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The real green and ‘gold’

Gold sometimes isn’t gold, but it still shines.

Though gold can be fake, it can still shine with a dull glow.

Even if gold gets old, it’s still gold.

But for USF softball coach Ken Eriksen, gold has been put on hold.

Because he’s the coach who is still just the same old coach.

More than six months ago, Eriksen, the nine-year seasoned veteran coach, was in the Mediterranean — Athens to be exact — as the pitching coach to Jennie Finch – most young American ball players’ dream – and others for the Team USA Olympic Softball team.

That’s right. Eriksen was in the Olympics, as part of that other women’s team — the one without Mrs. Garciaparra — that made history by going undefeated. The team that holds four Olympic records.

Oh yeah, they also won the gold medal.

Though Eriksen didn’t.

The summer was golden for Eriksen, even though Olympic coaches don’t receive an actual medal like their players.

But has anything changed for him?

“When he wasn’t here, we were still on the same page because we’ve worked together for so long,” said associate coach Stacey Heintz, whose UMass team finished third in the 1992 College World Series. “Nothing was different when he got back.”

For nine years, Eriksen has been the same coach. His all-time record at USF is 378-191-1. Of those nine seasons, seven of them were winning records, four of them had 50 plus wins and the other three were 40 plus.

But he means more than a record, more than being a Bull for over 20 years and more than an American champion in a foreign land where goat’s milk is a delicacy.

He’s still just the coach, even after his two-week adventure in Greece.

Senior first baseman Carmela Liwag knows that. She knows her coach isn’t letting his head get all golden.

“He means a lot to us,” Liwag said. “He picks us up in a game and always thinks of something witty to say to us.”

Liwag tried to give an example of those witty things Eriksen has to offer. She recalls a fire truck story, but the most important part of the story is how someone stole your ladders and you have to go get them back.


“I guess you just have to be there,” Liwag obliged.

So the coach — who’s still just the coach — speaks in a language just for his players. His players get him. They understand what he preaches and what he brings to the club that only lost a total of 13 games last season: a team that’s already scored 41 runs in 10 games.

The coach — who will still be the coach tomorrow — is there for his girls as though they were 16 of his very own 18-22-year-old daughters.

They may not look like him, but they sure do treat him like a daddy.

“He is one of the main reasons I chose to come (to USF),” said freshman Carly Griffin, who became C-USA’s hitter of the week by knocking in two home runs last weekend in the Florida GRU Classic.

“He knows what he’s doing. For someone to be able to be an Olympic coach and to coach at that level needs to know what he’s doing. I don’t think winning the gold medal has affected him a lot, but I think he’s learned a lot from it.”

Whatever it may be that the coach has learned, it will come in handy. The softball team has a few lofty goals this season.

The Bulls play in six tournaments this season, three of them hosted by USF.

Though Eriksen became a celebrity in August when Team USA defeated China 3-0 for the gold medal — and allowed only one run in nine games – he still was the same coach.

His family knows it.

His staff knows it.

Same for his friends.

And his players certainly remember the same coach, who is still just the coach.

“He’s still the same Ken,” Liwag said.

“He’s the same old guy. He’s still the same guy before I came (to USF),” Griffin said.

Gold may not always be gold, but Ken is the coach, who will always be the coach.