[Editor's Note: This story has been updated with new information from IND sports writer Dan McDonald.]
A UL source confirms that the university is in talks to prevent longtime coach Michael Lotief from resigning as head coach of the successful softball program he has been involved with since 2001. Lotief served as co-head coach with his wife Stefni from 2003 until she stepped aside in July, saying she wanted to spend more time with her family. (She has since taken a position as director of advancement at area high school Ascension Episcopal and has reportedly taken on some coaching duties there.)
Speculation of Michael Lotief's resignation as the Ragin' Cajuns coach comes on the eve of the 11th-ranked Cajuns' 2013 season opener at the Hilton Plaza Classic in Houston, just 24 hours away from his debut as solo head coach of the nationally-prominent program.
UL officials are being tight-lipped. “I have no announcement on that right now,” UL Sports Information Director Brian McCann told The IND at about 2 p.m. Friday. “I’m not aware that that has happened.”
|UL Sports Photo|
McCann said Athletic Director Scott Farmer was unavailable for comment because he was in a meeting. Asked whether Michael Lotief was also in attendance, McCann said he did not know.
Another source close to the program tells The IND UL President Joe Savoie is also in the meeting.
IND Monthy has since learned that the gathering began shortly after noon today.
Word of Lotief's resignation comes as a surprise — and grave disappointment — to many loyal fans of the program.
Lotief, who joined his wife as a volunteer assistant coach when she took the job in 2001, gave no indication of any problems within the program at a Wednesday press luncheon. Instead, he expressed his excitement at the prospects of his team, which compiled a 53-6 record in 2012 and advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals at Arizona State.
"We have a bunch of young players, but their being young has nothing to do with potential," he said Wednesday. "I don't think this team has question marks. Their potential is great, so long as we communicate."
There has been little speculation on any reasons Lotief may be looking to exit the program, except for workload issues connected to the wholesale changes on the staff. Along with Stefni stepping down, pitching coach Joy Webre-LeBlanc resigned in December citing family issues, and entering the season the only other full-time coaching staff member is assistant coach Josh Johnson, who was hired in August as the program's second assistant.
Stefni Lotief won 601 games in 12 seasons as head coach before stepping down. She was the program's first-ever All-America selection in 1989 and the initial first-team All-America pick one year later. She also served as an assistant pitching and catching coach under Girouard in the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
Should Lotief's resignation become official, the UL administration will have to act quickly, with 15 games scheduled before the end of February. Sports Radio ESPN spent significant time in a Friday afternoon show discussing the possibility of Girouard — the program's founder and winningest coach — returning to the program. Girouard, a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame, served as head coach at LSU for 11 years after her 20-year career at UL before retiring at the end of the 2011 season.
A native of Broussard, Girouard was the inaugural coach for the UL program in 1981 and compiled a record of 759-250 in her 20 seasons, leading the team to 10 NCAA tournaments and three Women's College World Series berths — a third-place finish in 1993 and back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 1995 and 1996.
Girouard had a 526-171-1 record at LSU, winning three SEC titles and going to the Women's College World Series twice in 2001 and 2004. She is one of only three coaches in NCAA softball history to take two teams to the World Series.
The Cajuns are scheduled to open their season at 4:30 p.m. Saturday against Lipscomb in their opening game in the Houston tournament. UL also faces Iowa at 7 p.m. Saturday and at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. The Cajuns open their home season next Wednesday, Feb. 13, against Mississippi State at 6 p.m. at UL's Lamson Park.
Steve Peloquin, station manager at Sports Radio KPEL and the play-by-play voice of the softball program (UL is the nation's only program to have its entire schedule broadcast on commercial radio), said Friday that the timing could not be worse.
"If they were getting on the bus for Houston today, he wouldn't be on the bus," Peloquin said.
According to his bio on the Cajuns' website, Michael Lotief graduated from Teurlings Catholic High School in Lafayette in 1981. He received his bachelor's degree in 1985 from UL and earned his juris doctorate from LSU in 1988.
He began a law practice in Lafayette in 1992 and started coaching fastpitch softball in 1994. He helped develop the nationally-recognized Louisiana Reflections summer softball program in that time, winning five state titles, making five national tournament appearances and winning an 18-under national title in 2000 before joining the UL program as a volunteer assistant the following season.