Marla Looper resigned Wednesday morning as the head coach of Iowa's softball program, bringing an eight-year tenure to a close. Her contract, a five-year extension given by Gary Barta in 2013, had expired without a new agreement on the way.
"We appreciate all of Marla's contributions the past eight years," said Barta. "Marla has served Iowa and her student-athletes well and we wish her all the best in her future endeavors."
"I have been fortunate to work with some amazing young women throughout my eight years," said Looper. "They have excelled on the field, and in the classroom and community. I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to serve at Iowa and lead the women's softball program."
Looper, a former Texas assistant, was hired to replace the legendary Gayle Blevins in 2010, and almost immediately drove the program into the ground. In Blevins' 23 years at the helm, Iowa had never suffered a losing season and had won less than 30 games just once (to be fair, Blevins' last season). In Looper's eight years in charge, Iowa never won 30 games and posted five losing seasons, all in the last five years, all with players recruited solely by Looper. The Hawkeyes' 21-32 record this year was actually Looper's best mark since 2013, despite a 6-16 record in conference play. Looper leaves with a 172-247-1 record overall and a 68-113 Big Ten mark. She finished in the top half of the conference once (her second season), and never won a Big Ten championship.
The question today isn't why Looper is leaving. She presided over the fall of the rare Iowa non-revenue sports program from a place of perennial national prominence to something lower than also-ran, while simultaneously shunning the in-state recruits who were the lifeblood of Iowa Softball for the generation before her. As Pat Harty pointed out last month, two of the best high school players in Iowa are now helping Minnesota win Big Ten championships. The program is a mess, and Looper could not be tasked with cleaning it up.
The question is why this hasn't happened sooner. The question is why Looper was given a five-year extension in the first place, and why she was allowed to play out that entire contract before being shown the door. After all, Blevins was forced out after one mediocre season. For three comparable seasons, Looper got a contract extension, then did not come close to matching that admittedly low bar over the course of that entire contract. If the standard of excellence at Iowa under Gary Barta is "Win, Graduate, and Do It Right," Looper went two-for-three at best. The answer to why she got five years resides solely in the mind of Gary Barta, and no one dare tread there.
Iowa is promising a national search to replace Looper, as it should be. But there are potential replacements all over Iowa's backyard capable of rebuilding the program, replacements who understand the nuances of coaching at -- and in -- Iowa, where high school softball is a summer sport unlike almost anywhere else in the country. If the athletic department starts from that reality, there's a chance of getting Iowa Softball back to where it once was. I'd suggest someone call Gayle Blevins for her advice.