June 24, 2011 8:47:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Hand shakes aren''t enough for Vann Stuedeman.
Ann Carr had an inkling about Stuedeman''s enthusiasm and reputation for being a "people person," but she had no idea what was in store when she met her latest candidate for a job.
"I picked her up at the hotel and extended my hand to shake and she said, ''I don''t shake,'' " said Carr, Mississippi State''s senior women''s administrator/senior associate athletic director. "She gave me a big hug. That took me off guard, but I was like, ''Oh, OK.'' It started from there and you''re just drawn into her. I think she is wonderful."
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin agreed, which helped set the scene Thursday for Stuedeman''s introduction as MSU''s new softball coach.
Stuedeman wasted little time fitting in. She donned a MSU cap, rang a cow bell in response to a question about how long it would take the team to beat her old school -- the University of Alabama -- and then won over the people inside the Bryan Building.
First, though, Stuedeman had to convince Carr, who Stricklin charged with navigating the search to replace Jay Miller. Carr said she spoke with numerous people who told her Stuedeman was ready, was knowledgeable, and was full of energy. She also received plenty of unsolicited e-mails from individuals who encouraged MSU to go after Stuedeman as its new coach.
Watching Stuedeman work a room, it is easy to be impressed. She set the bar high on her first day, saying there is "no reason" MSU can''t win right away at softball. She believes she is the right coach, the right recruiter, and the right leader to help MSU climb the ladder in the Southeastern Conference and join Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, and others that have helped the league become a force on the national scene.
To reach those heights, Carr wanted someone who could represent the school in a first-class manner and who could sell their vision, sell the program, and sell MSU.
Stuedeman threw strikes at all three.
"She is going to be able to sell this institution based on her knowledge of the sport and the area," Carr said. "The state of Mississippi isn''t as strong in softball (as other states), but she is going to be able to look at the talent here and she is going to know how to go out and get the other talent here. With her background, when she opens her mouth you''re going to listen. That is part of a salesman''s tactic. Once I can get you to focus on me, I can probably sell you a blue shirt. I think Vann has the ability to do that."
Carr admitted coaches at MSU have to do things differently, in large part because the school doesn''t have as many resources as its peers in the SEC. But she said that shouldn''t stop any coach from attacking their job with the passion, intensity, and enthusiasm of a champion. She feels Stuedeman fits the bill in each of those areas.
"She exudes (energy)," Carr said. "There is nothing about her that doesn''t draw people in to her."
Carr said Stuedeman reinforced that point when they were at breakfast by walking up to somebody and starting to talk to them. She said MSU needs that vibrancy and the ability to attract people and student-athletes to the campus.
"They''re going to see Vann, they''re going to know Vann already, and they''re going to know what she has been able to do in her 11 years at Alabama (as pitching coach), when she was with her sister at Huntsville, Ala., and when she was (a coach) at a high school. She was successful at each of those places.
"We needed someone with passion, we needed someone who had a lot of energy, we want someone who is going to be very committed to our institution, our young ladies, and our program. I think anybody can see that in Vann."
Carr doesn''t believe Stuedeman''s lack of experience as a head coach will be a liability. She pointed to another coach -- Dan Mullen -- who didn''t have experience as a head coach and has had tremendous success in Starkville. The hope is Stuedeman''s energy can jump-start a program that has missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons.
In the process, she just might coin a phrase -- possibly "the school to the east" -- as she builds MSU into a program that realizes her goals and beats Alabama to gain supremacy in the SEC.
MSU senior pitcher Misty Flesher hopes to be a part of that transformation. She was in attendance Thursday and said Stuedeman is a perfect fit.
"That''s exactly what this team wants and exactly what we needed," Flesher said. "We''re going to put all of our trust in her. The hard work is here with this team. We''ve always been hard working, but we needed a new leader to take us to the next level."
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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