Perry at home on diamond

Perry at home on diamond

CHAMPAIGN — Tyra Perry didn’t plan on being a softball coach.

Just like she probably didn’t plan on playing softball at LSU, considering there wasn’t even a program when she started college.

Both ultimately happened.

When her coach at Nicholls State, Cathy Compton, was hired at LSU to restart the Tigers’ softball program, Perry had a choice. She could follow Compton to LSU — if she was willing to switch majors. LSU’s nursing program was in New Orleans, not Baton Rouge.

Perry chose softball over nursing. Then she chose it again after an internship in the compliance department at LSU as she finished her master’s degree in sports administration following her bachelor’s in kinesiology.

Perry found that working in an office every day was not for her.

Softball was. Coaching was, too.

Fifteen years and 409 wins later, after stops at Birmingham-Southern, Western Kentucky and Ball State, Perry was officially announced Thursday as the second head coach in Illinois history.

“Once I saw the business world and that you had to wear this type of get-up with heels and stockings every day, it just wasn’t my thing,” Perry said Thursday afternoon at her news conference before changing into some Illini gear for photo opportunities at Eichelberger Field. “I found myself more and more going by the softball field. At that point, I knew that I wanted to coach.”

Perry replaces Terri Sullivan at Illinois. Sullivan was named the first Illini coach in 1999 and announced her retirement June 4 after 16 seasons in Orange and Blue.

“My hat’s off to Terri and her staff and what she’s done to set such a fine program in motion,” said Perry, who will earn $120,000 each year of her four-year deal. “It takes a lot of hard work to do that. I know that from experience.

“I think we just use the things that she’s done as a catalyst and as a springboard — a foundation of sorts. There’s been past success, but we’re looking for some consistency in that. That was one of the main things emphasized by the committee in the hiring process.”

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said the goal of the search to replace Sullivan was to do so with a proven winner.

“Someone who had a broad range of experience as a coach, a mentor to student-athletes, someone who values the student-athlete experience in the classroom and on the playing field, and a coach who knows how to win,” Thomas said was what Illinois was looking for. “We have found that coach in Tyra Perry.”

Perry found her popularity on the rise in the 24 hours after she was announced as the new Illini coach. She said she spent most of Thursday just trying to clear her inbox of well wishes.

“It’s extraordinary,” Perry said. “I got a message from my voicemail that it’s full. I’ve never had that happen before. It had everything to do with this program and the prominence of this program and the reputation Terri built.”

Several of those messages were also about keeping some of Illinois’ best high school players in the state. Perry said she values a homegrown program but would build a roster based on the best talent available.

“I can’t tell you, in this short period of time after being named the head coach here, the number of times I’ve heard about keeping the great players within the borders,” Perry said. “I’ve gotten Twitter messages. I’ve gotten text messages. I’ve gotten phone messages. I get it.

“But at the same token, there’s great players everywhere. I am open — and have always been open — to finding the best talent that suits our system.”

New in town
Big Ten softball coaches run the gamut from brand new to seriously long-term stays. Here’s the breakdown:

Coach, Program    Years
Carol Hutchins, Michigan    31
Rhonda Revelle, Nebraska    23
Jacquie Joseph, Michigan State    22
Kate Drohan, Northwestern    14
Jay Nelson, Rutgers    9
Michelle Gardner, Indiana    7
Jessica Allister, Minnesota    5
Yvette Healy, Wisconsin    5
Marla Looper, Iowa    5
Kelly Kovach Schoenly, Ohio State    4
Amanda Lehotak, Penn State    2
Kim Schuette, Purdue    2
Tyra Perry, Illinois    0

NOTE: Maryland is in the process of hiring a coach after Courtney Scott Deifel left after one season for Arkansas