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Provo • Back when he was a slick-fielding, power-hitting shortstop on the University of Utah baseball team or in the Oakland A's farm system, coaching women's softball was the last thing Salt Lake City native Gordon Eakin thought he would be doing in 2015.
And especially not at archrival BYU.
But Eakin has not only been BYU's softball coach the past 13 seasons, he has turned the program into a regional power that boasts eight conference championships, including six straight (in four different conferences), and eight consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Eakin recently picked up his 500th career win and is 505-231 overall heading into the West Coast Conference opener on Friday at Saint Mary's.
"I was unaware of [reaching the 500-win plateau] until after the [win over UConn on March 14]," Eakin said. "My wife was sort of involved in bringing it to light, and all the girls threw water on me. It was nice to share it with the team, to share that experience, that honor, and make it a team thing. It was really unexpected."
Unexpected is a good way to describe how Eakin went from being a Ute who lettered in 1977 and 1978 and led the team his final year by hitting .309 with 27 RBIs and seven home runs, to a three-year member of Oakland's Single-A affiliate in Modesto, Calif., to a construction worker in Wyoming, to one of the best softball players in the country, before eventually landing at BYU.
Car dealer Larry Miller called the graduate of Salt Lake City's now-defunct Granite High in Wyoming and told Eakin he could pitch and bat fourth on one of Miller's world-class fastpitch softball teams.
Eakin originally balked, saying softball was for girls. But Miller persisted, and Eakin eventually played for the late owner of the Utah Jazz for 15 years and worked at one of the Miller family's car dealership.
"I remember back when I was a player, I really, like, didn't like BYU as a Ute," he said. "I didn't know why. I think that's just one thing that comes with the territory: when you are a Ute you don't like the Cougars and when you are a Cougar you don't like the Utes. I didn't know what BYU was all about. I had never been down here. I just remember them beating us very handily in baseball when I was at the U."
When Mary Kay Amicone was hired to start BYU's softball program in 2000, she offered Eakin a job on her staff at one-third of the pay he was making working for Miller, and he took it, figuring he would help an old friend for a couple of years and then move on to something else. But he took over as head coach when Amicone, now Weber State's head coach, was forced out after the 2002 season, and is showing no signs of slowing.
"By the time when Mary Kay left, I was certainly hoping I would be here on a long-term basis, because it was something I was really enjoying, and I still enjoy," he said.
Eakin has yet to have a losing season, even though BYU has been a softball nomad, of sorts, since it left the Mountain West Conference after the 2010 season.
The Cougars are currently 22-8, their best record entering conference play since 2010, and the odds-on favorite to capture a second straight WCC title.
Players say the coach is beloved for his frankness and adaptability. They say he tries to determine the personality of the club early in the season and then tailor his rules and style to fit that particular team.
This year, for instance, he is less regimented and disciplined in his approach.
"They are a bunch of characters, and we all seem to get along pretty well," he said Wednesday after his players decorated his office in a Christmas theme complete with snow (confetti) everywhere. "They have a lot of fun."
So the former Ute has found happiness in Provo, and says it is very fitting that he works every day at a place called Gail Miller Field at Miller Park.
After all, Larry Miller Gail's late husband got him started in all this.
About Gordon Eakin
R In his 13th season as BYU's head softball coach, he's compiled a 505-231 record.
• Reached the 500-win plateau earlier this season with a win over Connecticut.
• Named conference coach of the year four times (2009, 2010, 2011, 2013).
• Has coached 12 All-Americans and 12 conference MVPs.
• Played baseball at the University of Utah and in the Oakland A's farm system.