Michael Lotief resigns, stays on as volunteer

by Leslie Turk

The UL softball program - the athletic department's most successful squad on a national level, a five-time Women's College World Series participant and the country's 11th-ranked team entering the 2013 season - is without its head coach less than 24 hours before its season opener.

The UL softball program - the athletic department's most successful squad on a national level, a five-time Women's College World Series participant and the country's 11th-ranked team entering the 2013 season - is without its head coach less than 24 hours before its season opener.

Michael Lotief, after a decade of involvement with the program, submitted his resignation as head coach Friday effective immediately. In a surprise move, however, Lotief will remain on the staff as an unpaid volunteer assistant coach, meaning that the Cajun staff now has two volunteer assistants who have both served as head coach of the program. Lotief will forfeit his salary for the balance of the 2013 season.

UL Sports Photo

Megan Granger, a senior on last year's NCAA Super Regional squad who was added to the UL staff in January as a full-time assistant, will serve as interim coach for an undetermined period, beginning with Saturday's outings in the Houston Hilton Plaza Classic.

Her naming is the latest in a series of changes on the staff over the past eight months. Stefni Lotief, Michael Lotief's wife and co-head coach, stepped down in July citing family issues, leaving Michael Lotief as solo head coach. Pitching coach Joy Webre-LeBlanc resigned in December citing family issues. Josh Johnson was hired in August as the program's second assistant.

Michael Lotief says that family issues were paramount in his decision, turning aside speculation that disagreements with athletic administration and increased work duties played a major role.

"This has been weighing on my mind ever since our kids were born," he says. "This isn't new ... the question was how can I stay involved with this program that I love, put the welfare of these student-athletes first, and still be fair to our family and have healthy and balanced lives.

"When our children were younger, we were able to raise them on the field ... they rode the bus with us, they were with us, it's not like they were separated from their family. Now that one's a teenager and one's 12, things are different. They want their own lives and [to] be able to do different things. I'd rather be a great dad than a great coach."

Lotief also disagreed with the nearly universal cries that the timing for his decision could not be worse.

"People are saying the timing is horrible," he says, "and that's the mindset of those that don't understand the process. The timing is perfect if you understand the process of college athletiecs and the preparation that we go through to get ready for the season.

"The preparation is done, the recruiting is done, the scheduling is done. At the end of the season, you have everything going on .. you have kids in recruiting. The fall isn't the best time because you have to get the freshmen acclimated to the team, play the fall games and do the fund-raising, do the scheduling. The preseason isn't good because that's boot camp, you're putting in the system and trying to decide on a lineup.

"I disagree with all of that. I know I'm always out there a little bit, but this is the perfect time. There's never a good time, but this is absolutely the right time."

The 24-year-old Granger, a native of St. Martinville, played in 41 games and made 25 starts for UL last season, hitting .279. She was on the Cajun squad for three years after transferring from Louisiana Tech, where she signed after completing her high school career at Teurlings Catholic.

In abrupt and unforeseen developments, which shocked fans and followers of the nationally-renowned program, Lotief reportedly had a marathon meeting with UL President Dr. E. Joseph Savoie and Athletic Director Scott Farmer Friday afternoon. That followed speculation that Lotief had resigned as the Ragin' Cajuns coach earlier Friday.

The Cajuns open their season with a 4:30 p.m. Saturday game against Lipscomb at the tourney hosted by the University of Houston. UL faces Iowa immediately after that game at 7 p.m. and will also meet Iowa at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. UL opens its home season Wednesday, Feb. 13, against Mississippi State at 6 p.m. at UL's Lamson Park.

Lotief was a day away from his debut as solo head coach of the nationally-prominent UL program, after serving as co-head coach with his wife Stefni since the 2003 season. Stefni Lotief, who took over as Cajun coach for the 2001 season after the departure of 20-year veteran Yvette Girouard, stepped down in July to spend more time with their family.

Stefni Lotief has since taken a position at Ascension Episcopal High as director of advancement. She is still listed as a volunteer assistant for the Cajun program and has been involved with coaching duties during the run-up to the 2013 season.

Michael Lotief, who joined his wife as a volunteer assistant coach when she took the job in 2001 and was named co-head coach prior to the 2003 season, gave no indication of any problems within the program at a Wednesday press luncheon. Instead, Lotief expressed his excitement at the prospects of his team, which compiled a 53-6 record in 2012 and advanced to the NCAA Super Regionals at Arizona State.

"We have a bunch of young players, but their being young has nothing to do with potential," he said Wednesday. "I don't think this team has question marks. Their potential is great, so long as we communicate."

Stefni Lotief won 601 games in 12 seasons as head coach before stepping down. She was the program's first-ever All-America selection in 1989 and the initial first-team All-America pick one year later. She also served as an assistant pitching and catching coach under Girouard in the 1996 and 1997 seasons.

Michael Lotief, a 1985 UL graduate who earned his law degree from LSU in 1988, began a law practice in Lafayette in 1992 and began coaching fast-pitch softball in his spare time in 1994. He helped develop the nationally-recognized Louisiana Reflections summer softball program in that time, winning five state titles, making five national tournament appearances and winning an 18-under national title in 2000 before joining the UL program as a volunteer assistant the following season.

Even with Granger taking over interim duties, speculation onĀ  a coach to take over the program for the balance of the 2013 and going into the 2014 season was rampant. One local sports talk radio show spent significant time Friday discussing the possibility of Girouard - the program's founder and winningest coach - returning to the program. Girouard, a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame, served as head coach at LSU for 11 years after her 20-year career at UL before retiring at the end of the 2011 season.

Girouard was unavailable for comment Friday.

A native of Broussard, Girouard was the inaugural coach for the UL program in 1981 and compiled a record of 759-250 in her 20 seasons, leading the team to 10 NCAA tournaments and three Women's College World Series berths - a third-place finish in 1993 and back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 1995 and 1996. Girouard had a 526-171-1 record at LSU, winning three SEC titles and going to the Women's College World Series twice in 2001 and 2004. She is one of only three coaches in NCAA softball history to take two teams to the World Series.

Other speculation centered on Alyson Habetz, a Crowley native who serves as associate head coach at Alabama. The former Cajun standout and UL Hall of Fame honoree has been on the Crimson Tide staff of coach Patrick Murphy - himself a former Cajun assistant under Girouard - and helped lead Alabama to its first national championship last spring.