By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Not only did Auburn make the Dean's list, the Tigers were at the head of the class.
"There were certain schools that were on my list that I knew if the opportunity ever came, I would need to pursue. Auburn University was one of those schools," said new Auburn softball coach Mickey Dean. "It's at the top of the list."
When Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs started searching for a head softball coach, Dean's stellar resume at James Madison stood out.
"Coach Dean's accomplishments at JMU are remarkable," Jacobs said. "He's won consistently at every level throughout his career. He's done it the right way, winning with class and integrity while graduating his student-athletes at a high level. Auburn already has a winning program and we're going to get even better.
"He's a perfect fit for Auburn. A guy who believes in hard work. He'll be a great mentor for our young women on the softball team, not only for softball but for life lessons."
Dean's accomplishments at James Madison earned the respect of Auburn's seniors.
"I'm glad we're getting a coach who's going to be able to bring us to the next level," said pitcher Kaylee Carlson. "Knowing how much success he's had, every year they've gone to postseason that he's been there, so I'm excited for that and to see how he helps our team."
"They always have a great record and beat high caliber teams and they always go to the postseason," said outfielder Victoria Draper. "Super excited to get the ball rolling. To start that process of moving forward is an exciting journey."
Dean led the Dukes to four consecutive Colonial Athletic Association championships, increasing his win total in each of his five seasons, including a school-record 52-8 in 2017.
"The administration's support was unbelievable," said Dean, who also won four straight conference championships in his previous job at Radford. "The kids we were able to recruit there were just great, hard-working kids who really bought in to what we were trying to do and the culture we were trying to establish. I think that's why we were consistent over that time."
Support from Jacobs and Auburn's athletics administration influenced Dean's decision to come to the Plains.
"I'm very appreciative that Jay has the confidence in me to move the program forward," Dean said. "They were very up front about the program and the University. They were very sincere in their answers, very sincere in the care of my family. And that's what impressed me, besides the community support, it was just how much of the discussion was spent on my family."
'It was amazing'
Dean observed Auburn's community support firsthand in February when James Madison played two games at Jane B. Moore Field.
"It was amazing," Dean said. "The second game we played was a TV game and at that point it was a record crowd for an Auburn softball game."
Auburn and James Madison split their series, with the Tigers winning 4-0 on Feb. 25 and JMU winning 1-0 the next day in front of 2,111.
"It was pretty electric and it was a great game," Dean said. "The crowd was awesome. The facilities were unbelievable."
Dean recruited and developed JMU pitcher Megan Good, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I National Player of the Year, who pitched a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts in JMU's win over Auburn.
"If you've watched any postseason play, the game of softball is dictated from the circle," Dean said. "We were lucky enough to have two young ladies [Good and Jailyn Ford] who had an unbelievable work ethic but who were also unbelievable people. And it made it easy for their team to follow their lead."
After meeting with JMU's team Thursday evening in Harrisonburg, Va., Dean plans to be in Auburn this weekend to get started.
"My vision for the first 100 days is to really develop some trust and to work on a culture that the program can be proud of and that we represent Auburn University, our softball program and community, we represent them well across the nation," Dean said. "Then it comes down to working on fundamentals, developing trust within the staff and trust within the players, and working hard."
Dean's record (237-56 in five seasons at JMU, an .809 winning percentage) and reputation impressed Jacobs.
"As we started this process, Mickey Dean's name came up in every group we talked to in every aspect of the softball community," Jacobs said. "Once I had a chance to sit down and visit with him, I knew why so many people across the nation in the softball world thought so highly of him."
Auburn fans will not have to wait long to get their first look at Coach Dean's program. The Tigers begin their fall season on Oct. 14 with a doubleheader at Jane B. Moore.
"We just want them to be excited," Dean said. "The future is bright for Auburn softball. We want them to be as excited as we are to come out and watch a team and individuals perform for them."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer