Q&A with Diane Stephenson

Dec. 1, 2008

As a softball player, Diane Stephenson won 113 games and played in the College World Series. As a head coach, she won 402 games in 15 seasons at Indiana University and led the Hoosiers to NCAA Tournament appearances in 1994 and ’96. A catcher from Goshen, Ind. (Concord High School), Stephenson was named first team All-American in 1981. She was the first female student-athlete to receive a full athletic scholarship at Indiana. Stephenson replaced Gayle Blevins as head coach of the Hoosiers in 1988 and compiled five seasons of 30-plus victories, including a 49-win season in 1994 and a 45-win season in 1990.

Stephenson was hired by the University of Iowa in mid-July as hitting coach. She will also work with the Hawkeye catchers. Stephenson replaces one of her former players on staff, Michelle Venturella, who was named head coach at the University of Illinois at Chicago in June.

1. Can you describe your emotions when you found out you would be the first female student-athlete to receive a full athletic scholarship to Indiana?
I remember writing a composition in eighth grade answering the question about what you’re going to do when you grow up. I said I was going to get a scholarship, and my teacher started laughing because girls don’t get scholarships. I’m very fortunate. I’m the eighth of nine kids in my family and I’m the second one to go to college. Had it not been for an athletic scholarship, I would have never attended college. Athletics afforded me not only one degree, but two degrees.

2. As far as role models go, where would you place Gayle Blevins in your life?
That’s easy. Gayle’s on the very top of the list for me. Professionally, personally, spiritually, emotionally, since I graduated — we didn’t always have the greatest relationship when I played for her — she has always been my top mentor in any profession.

3. If you had to pick the most significant lesson Coach Blevins taught you over the years, what would it be?
There are so many…in how you handle yourself and making sure people always view you as a role model. To always be a positive representative for women.

4. You have spent the majority of your career attempting to defeat the University of Iowa on the softball diamond. How does it feel now as a member of the Hawkeye coaching staff?
I’m so excited. I was out of coaching for four years and didn’t think of myself as wanting to get back in coaching. I thought that time period was over and it was time to move on to the next thing. After teaching at a Catholic school and doing a couple other things, I realized I was kind of floundering and the reason was because I’m a coach. It was kind of like an inner-peace came over me…I finally realized that this is what I do and this is who I am and this is what I love. I’d rather coach than work any day. It was kind of interesting how all this unfolded. I had a couple job offers to be head coaches at other schools. My very good friend Carol Hutchins (head softball coach at the University of Michigan) asked me if I could have any of the 18 jobs I applied for, which would I want to do? I said I wanted to work for Gayle. It was one of those things that was meant to be. Certain things happen for a certain reason.

“A lot of coaches, as they’re coming through the coaching ranks, think the pinnacle of coaching is being the head coach. I don’t think that.”
UI assistant coach
Diane Stephenson

5. In what ways has the game of softball evolved since you played competitively?
The opportunities as far as training and the facilities and the people that make up a coaching staff now. It’s not just a head coach and an assistant coach that is a graduate assistant. Gayle has two fulltime assistants, we are even moving to specialty areas…we have a weight strength coach, we have an academic counselor. The support systems are so incredible for women athletes today. There is no difference between men’s and women’s athletics on the support level. Yeah, we lifted (in college), but we didn’t have a strength coach. I can’t even remember if Coach was in the weight room with us, or if it was like, `you guys can use the weight room.’ So many of those support systems are so great now, whether it’s academics or sports information…everything is so much greater now.

6. What were some of your duties as a guest lecturer?
During my time when I was out of coaching softball, I was still very much involved. I did private hitting and pitching and I was a guest lecturer at a lot of different state high school associations or universities. That’s how I kind of stayed involved and worked camps and clinics.

7. The game of softball has provided you with many great memories. Can you share a highlight?
My biggest highlight is going to come when we take the University of Iowa to the World Series this year. I think that’s going to be an incredible highlight. As a player, it was absolutely playing in the World Series (1979-80). Playing for Gayle my junior year we were national runners-up. It was incredible and I wish every athlete in every sport at every level could experience going to a national championship because it is an incredible feeling and once you’ve been there, you have nothing but desire to get back. Everything about it is so awesome.

8. What are your impressions of the 2009 Hawkeye softball team after watching them a few times in the fall?
Obviously you’re always looking at potential, but potentially I think we have as good a chance to get to the World Series this year as we’ve had in the past few years. We have solid pitching, we have defense and our hitting is really coming along. You’re never going to have an opportunity in place like we do this year. It’s only potential — what you see — but if we can hit some markers that we plan on hitting, I think the World Series is definitely where we should be aiming.

“A lot of times a new coach can bring a different level of excitement. Nothing is old to me. I love practice.”
UI assistant coach
Diane Stephenson

9. Can you identify some of the areas you hope the Hawkeyes improve because of your presence?
A lot of times a new coach can bring a different level of excitement. Nothing is old to me. I love practice. I love working with catchers. I’m working with two catchers — Lindsey Major and Liz Watkins — who are like sponges. They will do anything and that’s very exciting as a coach to have two students of the game who are dying to learn. Hitting at this level is 99-percent mental, so we’ll drive home the fact that with hitting, you have to work at the mental part of the game because it is significantly going to change the outcome of your season.

10. Professionally, you have already been a successful collegiate head coach. What are your goals now and how can this position at Iowa help you attain those goals?
Softball has gotten to the point where being an assistant coach is a great place to want to be and I want to be an assistant coach. I think my personality lends more to being an assistant coach and one of the things that is going to make me a great assistant coach is that I have been a head coach. I know all the things Gayle’s going to be going through and I’m going to be able to support her and Shane (Bouman) because I’ve been there before. It’s probably like what grandparents think…if grand parenting was so great, they would have been a grandparent first. A lot of coaches, as they’re coming through the coaching ranks, think the pinnacle of coaching is being the head coach. I don’t think that.

11. What sort of things do you enjoy doing with your free time?
I have two great dogs. I have a golden retriever, Hunter, who is eight, and I have a black lab, Nicholas, who is nine. Just about anything outdoors…I love to be outdoors. I would like to say that I love to golf, but I hardly ever golf. I enjoy outdoor activities and watching any sporting event on TV. I’m a huge football fan at any level, whether it’s in person or on TV.

12. Is it a difficult transition from being a head coach to working under someone?
I’m very comfortable working with Gayle. I know a lot of things that someone who had never worked with her obviously wouldn’t know. I know she’s a perfectionist, so I know things have to be done correctly.