Joanna Hardin replaced McNeese State's head softball coach Mike Smith. On Friday she was by the University of Virginia to take over the Cavaliers program (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, June 06, 2014 12:54 PMWhen Mike Smith left McNeese State on May 28 to take the head softball coaching job at Ole Miss, he said McNeese Athletic Director Bruce Hemphill would move quickly to find a new coach.
He wasn’t kidding.
Just a week after Smith’s departure, McNeese promoted Joanna Hardin to head coach.
Hardin, an assistant coach to Smith, came to McNeese in 2013, working as a pitchers and catchers coach and recruiting coordinator among a variety of other roles in her two years.
For Hemphill, the choice was simple.
“While there was much interest from qualified applicants from around the country for this position, we decided not to converse with anyone else,” he said. “We are fortunate to already have (Hardin) on our staff while many schools around the country were pursuing her, we’re fortunate she wanted to stay right here in Lake Charles. She has everything many programs want and wish for. We are confident she will continue to build on our winning softball tradition.”
Hardin’s connection with Smith goes back 13 years in California.
“I was an unrecruited senior in high school,” Hardin said. “Coach Smith watched me pitch against our rival and he gave me a shot at playing collegiality. He took a chance on me when nobody else did to play for him at Biola (University). It completely changed my life and my career path. … Two years ago, Coach Smith took another shot on me and brought me here from Lynchburg, Va., to come to Lake Charles and be the pitching coach at McNeese State. I’m better prepared to take the reins here because of playing for him and working for him.”
Hardin spent three years as an assistant coach at Liberty University after coaching high school in California and she coached a travel team and high school team before coming to McNeese.
Hardin coached a McNeese pitching staff that has led the Southland in ERA for the last two seasons, including a 1.79 team mark in 2013 that was in the top 10 nationally.
This will be Hardin’s first collegiate head coaching job, but she said the players know what she’s like and that will help with the transition.
“It’ll be important for me to establish that at the beginning, to continue to be disciplined and continuing to drive home our hard work,” she said. “There will be some transition for the returning players, but I think they respect me as a coach; they respect me for what I know of the game; they respect coach James (Landreneau) and our staff. It’ll be a little bit different, but not too difficult, because we’ve all been involved. I’m on the front lines with them, so we’re all doing this together.”
Along with familiarity with the current team, Hardin said she played a big role in recruiting many of the Cowgirls. McNeese has 10 incoming freshmen and Hardin said she has been in contact with them and other recruits. She said while change can be difficult, they are excited and ready for the future.
Landreneau will stay on staff and continue coaching the Cowgirls’ infield and hitting. Hardin said they are in the process of hiring an “energetic, talented” second assistant to help with hitting and the outfield.
Hardin said she’s noticed plenty of similarities between her and Smith, but she will be her own coach.
“I realized how similar we are in terms of our attention to detail and being very meticulous about planning and preparation,” she said. “He taught me about the little things, paying attention to small things. I learned a lot from him, but I’ve got my own style. I don’t take myself very seriously, but I take the game seriously, I take the athletes very seriously and I take my job seriously. I’m excited to bring my style and personality out to the front.”
When Smith came to McNeese three years ago, the Cowgirls got an influx of talent from throughout the country, specifically California. While Hardin said she would recruit the best athletes available, don’t look for her to bring in a team of Californians.
“This is probably a little bit of a difference between coach Smith and I, I really believe those athletes are within seven to eight hours of the university,” Hardin said. “I believe that in Texas and Louisiana we can find the right athletes to continue our winning tradition. Not going to turn any kids down, but believe can find close kids.”