There will always be one memory of the Marla Looper softball head-coaching tenure that will stand out to me.
I was a sophomore in college, covering the Hawkeyes during the 2015 season for the Daily Iowan. I was at a practice, a few days after I’d written a piece diving into some of the problematic numbers with the team.
After doing a few interviews with the team, two Iowa sports information people who I’d worked with for a long time came up to me and another DI reporter. For the next 10 minutes, I, and the piece I wrote, were subject to a dressing down by one of the sports info people who now works at Baylor.
Nothing in the piece I wrote was inaccurate, the team (and, more specifically, Looper) were upset that something negative had been said about the squad. It remains one of the most unprofessional moments of my career so far, but I can’t say that it completely surprised me.
I think that pretty much tells you all that you need to know about the culture surrounding this program.
Looper had her hands full from the beginning of her tenure.
After Iowa athletic director Gary Barta may or may not forced out former head coach Gayle Belvins (University emails obtained by the Des Moines Register seem to paint this picture) following the 2010 season, Looper was brought in.
Before coming to Iowa, Looper was an assistant at Texas. She had spent the first six years of her tenure with some of the best players in the nation and had some pretty terrific results. One stat from her bio on Hawkeye Sports states: “Texas’ pitching staff led the nation in earned run average in three of Looper’s final four years as pitching coach.”
Unfortunately, that success didn’t continue at Iowa. During her tenure, Iowa registered a team ERA of 3.73 and finished in the top-five of the Big Ten in that stat just three times.
The Hawkeyes bats were far worse, mustering just a .252 average over eight seasons. Iowa never finished better than sixth in the conference in batting under Looper and it got absolutely horrendous over the past four seasons.
Going backwards: 2018: .226 (13th B1G), 2017: .215 (14th), 2016: .249 (13th), 2015: .261 (14th).
It shouldn’t be surprising then to see just how bad things got in the wins and losses column. Looper finished with a 172-247-1 (.409) record and a dismal 68-113 (.376) in Big Ten games.
To me, it was always amazing such dismal failure was allowed in a program that has 16 NCAA tournament appearances, four College World Series berths and six combined Big Ten regular season/tournament championships.
After wrestling, softball is Iowa’s most successful sport (field hockey can be argued for second as well), historically speaking. Turning it into the laughingstock of the conference will be one of the worst legacies of Barta’s reign.
Eight years was far too much of this mess. Let’s hope deputy director of athletics, Barbara Burke — who is leading the search — can find someone to resuscitate this program.