you would just hand off the component of power to that person, whoever it might be.
“Everything is in boxes and stacks and videos and everything else to hand off — except, I don’t have to hand it off now.”
So, at least the preliminary work is complete for the 58-year-old Eriksen. But what are the other things that will come with his appointment as leader of Team USA on the grandest stage of all?
Get ready for more Jess and Laura than Ken
Now that the job is officially Eriksen’s, one of the harder parts must be sorted out. Eriksen must figure out how to balance his responsibilities at USF with those of being the leader of an Olympic team.
It wasn’t clear last week just how much the responsibility of leading a team into the Olympics would take Eriksen away from USF, but the Tokyo Games start July 24, just a month and a half after the Women’s College World Series, so it’s more than likely a question of when, rather than if, Eriksen will be unavailable next season.
But, as he and Vice President of Athletics Michael Kelly work out a plan for the next year that involves him and assistant coaches Jess Moore and Laura Ricciardone, Eriksen will have full support.
“Ken knows that he has my full support as we look into the next year together in terms of how it’ll impact his availability, how it’ll impact his staff, who I have tremendous faith and confidence in,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s confidence in Moore and Ricciardone isn’t misguided either apparently.
After the press conference announcing his appointment to the Olympic job, Eriksen shared a story about a time he was having back problems during the 2019 season. Not wanting to further the problem by getting on a plane, his wife insisted he not go on an upcoming road trip. Eriksen stayed home and the Bulls, under just Moore and Ricciardone, swept the series.
Eriksen joked that maybe they were better off without him.
Get ready for Olympians in Tampa Bay — and don’t rule out some exhibitions against USF
Team USA will obviously need to train together prior to the Olympics, and while it’s too early to try to figure out where the U.S. will be spending the majority of its time in early 2020, Eriksen’s ties to Tampa Bay — as well as the area holding events in years past — make it a strong favorite to host events related to Team USA as the Tokyo Games approach.
“We’ve [Tampa Bay] provided a lot of opportunities for Team USA to come in here and train and work over the last three-four years,” Eriksen said. “And now, Michael Kelly is also talking to me about negotiating things about players here and staying and training here and this and that. Because it is a good opportunity for all the young women in the Tampa Bay area to see some of these great players.”
With that also comes the opportunity for exhibition games, including the possibility for games against USF — although, the 750-seat USF Softball Stadium may not be big enough to host such an event, according to Eriksen.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we tried to put together some packages where we’re [USF] playing exhibition games against Team USA out here in the softball stadium — or the baseball stadium, because softball might not be able to hold the crowds that you have,” Eriksen said. “I would be looking forward to the future on that scheduling tour that would open up a lot of opportunities for this area to cheer on some of the greatest players to ever play the game.”
Hosting Olympic training is not unprecedented for the Tampa Bay area. The gold-medal winning U.S. women’s hockey team trained in Wesley Chapel in advance of the 2018 Winter Olympics and even played several exhibitions against USF’s club hockey team at the Center Ice complex.
USF is going to get the kind of international exposure money could never buy
A lot of people watch the Olympics.
The 2016 Olympics had an estimated viewership of 3.6 billion people, according to Statista. That’s almost half the world’s population.
Eriksen’s involvement with USF dates back to 1979, when he first played for USF baseball, so it’s safe to say any feature NBC or other international networks do on him will focus heavily on his time at USF.
“Everyone always love to watch the Olympics and learn more about the men and women that are representing our country,” Kelly said. “And in this case, the human-interest story is local and here and one of USF’s own.”
So while all of this will undoubtedly create more work for everyone at USF — from Eriksen to Moore and Ricciardone, all the way to Kelly even — the payoff will be worth it.
“There’ll be adjustments,” Kelly said, “but in the full spirit of BullSpeedAhead, this is an opportunity you can’t pass up. And you can’t pass it up personally, as a program or as a university.”