Even after 17 years coaching USF’s softball team, in addition to his years
studying as an undergraduate and graduate student at USF, Ken Eriksen said he still thinks of every day at the university as a treat.
“You never know what it’s going to be like,” Eriksen said. “You’re hoping you get some mint chocolate chip ice cream when you go in to work, but it might not be, so you get some chocolate raspberry. There’s always going to be something positive out of the day, but there could be a challenge as soon as you get to work. The nice part is there is no mundaneness to working with college athletics.”
Last week, Eriksen extended his contract by seven years, adding to a history that dates back to 1979, when Eriksen came to USF as a freshman.
Athletics Director Doug Woolard said this far-reaching connection with USF has helped Eriksen become a leader in athletics.
“Coach Eriksen has been a part of the USF family since he was a student-athlete in the early ’80s, and we’re pleased we’ve entered into a long-term partnership,” Woolard said in a press release. “He has developed our softball program into one of the nation’s elite through consistent, sustained success on the field, while emphasizing the importance of strong academics and service to the community.”
If “every day is ice cream,” as Eriksen said, then he can look forward to many different flavors after signing the new contract with USF, which has already made history with Eriksen’s career record of 739-381-1.
And according to Eriksen, with the new deal, he could just be getting started.
“It feels good, the commitment on both parties,” Eriksen said. “(USF shows) that there’s a commitment to what we’re trying to do in athletics here, and hopefully that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what happens now with the rest of the department and moving in the direction of long-term commitments.”
Top of the mountain
Eriksen began as a baseball walk-on his freshman year, seemingly coming out of nowhere to play for the Bulls. He said he remembers his first achievement with USF Athletics in 1982, when he and his team won the Sun-Belt Conference Championship at Raymond James field.
A few years later, in 1996, Eriksen began his first season as coach of the softball team. This was the same year the team broke through with its automatic bid to the NCAAs.
“To me, those are the two milestones you have to have going forward,” Eriksen said.
Now a husband and father of two teenage girls, Eriksen said the moment that stands out above all others in his memory wasn’t an athletic event, but an everyday walk to class.
“The most memorable moment that I’ve ever had at South Florida is when I saw my beautiful wife riding her bicycle to class one day,” Eriksen said. “That’s the one that sticks out to me.”
He said he thinks of his coaching philosophy as similar to his thoughts of marriage.
“The nice part about college coaching – and some people think it’s a pain in the ass – but the nice part is that college coaching is like marriage: you never know what you’re going to get until you get it, so you have to embrace the challenges,” Eriksen said.
After coaching one 60-win season, five 50-win seasons, seven 40-win seasons and having a winning record on 15 of 17 occasions, the spotlight is hot on USF softball. Eriksen said the challenges keep coming, a blessing he summarizes as “be careful what you wish for.”
“Understand that it’s great getting to the top of the mountain, but every year to stay there is twice as much work,” he said.
As a coach of the USA Women’s National team since 2011, the former Conference USA Coach of the Year and coach of 110 Big East All-Academic athletes said he tries to at least teach all his athletes two simple words.
“You have to understand that there are a lot of things that are made available to you,” he said. “But don’t forget about the hard work that went into it, and don’t ever forget the two most important words you can ever think about when talking to your parents and even the people at USF – ‘thank you.'”
Eriksen said he has gone through all the aspects of coaching – from working a tractor at 6 a.m. so he can be ready for afternoon practice to sweeping the bullpen and tending to the grass.
Now, Eriksen said he can walk onto the field of USF’s new softball stadium ,
wearing his black sunglasses and sporting his USF cap and see the superintendent of athletic grounds approach him and ask what he needs to for the day.
“It’s unbelievable to think about where we did come from since fall of ’79 to right now,” Eriksen said. “People write books about that, and I keep trying to remind the younger players and coaches that this is where we came from and to appreciate that.”
As he finishes a season that ended in a Big East championship, and is now coaching Team USA again, Eriksen said he still has a lot of years to give to USF.
“I’ve been here as a student-athlete since 1979 and we built something nice here,” Eriksen said. “To be part of that and to take off stage and now seeing things come to fruition, it feels nice knowing you’re one of the few people who started their career in one spot and ended it in one spot,” Eriksen said. “I like the aspect of loyalty and trying to finish things the right way.”