Home Mailbag: Is it time for Virginia to move on from softball coach Joanna Hardin?
Sports

Mailbag: Is it time for Virginia to move on from softball coach Joanna Hardin?

Chris Graham
joanna hardin uva softball
Photo: UVA Athletics

Stanford and Northwestern have gone to the Women’s College World Series in the last two years. They consistently play at a high level, proving that high academic schools can compete in this sport.

Just look at Duke, the blueprint is right in front of us. Those programs revolve around a quality coach at the top.

Just look at the national championships on Grounds. They all revolve around quality at the top.

With softball being one of the fastest growing sports in the country, it’s unacceptable for UVA to not even put a quality product on the field.

All the pieces are there. They have tons of young talent on the bench that are not being utilized. Great facilities that should be hosting quality out-of-conference opponents. Virginia is a hotbed for softball talent, recruiting should never be an issue.

The team has no identity, not even close to maximizing talent, and it seems that winning is not a priority. Look at the postgame interviews on Twitter. After seven years Coach Hardin is still talking about moral victories and having fun.

It starts at the top. Time for a change.

Why is nobody talking about this?

– UVA1966

To be fair here, I think the answer to the last question, Why is nobody talking about this, is that, it’s softball, which isn’t a good answer, but it’s the answer.

Why it’s not a good answer is, Virginia has invested in softball. Palmer Park, which opened in 2020, cost an estimated $19.4 million, basically, lots of pretty pennies there.

Joanna Hardin has a 139-197 record in her seven seasons leading the UVA softball program, with just two winning seasons – the past two, 28-26 in 2022 and 30-22 in 2023.

Even those winning records the past two seasons can be deceptive.

Hardin’s tenure has just one winning ACC season, in 2022, when her team finished 13-11 in ACC play.

Her teams, according to data compiled by UVA1966, are 51-112 in the ACC in her seven seasons, 54-132 against Power 5 teams, and the 2023 team’s nice 30-22 overall mark included an 8-16 record in ACC play and a 9-21 mark against Power 5 schools.

Hardin has yet to take a UVA team to the NCAA Tournament, which is something in itself, given that she’s had seven years to build the program and the rest, but then you consider, as UVA1966 points out, the success at Duke (48-12, 19-5 ACC, Super Regionals bid in 2023) and Northwestern (42-13, 20-3 Big Ten, Super Regionals bid in 2023).

And then I’d add in Clemson, which only launched its softball program in 2017 with the hire of former Stanford coach John Rittman, who was given two full years to field his first team in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

In Rittman’s first full season, in 2021, Clemson went 44-8 overall, 29-5 in the ACC, and got an NCAA Tournament bid, and in the last two seasons, the Tigers have gone 42-17 and 49-12 and advanced to the Super Regionals each spring.

Hardin’s defenders would want to point to the winning seasons in 2022 and 2023 as a reason to give her a longer leash.

Seven years is a long time to achieve only moderate success, if we can call not even getting a single NCAA Tournament bid in those seven years moderate success.

If it’s not time for a change at the helm of the UVA softball program, we have to consider that maybe what we’re seeing instead is the AD’s office signaling that it just doesn’t care.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].