Fresno State has hired UC Riverside’s Linda Garza as its new softball coach, choosing the former Hoover High School and UNLV star who’s established a track record for rebuilding struggling programs.
Garza took over a Highlanders program that never had a winning season and averaged only 17 wins over 11 straight years before her arrival. By the second half of her four-year tenure, UC Riverside recorded back-to-back 30-win seasons, including a 39-17 record with the 14th-best ERA (2.13) in the nation in 2015.
Garza replaces Trisha Ford, who left last month after four seasons with the Bulldogs for Arizona State.
Garza also becomes the first central San Joaquin Valley native to become a head coach at Fresno State since longtime coach Mike Watney headed the men’s golf program before retiring after the 2013 season.
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“I want to thank President (Joseph) Castro and (athletic director) Jim Bartko for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Garza said in a news release. “I grew up watching Bulldog softball and I always envisioned coming home to be a part of the rich tradition of this program and community.
“Coach Ford and these wonderful student-athletes have done amazing things and I’m excited and eager to build upon their success.”
The tradition-rich Bulldogs have been able to avoid massive rebuilding throughout the years.
In fact, Garza is just the fourth softball head coach in Fresno State history mostly because past coaches have enjoyed longstanding success.
Most recently, Ford finished 143-73-1 with two Mountain West championships and two automatic NCAA Tournament bids.
UC Riverside athletic director Tamica Smith Jones said Garza is up to the new challenge of taking over a winning program.
“She’s ready,” Smith Jones said in a telephone interview. “She’ll bring a positive spirit and energy that’ll be contagious. She shows a lot of positive emotion that her players responded to.
“She’s a fierce leader and I believe she’s one of the best in the business.”
Before her time at UC Riverside, Garza coached at Cal Poly, Wright State, Purdue, Tulsa and Arkansas.
Garza was associate head coach at Cal Poly for two seasons before taking the Riverside job. In 2010, she led Wright State to a Horizon League tournament title and automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
After beginning her coaching career as a student assistant at UNLV, she was on the staffs at Tulsa and Arkansas before a four-year run as the top assistant at Purdue from 2006-09.
A four-year starter as an infielder and outfielder at UNLV from 1998-2001, Garza left the Rebels ranked in the top 10 for career doubles, walks, hits and sacrifices.
Following Ford’s departure, Fresno State had targeted early July for making a hire.
“With Linda Garza, we found a coach with all the attributes we were looking for,” Bartko said in a news release. “She is driven, a proven winner and a role model with high integrity.
“We are thrilled to welcome her to the Bulldog family and look forward to having her take over our historic program.”