Enquist ends coaching career with class


Editors note: On Sept. 26, 2006, UCLA announced that effective Jan. 1, 2007, softball coach Sue Enquist would retire as head coach of UCLA's softball team to become the director of major gifts for the UCLA Athletics External Relations Office. Enquist spent 27 years on the Bruins coaching staff, including 18 as head coach, and was a member of the UCLA coaching staff for all 10 of its NCAA championships. Longtime assistant Kelly Inouye-Perez (UCLA '93) was handed the head coaching reins, while three-time Olympic gold medalist Lisa Fernandez (UCLA '95) became a full-time assistant. Seven-year veteran assistant Gina Vecchione (UCLA '84) will remain on board and former four-time All-American shortstop Natasha Watley (UCLA '05) has been appointed the team's volunteer assistant coach.

I remember where I was -- in a hotel room in Austin, Texas -- the night I received the e-mail press release from UCLA's softball sports information contact, Amy Hughes. Subject: Sue Enquist Retires as UCLA Head Softball Coach.

Surprised and nearly disbelieving, I put down my coffee mug to read the four-page tome at the desk of the over-air-conditioned Hilton suite. I remember thinking then that this would be one of those moments when you remember forever where you were when you found out. Not in a tragic or catastrophic sense of course, but simply in the historical significance of it all.

And about five months later, it still feels like the e-mail just popped into my inbox.

Last night I spoke to Hughes for the first time since receiving her behemoth press release. I figured Hughes might have had her hands full in the interim, since she is also the Bruins' volleyball contact, which meant she had to announce Enquist's retirement two days before the volleyball team's season opener. For even more perspective, Enquist's replacement, Kelly Inouye-Perez, is just the third head coach to be named in the program's 32-year history.

"So, that's all that's going on in my world," Hughes remarked teasingly.

How much are they paying SIDs these days, anyway? They're worth their weight in automated scorebook scrolls! After all, when I spoke to Hughes Monday morning, her daily tasks and timing had already been meticulously calculated -- as usual -- from office, to practice, to meetings, to the drive home. We arranged for a conversation that evening. Uncharacteristically, the conversation took place about an hour later than scheduled. Amy called back as promised, but sounded a bit wired on the phone.

"I believe whole-heartedly and unequivocally that [Inouye-Perez] is going to be fantastic," she said. "It's working already. But nobody's in a routine quite yet, you know?"

Even though Inouye-Perez has been the assistant coach with the Bruins for the past 13 seasons, and Hughes has spent eight years in the Bruins' press box, there is still an adjustment to be made when a change of this proportion occurs.

"Today was really the first day that I was actually able to sit down with Kelly one-on-one to go through stupid stuff like her lineup card preferences and [ask questions like], 'Hey, what nationality are you?' It's random stuff like that you have to go over," Hughes said. "Even though I've been working beside Kelly for years, there are all of these crazy details that you have to manage in a head coaching change."

You've got to relearn the coach owner's manual when Sue Enquist steps aside. She's been a member of the Bruins' coaching staff since the year I was born!

Anyone who follows college softball (and inherently the legend of Sue Enquist) has surely wondered about when she would walk away from the game. With passions in her life including her family, surfing, speaking engagements, traveling and product invention, many asked when life would pull her off the third-base line. But I was still genuinely surprised by the announcement. Not by the actual decision, or the swift submission of it all, but I was surprised by the announcement.

Hughes concurs, "I had no idea. But I always believed that Sue would wake up one morning and say, "You know, it's time.' And that's pretty much exactly what happened."

Enquist asked Hughes for a meeting one day (just like any other meeting on any other day). UCLA softball's first annual golf tournament was approaching, and it seemed like the natural time for a meeting. Hughes showed up at Enquist's office, notebook and pen in hand, ready to discuss the details for the outing.

"We chit-chat for about two minutes," Hughes says, "and she asks me if I want her to just cut to the chase, and I nod, and I'm ready to write, and all I'm thinking is golf tournament, golf tournament, and she just looks at me and says, 'I'm retiring.' And this huge smile took over her face and she was practically bouncing in her chair. I couldn't believe it, but I could see how happy she was and of course I congratulated her. I was surprised by the timing of it right then, but overwhelmingly, I was just really happy for her and there was really no other way to react seeing her so visibly thrilled about her decision."

Enquist proceeded to tell Hughes that Inouye-Perez would be taking over and rattled off the rest of the staff before warning that the news was not yet out and the trick would be keeping it that way for a minute.

"Honestly, that is what I respect the most about the way she handled all of this." Hughes said.

"There was a lot of fallout when we made the announcement because it was right in the middle of fall ball and people wanted to know why she waited so long, and people assumed something goofy must be going on for it to come out like this. But people don't realize that UCLA is on quarters. September 26 was very literally the first day that all of our kids were in the same place and that was the first possible opportunity for Sue to tell everybody to their face. I really respect that. She made sure that as many people as humanly possibly heard it directly from her."

To do this, Enquist and the UCLA athletic department scrupulously orchestrated almost every minute of Announcement Tuesday. Enquist had meetings lined up every hour on the hour with staff, friends, administrators -- even her niece, utility sophomore Kelsey Enquist.

At 3 p.m., Enquist held a team meeting followed by a conference call at 4 with the parents of current players, and then she told the parents of the incoming recruits at 4:30.

Hughes and Co. didn't send the almighty media release until Enquist was securely on the final conference call.

"That, to me, was one of the most impressive things that I have been a part of in my professional career," Hughes said. "It did not break to the media or the rumor mill until Sue was able to tell everyone she really possibly could. I'm really proud of the way it worked out. You have to respect the way she handled it."

And that's where we end our conversation -- with the 2007 UCLA Bruins about to fly to Tempe to kick off the spring season without Sue Enquist at the helm … and without a trail of flashbulbs and farewell tour distractions disturbing the Bruins.

… You have to respect the way she handled it.

Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 columnist and regular contributor to ESPN.com's college softball coverage. She can be reached at marybuckheit@hotmail.com.