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Softball Q&A With John Rittman

Jun 19, 2018

Softball Q&A With John Rittman

Q. What was your life like growing up?
A. My father is a retired colonel, my mother is a stay-at-home mom and I have four brothers. Growing up as an Army brat, we moved around quite a bit. I attended two different high schools, one in Louisiana and one in New Mexico. Our family centered around sports. My father played football at Missouri. In fact, he played in the 1960 Orange Bowl, and our entire upbringing was about athletics, school and family.

Q. What are some of your best memories of being an athlete?
A. I was a three-sport athlete in high school…baseball, football and basketball. We won a baseball state championship my senior year at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, N.M. I started my college baseball career at New Mexico State. When the head coach took another job, I transferred to Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz., and was part of a very good team there. I actually transferred back to NMSU to finish my playing career. There have been many great memories, but the camaraderie and life-long friends I made…those have always been most special to me.

Q. How did you go from playing baseball to coaching softball?
A. I accidentally fell into it. After college, I went to Oregon for graduate school. Their head softball coach, Teresa Wilson, had just lost her volunteer assistant. We hit it off, and I agreed to help out as I was going to school. During that time, it became apparent that coaching was something I could see myself doing. The big question was could I afford to do it full time and could it turn into a career? At the time, the effects of Title IX were just coming into play. During those three years at Oregon, I was paid very little but we made it to the Women’s College World Series. After that, coach Wilson was offered the head job at Minnesota and asked me to go with her. That’s when I became a true year-round coach with a full-time salary, benefits, etc. I already loved everything about coaching, and at that point, I decided it was also the right career path for me.

Q. Prior to being named head coach at Clemson, what were some of your most memorable moments in coaching?
A. Advancing to the WCWS as a young coach at Oregon in 1989 with a program that was going there for the first time was very special. Two years later, winning a Big Ten championship at Minnesota was also quite memorable. As an assistant, helping Teresa Wilson start the program at Washington and playing for a national championship four years later was definitely a highlight. Then, getting the head job at Stanford and, in 18 years, coaching many wonderful student-athletes, playing in many super regionals and earning two WCWS appearances…those are memories I’ll never forget. There’ve also been great experiences with the USA National Team. I was part of the coaching staff for eight years, including two Olympic Games. We won the gold medal in Athens in 2004 and the silver in Beijing in 2008.

Q. Who is the best player you ever coached?
A. I’ve coached so many great players, but certainly one of the best has been Jessica Mendoza, who I coached for four years at Stanford and five years with Team USA, including both Olympic Games. One of the greatest things about Jessica was that she never knew how good she was, and that made her work every day to be the player she became. Then to see what she’s doing now as an ESPN analyst…it’s wonderful.

Q. What do the next 21 months look like for you and your staff?
A. Recruiting is obviously a huge part of this time, and it’s a never-ending cycle. The class of 2018 and 2019 will combine to form our first team, and we’re very busy putting that team together. In the short term, it’s also about hosting camps and clinics, getting out in the community for speaking engagements and meeting people. There’s also the facility component, and it’s been very exciting being a part of and having some input in the stadium project. Another next step is bringing the 2018 class to campus to get them acclimated in school and to begin training and developing them. The number is ever-changing, but as of now, we’ll have six players on campus this August.

Q. What will 2018-19 be like for those six signees?
A. Obviously, we don’t play any games, so they’ll spend a lot of time on the practice field and in the weight room. We also plan to do some team building exercises, and maybe even a road trip, so we can bond and start to feel like a team. They’ll also have time to get their academics in order and get used to being a college student, which will be a great benefit for them.

Q. When you are recruiting, in addition to talent, what qualities are you looking for in a player?
A. I’m always looking for athletes with high character who will buy into the team concept and who have integrity, work ethic and a love of the game.

Q. On opening day in 2020, what will you be feeling when Clemson softball takes the field for the first time?
A. A lot of work will have been put into getting the program underway by a lot of people, so for one thing, there will be a great sense of gratitude for everyone who made this possible for our program, and especially for the young women who make up that first team. Certainly, there’ll also be nerves, but seeing everything come to fruition and stepping on the field with the uniform on to represent Clemson…it’s going to be a very special day.

Q. If you had to sum up your coaching philosophy in one sentence, what would it be?
A. Approach every day with a positive attitude, and always have purpose and passion.

Q. Do you have any updates on the stadium?
A. The Board of Trustees approved the stadium at their meeting in April. It will be located in Jervey Meadows near Kingsmore Stadium. It’s a $13 million facility and seats about 1,000 fans. Also included are an indoor facility, training facility, coaches offices, a locker room and team lounge area. It’s going to be a beautiful facility that the university and community can be proud of, and we’re very excited about it.

Q. What is your family like?
A. My wife and I have been married for 26 years. She was a college athlete, too, and played softball at Oklahoma. Our oldest son, Justin, is graduating this June. He played football at UCLA and is getting his degree in political science. Our youngest, Jake, is an athlete as well. He’s attending Notre Dame this fall and playing football there. He’s a punter.