Erin Brown was on her way home from the hospital following the birth of her daughter when she received the call. The Bulldogs of Truman State University were in need of somebody to steer the ship and wanted her to take the wheel. She didn’t hesitate.
Brown never planned to coach college softball. She never planned to return to her alma mater, or to become the winningest coach in program history. In fact, she only ended up in her first graduate assistant job at the University of Central Missouri because she was not sure what to do after she graduated from Truman State University.
“You have to be ready for your opportunity, because if you’re not, then you could end up regretting it later on,” said Brown. “I just feel like it was meant to be.”
Now, in her 13th year at the helm, Brown is approaching 350 wins, nearly 200 more than the next closest coach in program history. Brown has coached one-third of the 40-win seasons in Truman softball history and one-fourth of the Div. II national tournament teams, and holds numerous records within the softball program — but to her that all comes second.
“Leaving our program in a better place is something we always talk about,” Brown said. “I feel like the kids that are returning are going to be good leaders, and will continue fostering a family atmosphere with the new players. I like to think all the backup work that we do will take care of [the future] because it is really the kids.”
Building up the program that helped to make her the coach she is today has been Brown and her teams’ focus since she stepped foot in the dugout in 2006, and is still the focus today. Her approaches and methods to achieving this goal has changed over the years as she has grown as a coach, but what she has strived for as a Bulldog has never shifted.
Brown learned early that filling her program with good people was more valuable than ending the season with a good record. Not to be misunderstood, Brown has proved she and her program love to win, but what she’ll miss most from coaching is not putting tallies in the win column.
“The girls are the No. 1 thing, but going out and pitching on the field to my girls with music going when it’s a beautiful day is what I’ll miss most,” Brown said. “It’s probably their favorite thing to do, and I’m like, the perfect batting practice pitcher.”
The players and members of the softball program throughout her time at Truman are what Brown will hold closest in her years after coaching. Ensuring their success after they leave her program has been one of Brown’s goals in her tenure. In her time here, Brown has expanded her coaching tree throughout the GLVC. Two of her assistant coaches, Cathy Monroe and Bailey Wittenauer, have moved on to accept head coaching jobs at Missouri University of Science and Technology and Rockhurst University, respectively.
Alongside the coaches she has helped in her long career as a Bulldog, Brown’s players hold her in the highest regard. Catcher Kayla Gordon was committed to play at Saint Joseph’s College, another school within the GLVC. When Saint Joseph’s closed down following the 2017 spring semester, just months before Gordon was supposed to leave for college, Brown offered her a home at Truman.
“Coach Brown is the person who saved me,” Gordon said. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities she’s given me, the people I’ve met and for being able to learn under her in the time we’ve had together.”
Regardless of who will be throwing during their batting practice in years to come, it’s impossible to deny that Brown has had a lasting effect on the program that has been a part of her since college. The one thing that has been undoubtedly ingrained in the Truman softball program since Brown became the coach is the same thing Brown hopes all of her players will carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“Who you have on your bus is more important than where you’re going,” Brown said. “I feel like we’ve had a lot of good who’s on our bus.”
Although Brown loves the sport and team she has dedicated the majority of her life to, she realizes there is now more for her outside of the game. Her choice to leave Truman will allow more time for her to spend with her son, daughter and husband as they look to move forward and take on new opportunities, just as Brown did when she first came to Kirksville.
Brown and the Bulldogs are 9-2 in their last 11 games, improving their record to 25-12 overall, and have moved up one spot to No. 7 in the GLVC rankings over the past week. The current focus of both Brown and her team is making a run in what will be the last time Brown will ever call the shots in a Bulldog uniform.