It was May 23. Florida Gators softball head coach Tim Walton was meeting with the media to discuss the upcoming Super Regional against Texas A&M that was set to begin the following day. 1,020 miles away something was brewing. By the midafternoon it was announced that the only head coach in the University of Texas’ program history, Connie Clark had stepped down after 23 seasons.
For a while, these two things seemed completely unrelated. However, during the WCWS opener for Florida, that changed. It was relatively harmless, but got the wheels turning none the less. During the broadcast it was mentioned that Walton would be interested in the job at Texas.
Could Walton leave Florida for Texas? We attempt to dissect it from all angles:
How successful has Walton’s program at Florida been?
Walton has built a powerhouse of a program since arriving in Gainesville in 2006. Walton took over a program that had failed to ever get past the NCAA Regionals. That changed in 2007 when the Gators earned a Super Regional trip to Texas A&M. Florida has earned nine WCWS appearances, beginning the stretch in 2008. The Gators won the 2014 and the 2015 National Championships behind the leadership of Walton and his staff. Walton has compiled a 711-148 record at Florida for a winning percentage of .828.
But what about Texas?
Texas has won the Big-12 regular season and conference tournament titles four times in the program’s twenty three seasons. The Longhorns have earned five trips to the WCWS, most recently in 2013.
Texas finished 2018 with a 33-26 record (10-8 in the Big 12) and fell in the Seattle, Washington regional. It was the Longhorn’s fourteenth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Big-12 is also a much weaker conference (outside of Oklahoma) than the SEC. The conference has seven teams, four of which qualified for the NCAA Tournament, only the sooners advanced past Regionals.
All 13 SEC programs advanced to the NCAA Tournament, with nine qualifying for the Super Regionals.
Could UF realistically lose Walton to Texas?
Tim Walton is widely considered one of the top college softball coaches in the nation. Depending on his interest, there isn’t a program in the country that wouldn’t celebrate hiring Walton away from Florida.
Does Walton have any ties to Texas?
Walton played baseball at the University of Oklahoma for two years, winning the 1994 College World Series with the Sooners. He also began his softball coaching career at Oklahoma from 1999-2002 before taking over as the head coach at Wichita State in Kansas.
While that footprint is obviously in the Big-12 (Texas’ conference), he appears to have no associations with the state of Texas or the University of Texas, outside of recruiting.
What is the salary situation?
Based on my research, it appears that Walton earned a base salary of $305,000 in 2018 while Texas’ Connie Clark was in the final year of a three year deal with an estimated value of $200,000.
But Texas has the resources to spend virtually at will. What would it cost for Texas to lure Walton away from Florida?
Oklahoma’s Patty Gasso recently signed an extension that saw her annual compensation rise to $925,000 ($725,000 base salary, and $200,000 stay bonus every February). Grasso has won four national championships; 2000, 2013, 2016, and 2017.
While I doubt Walton could demand the same salary, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him seek something in the $700,000 range from one of the wealthiest schools on the planet. Texas is backed financially by ESPN’s Longhorn Network as well as wealthy donor Red McCombs (whom the softball stadium is named for).
Does Florida have a better roster than Texas?
Surprisingly, there is a lot of room for debate on this topic. While the Gators will return the SEC Player of the Year and the SEC Pitcher of the Year, both of whom were finalist for National Player of the Year, the Gators roster is surprisingly limited thereafter.
Florida loses their 2-3-4 hitters in the lineup as well as their second best pitcher. While Jordan Matthews and Hannah Adams have shown their abilities, it does appear the lineup will take a step back with several freshmen being relied on to play major roles on a team with championship ambitions. Some of those freshmen that will be expected to play expanded roles will likely be: Brittany Allen, Amanda Beane, Cheyenne Lindsey, and Hannah Sipos.
The Gators pitching staff will feature Kelly Barnhill, the two time SEC Pitcher of the Year. However, Barnhill has the propensity to allow homers if her pitches aren’t locating and struggled mightily in the postseason. Natalie Lugo will vie for the second starter with incoming freshmen Danni Farley and Elizabeth Hightower.
The Longhorns have a surprisingly experienced roster. They were led statistically by mostly younger players. The Texas leader in batting average (Janae Jefferson) was a freshman, the home run leaders (Taylor Ellsworth and Bekah Alcozer) are a rising junior and a rising senior. Fellow rising senior Brooke Bolinger is the top returning pitcher. Bolinger (the Texas #2 starter in 2018) finished with a 13-7 record to go along with a 2.20, but only allowed opponents to hit .195. In 117.2 innings of work, Bolinger struck out 123 hitters. Only three players graduated leaving much of the talent returning to Austin for 2019.
*Admittedly, I don’t know anything about the incoming class, however it can’t be a very large class with so few seniors leaving the program.
Has Walton had anything to say on the topic?
Coach Walton was asked about the job in the team’s press conference after the season ending loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. Admittedly, this was not a good time to bring it up, but Walton didn’t dismiss the rumor, which is why this article has been written. You can see the question and the answer in the video below.
— The Gator Chomp Blog (@GatorChompBlog) June 4, 2018
Ultimately, I can’t imagine Walton leaving Florida for Texas. Walton has a brand new stadium (upgrade) that is expected to be built in time for next season at Florida. The UAA has allowed Walton to have a lot of input on specific features and that’s not something that can be taken for granted. If Walton chooses to stay at Florida for the long term, there is a decent chance the stadium (or, at least, the field) will someday bear his name.
I would guess that Florida would offer a raise to nearly $500,000 annually, and that Walton remains a Gator for many years to come.
I really believe the only job that Walton could ever leave Florida for would be Oklahoma, if Patty Gasso retires/steps down at any point.
Does this mean he will stay? Absolutely not. This is just my best guess. I have no inside source or anything, but felt this warranted discussion.
What do you think, Gator Nation?