As former Michigan softball coach Carol Hutchins took the podium for one last press conference to cap off her legendary 38 year career, one message rang true.
Hutchins may be done coaching, but she’s far from done.
“I’m not going far,” Hutchins said. “I have a lot of passion, and I leave here with my passion intact. Now my passions are just going to be redirected a little bit.”
Should Hutchins choose to redirect her passions back into the sport of softball, she’s already laid the necessary groundwork to enact the change she desires. As the winningest coach in NCAA Softball history, and one of the longest tenured, Hutchins has earned the right to impact the sport like no other.
During her career, Hutchins often focused on not just improving the strength of the Wolverines as a team, but the strength of the Big Ten conference as a whole. Her work has already begun to pay dividends, as the conference placed a record six teams in the 2022 NCAA tournament field, including national seed and eventual Women’s College World Series contender Northwestern.
“We’ve had a lot of heated discussions over representation,” Hutchins said after the 2022 tournament field was selected. “Now, look at our stadium, look at our competition, and what we’ve been able to do up here. It took a lot of people with vision beyond the first dimension.”
Working off the field instead of on it, Hutchins could take on a role tasked with envisioning the future of the conference she spent nearly four decades coaching in. She could further level the playing field between the Big Ten and the Pac-12 and SEC — the traditional powerhouse conferences.
But improving the Big Ten is only one of Hutchins’ bullet points on an ever-expanding agenda to improve college softball. Whether it’s expanding video replay or trying to reformat the schedule to prevent cold-weather teams from traveling for the first month of the season, Hutchins has no shortage of battles.
But even when she was winning championships, Hutchins’ most impactful work always took place off of the field. As a self-proclaimed “Title IX boomer,” Hutchins has fought tirelessly to even the gap in collegiate athletics between men and women.
“I’ve evolved in my time here,” Hutchins said. “Where we were, there were athletics, and there were women’s athletics. Now, there are just athletics.”
More than anyone else, the University of Michigan owes the advancements it has made towards gender equality to Hutchins. Whether it was fighting within the athletic department for improved facilities, or putting together teams talented enough to force people to recognize and watch them, almost every action Hutch took advanced the recognition and support of Michigan’s women’s athletics.
So it’s impossible to imagine a world in which Hutchins won’t continue to fight for women’s equality in sports.
How she does is up to her.
Despite leaving the Wolverines on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to envision Hutchins returning each year for the Michigan Softball Academy, a program she began to raise money in support of breast cancer awareness. Alternatively, she could seek a role within Michigan’s athletic department or even the NCAA itself, identifying Title IX inequalities and working to remedy them.
“I’d like to be a value to the world of athletics,” Hutchins said. “I want to be of value to the Michigan athletic department. I have a lot to say and a lot to do.”
As Hutchins identifies how she plans to add value to the world from now on, it’s hard not to remember the ways where she is most valued by so many.
Hutchins has served as a role model for countless women, from her assistant coaches, to her players, to fans who grew up watching her coach. Though the coaching portion of her career is over, Hutchins is sure to find new ways to lead and inspire future generations of women.
Perhaps one of her closest companions, the newly-minted head coach of Michigan softball Bonnie Tholl, is the one who puts it best.
“The impact of Carol Hutchins on this program, the sport of softball, coaches around the country and the athletes she has coached is truly immeasurable,” Tholl said. “Her work as an advocate and a mentor will continue to positively impact generations and generations to come.
“I am not standing here today if it wasn’t for the education of Carol Hutchins.”
Wherever she decides to direct her passions, whatever cause she chooses to fight for, Hutchins will give every last ounce of her effort to the fight. It could be softball, the broader athletics landscape, women’s equality, or simply taking some time off to spend with her family. Whatever Hutchins does next, she will do with a conviction like no other.
“I came here as a girl with potential,” Hutchins said. “I leave a woman with no limits.”