May 15, 2003

Crouch's Calling

May 8, 2003

By Grant Hughes
The Santa Clara Sports Staff Writer

You know how the story goes. You've heard about it, seen it happen a thousand times. The headline usually reads something like this: "(team name) left in shambles as (star athlete-turned coach) fails to get the job done."

Magic Johnson couldn't do it with the Lakers.

Isaiah Thomas' Pacers are floundering, bounced from the postseason by the sixth-seeded Celtics.

Paul Silas was just put out to pasture by the New Orleans Hornets.

The list goes on.

The fact of the matter is this: good, but especially great athletes fail as coaches with alarming frequency. The tenure of your typical star athlete-turned coach usually lasts about as long as a fixed Tyson fight.

So, is it even possible for a star athlete to succeed as a coach? Ask the Santa Clara softball team, and the players will all respond with a resounding "yes."

Marcy Crouch, a 1999 Stanford graduate and manager of Santa Clara's softball team has somehow made that near-impossible jump.

"Even as a player I always felt I was born a coach because I understood the mechanics of the game," said Crouch. "Even as a player in practice, teammates would look to me because they knew I was paying attention to the coach."

Understanding the mechanics of the game is an understatement. Just look at one month from her Four-Time All-Pac-10 career.

From March 21 to April 21, 1999 Crouch compiled an 11-4 record, with a 0.90 ERA, walking only 17 and allowing 13 earned runs in 101 innings pitched. She also amassed a streak of 45 consecutive scoreless innings, and threw the third perfect game of her career. Couple all this with a career that included 169 hits, good for second best all-time at Stanford, and Crouch's ability as a player is evident.

Senior catcher Roni Rivera recalls the first time the team fully absorbed their coach's accomplishments.

"We were down south on a road trip and went to her house in Huntington Beach for dinner," Rivera said. "You walk in and it's like 'Marcy Crouch Arena'; just plaques and trophies everywhere."

Rivera is quick to note however, that Crouch never expects her players to perform in the same way.

"We all knew she was a really great player," added Rivera. "But it's not like she goes around bragging. She's incredibly humble, so we were really hit with it all at once at her house."

Crouch has avoided the pitfall of allowing her ability to relate to players to be overshadowed by her own skill. What hinders the success of many star athletes as coaches is an inability to recognize that every player doesn't think or perform the same way he or she did. Crouch's coaching style combines the experience of her stellar career with great understanding and patience.

"I knew how good she was, but I wasn't intimidated when I met her because she uses her ability to help make you a better player," said sophomore outfielder Keri Reisinger.

Examining a few of the players' statistics proves this very point. Coresta Salas has seen her batting average jump from .250 in 2000 to .275 in 2001. The ascent continued, with Crouch's help, to a hearty .305 in 2002. Tracie Hall has enjoyed success too, having belted a Bronco single-season record sixth homerun last weekend in Portland.

This instructive aspect of Crouch's coaching is best exemplified by her "practice plans." Following warm-ups, the team huddles and listens as Crouch outlines exactly what needs to be worked on that day. It's here that Crouch uses her expertise to individually instruct each player.

"She'll actually give you a printout that pretty much explains exactly where you need to improve," said Reisinger. "She tells you what to do, but makes you the one responsible for doing it."

Responsibility can be the biggest stumbling block for such a coach. Either the coach can be overbearing and negative, thinking the players aren't capable of handling responsibility, or they can back off too much, sacrificing instruction for fear of being too hard-nosed.

Crouch assigns responsibility by using her talent instructively to pass on her own success, according to senior middle infielder Lauren Fissori.

However, Crouch is capable of being a disciplinarian. But because of her personable nature, the team doesn't take her intensity negatively.

"Work comes first and she can be tough, but she also wants us to enjoy playing, to have fun," Fissori said. "Crouch sometimes goes to great lengths to contribute to the positive atmosphere, occasionally showing up after morning weight training with coffee cake for the team."

Adding to the team's fun is Crouch's indomitable competitiveness. "Her favorite thing to say is 'I've got game'," Rivera said.

Crouch's competitive nature starts, of course with softball, but sometimes spills over into other areas. Routinely, Crouch can be caught smoking line drives in batting practice, allegedly showing off, though Crouch will tell you she's just testing the bats for pop.

On a recent weekend trip, the team found themselves stuck in the hotel when their games were rained out. With nothing to do, Crouch and assistant coach Mick Myrback challenged Roni Rivera and standout pitcher Jaime Forman-Lau to a game of "hotel lobby dodgeball."

"Coach Crouch and coach Myrback killed us," said Rivera. "It was the most intense thing you've ever seen. It wasn't even close, like 10-2."

However, Rivera notes that Crouch is getting better about it. Last year, she'd even gone so far as to show off jumping rope in the weight room.

Marcy Crouch's unique ability to relate to her players has helped the softball team to a remarkable season thus far. The Broncos already have more wins in this, Crouch's fourth year (30), than they amassed in Crouch's first two years combined (28). Standing strong atop the standings of the PCSC, the Broncos are posting their best season ever. Crouch's ability to improve as a coach right along with her players has been a significant component to the overall success of the program.

Crouch may jokingly tell her players that she's got game, but now, with her help, the rest of the league is finding out that Bronco softball has plenty of game of its own.