LSU pitcher Brittany Mack said she cried tears of joy earlier this month when she learned that Patrick Murphy would be her new softball coach.
Two days later, Mack cried again. This time, the news wasn’t so good.
A text message June 12 from associate athletic director Meriam Segar announced to Mack and her teammates that Murphy, who has led Alabama to seven Women’s College World Series appearances, had reneged on his decision to coach the Tigers and would be heading back to Tuscaloosa instead.
“I just broke down. I couldn’t believe the promises he made to us personally, the promises he made to all of our fans,” Mack said. “It came right back up in our faces. It was hard. All the seniors started calling each other thinking what are we going to do now and who’s going to want us.”
The answer presented itself Wednesday when LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva introduced Beth Torina as the school’s fifth softball coach.
Torina, who replaces Hall-of-Famer Yvette Girouard in the LSU dugout, won the job after compiling a 129-111 record at Florida International the past four seasons in her first stint as a head coach. Her stops as an assistant came at Stetson (2001-02) for two years and Houston (2003-07) for six more.
Torina, 32, agreed to a five-year contract that will pay $110,000 annually - about $100,000 less than Murphy was expected to make.
“I have a lot of respect for Patrick Murphy. He’s a great coach,” Torina said. “I look forward to competing against him in the SEC, but I truly feel that LSU hired the right coach for the job.”
Alleva said Torina, a former Florida pitcher, brings smarts, passion and - maybe most important - a long-term, heartfelt commitment to her new school.
“I’ve always believed in my heart that things work out the right way and the way they’re supposed to work out,” Alleva said during Wednesday’s news conference. “I know that’s the case today.”
Torina’s introduction came 12 days after Murphy stood in the same room and addressed many of the same faces.
Not only were Mack and her teammates expected to have Murphy as their next coach, but they also would get to play for Crowley native Alyson Habetz, who’d agreed to follow Murphy from Alabama as his top assistant.
Two days later, when Murphy and Habetz called a meeting with Alleva to discuss their change of heart, LSU was sent back to the drawing board.
“When we knew that Yvette was going to retire, we had a lot of time to make a lot of phone calls. Everyone we called mentioned Beth’s name, and they said positive things. We kept hearing her name and hearing her name,” Alleva said.
While her name lacked the initial pop of Alleva’s first choice, Torina is a known commodity on the national softball circuit.
She is in her second season as an assistant coach under Florida skipper Tim Walton for the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch softball league, and as a pitcher she won 60 career games for Florida from 1997-2000.
Girouard said she included Torina on a list of possible successors she presented LSU this spring.
“I’ve been watching her since her days at Florida,” Girouard said. “I always knew she was going to turn out to be a very good coach.”
In fact, Girouard tried to pry her away from Houston a few years ago.
“I was just ready to be a head coach,” Torina said, explaining why she declined the offer to be LSU’s pitching coach. “It was another move to be an assistant, and I was ready to be a head coach. I went back to Houston waiting on a head coaching job.”
A year later, FIU called.
Torina earned Sun Belt Conference coach of the year recognition after leading the Panthers to a 29-34 mark her first season, and the team improved to 31-29 the following year. She again was named Sun Belt coach of the year in 2010 as FIU finished 38-21 with a pair of victories in NCAA regional play.
The Panthers went 31-27 this past year, missing out on a return to regionals.
Torina will inherit an LSU team that won 40 games in Girouard’s final season and returns Mack and Rachele Fico as a formidable one-two punch in the circle. The key will be fixing an offense that featured nary a .300 hitter.
“I don’t think we need to completely reinvent the wheel and throw out everything they’re doing.” Torina said. “This is a great program. There are talented players. I’m going to come in, just be myself and do the things that I think have made me successful.”
Girouard said she expects Torina to be a star on the recruiting trail, and the new coach has a $12 million gem of a home ballpark to support her. Nick Torina, Beth’s husband, has already found a nickname for Tiger Park.
“The Cathedral,” he called it.
Tuesday night at Tiger Park, Torina had her first meeting with her new players. She had all of them share a little about their personalities. She talked to them about her philosophy and her vision.
Mack said she saw a coach who can help take the Tigers to the next level. Someone she trusted.
Someone for the long haul.
“She’s not going anywhere,” Mack said with a smile. “I won’t let her.”