Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibility
MENU

Nevada softball hires Linda Garza, a proven winner coming off a controversial incident

Linda Garza
Former Fresno State coach Linda Garza has been hired as Nevada's softball coach. (Fresno State athletics)

The Nevada athletic department hired one of the West Coast's top softball coaches Friday, although the move does not come without some controversy.

Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth tabbed former Fresno State coach Linda Garza to lead his softball program. She replaces Josh Taylor, who left his alma mater for Louisiana Tech last month.

Garza, a former standout at UNLV, has had tons of success during stints at Fresno State, UC Riverside and Wright State. But her last stop ended amid allegations of an altercation with one of her players. Garza stepped down at Fresno State on June 15 after she took a leave of absence from the program in April. At the time, the Bulldogs didn't explain Garza's leave of absence , but one of her former players, Kaitlyn Jennings, alleged Wednesday on social media Garza slammed her against the dugout wall during a game.

Knuth said he vetted the situation and felt comfortable hiring Garza, saying she had "great character with tons and tons of care and concern with her athletes." Knuth said he doesn't believe something similar will happen at Nevada.

"We talked to everyone we could in and around the Fresno program," Knuth said. "We talked to folks at the highest level of university administration. I talked to the athletic director. We've talked to other people around Fresno softball who know Coach Garza, and everybody I talked to said the same thing that this one incident was one situation and not her normal character and not anything that had happened before.

"She has this incredibly long track record of success of care and concern for her athletes, great relationships with her athletes. This is one moment that flared up and one moment that happened. Everybody that I talked to said it was a tough situation. It was an intense moment, intense athlete, intense coach and it was a one-time thing that happened."

Knuth said he did not speak with Jennings, the player who alleged the physical confrontation with Garza. Jennings said she's suffered from "depression and anxiety every day since this happened." The Wolf Pack athletic director said he didn't feel it was necessary to talk to Jennings out of respect for the student-athlete.

"I know what's happened and I've heard from people who were there," Knuth said. "I've heard from people who were involved in the situation and have a pretty good sense of what played out. I have enough information to make the decision I made."

In her social media post, Jennings detailed the alleged incident from the second game of an April 6 doubleheader against Santa Clara.

"In the 3rd inning, I attempted to steal second base but was called out," Jennings wrote on Twitter. "I said to the umpire, 'You missed that call, Blue,' as I jogged off the field, which he either didn't hear me or chose to ignore. As I was coming into the dugout, Coach Garza grabbed me by the front of my jersey and began yelling at me for saying something to the umpire. She was holding me on the field at that point, but I managed to pull away and get into the dugout.

“Coach Garza then grabbed me again by the front of my jersey, and shoved me into the dugout wall, holding me there while she continued to yell at me for saying something to the umpire. She only let go of me after I said, ‘You can’t do this right now, there’s people around.’”

Garza took a leave of absence three days after the alleged incident and never returned to the program. Asked Friday if Jennings' post was an accurate appraisal of that day, Garza didn't directly answer the question but said it was a unique situation with a unique individual.

"I definitely learned from that situation, and I wish nothing but the best not only for her and not only for that university and program but for everybody," Garza said. "We all have moments where we need to be better and can be better. There are things I've definitely learned from. There's more that led up to that and more behind it."

Garza's success on the field is unquestioned. In five seasons at Fresno State, Garza went 146-77 with two NCAA Tournament berths and last year's Mountain West regular-season title. In Garza's last full season, 2019, the Bulldogs went 37-20 overall and 14-10 in the MW, good for fourth place in the conference. In the 2020 season that was cut short by COVID-19, Fresno State was 21-4. Last season, the Bulldogs won the MW with a 37-12 record and 20-4 mark in the MW, with the second half of the season being led by an interim head coach.

That stint followed head-coaching stops at UC Riverside and Wright State. At Riverside, Garza won 39 games in 2015 and 32 games in 2016. She inherited a 13-33 team in 2011 and registered the Highlanders' first back-to-back 30-win campaigns since the program joined the Big West in 2002. At Wright State (2009-10), she led the Raiders to the Horizon League Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2010. Garza also had assistant stops at Cal Poly (2010-12), Purdue (2005-09), Tulsa (2004-05) and Arkansas (2002-04).

It was during her stop at Purdue where Garza first saw the potential of Nevada. During the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the Wolf Pack beat Purdue twice at the UCLA Regional. Nevada's last NCAA Tournament berth came in 2010, its third appearance in a four-year period. That also was the last time the Wolf Pack won a conference title.

"It's still untapped," Garza said. "We know what's in the cupboard, but there's still a ton of space. That's one of the things that I'm really drawn to. I was fortunate enough in my early coaching career to play against Nevada in Regionals at UCLA when I was coaching at Purdue. Just the amount of tenacity and toughness (they) were able to build was incredible. At that moment, we didn't realize it was a program that had just been resurrected and reinstated. It was neat to see. There hasn't been a transition since then. I know we can get better."

Garza, who described herself as fiery and intense 5-foot spark plug, said some facility improvements are in the works to upgrade Hixson Park, which opened in 2007 but was not fully completed due to the recession. Garza said those improvements and the UNR campus were selling points and will aid her recruiting.

"There's not a player I don't think I can ever get," Garza said. "When I walked on this campus, I realized, 'I could sell this.' This campus is amazing. I didn't recognize or realize it. I just came to the facility as a coach. I just got to step on the campus and it's gorgeous. It's stunning."

Nevada's third-place finish in the MW last season was tied for its best since jumping from the WAC to the MW in 2012. Knuth is hopeful hiring Garza will push the Wolf Pack to the next level.

"We were so close to being conference champions," Knuth said. "I told the athletes, I told the players my job was to go find a coach who could get us to the top. I truly believe we have found that coach. I truly believe we have found that person with the knowledge and skills and recruiting contacts and connections, but most importantly what I've been told and what's been shared with me from people in the softball world is Coach Garza is a tremendous person of character. Great character with tons and tons of care and concern with her athletes. Runs her program the right way.

"We've got the best coach in the Mountain West conference now. There's no one in this conference that knows the other coaches and other players as well as Linda Garza."

Three weeks after resigning from Fresno State, Garza said she's thankful to have another head-coaching opportunity. She said the end of her Bulldogs' career should not define the kind of relationships she typically has with her players. Garza said she's already spoken with Nevada's players and is looking forward to positive relationships with them.

"Helping them understand our day one is today," Garza said. "Building our relationship. I've always had great relationships with student-athletes. I had a ton of student-athletes who I've coached who have also reached out and spoke on my behalf of the experiences they had around me and having me coach them. I've been invited to plenty of weddings, and being a part of their process and their graduate school and the grace and forgiveness and grace and compassion for one another.

"I'm fiery and tough and there are moments where I can still be better, and I understand that."

Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.


Offbeat News

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER