In the world of sports, a head coach engaging with the media is a standard occurrence. Some make these media sessions their own, known for flamboyant remarks and headline-generating quips. Others say as little as possible.
But few coaches have left an impression on sports journalists quite like Carol Hutchins.
Over her storied 38-year career at the helm of the Michigan softball team, Hutchins impacted countless student-athletes, coaches and women in sports. Hutchins couldn’t have had such a lengthy tenure with the Wolverines without inspiring the athletes who compete for her, and she undoubtedly made a concerted effort to do so.
But, although it may have been inadvertent, she had a major impact on the media covering her teams as well.
“There is no coach like Hutch,” Ben Katz, who covered Wolverines’ softball in 2017, told The Daily. “She taught us that we needed to know the stats, we needed to know the roster, the opponents, the history of Michigan softball, the history of collegiate softball. … And when we didn’t ask those thoughtful questions, she would let us know.”
Hutchins’ impact stems from her expectations. She kept them a mile high, for everyone around her. Whether it was her players, assistant coaches or the Big Ten and NCAA, Hutchins always expected the very best from anyone affiliated with her teams.
And she extended those expectations to journalists too.
It’s the source of Hutchin’s frankness when answering questions. She didn’t expect all the reporting to be positive, or all the questions to be easy. It simply meant that if Hutchins was making herself available to the media, she expected that time to be worth her while.
So whether she meant to or not, those expectations — ground rules if you will — turned countless people into better journalists and professionals.
“(Covering Hutchins is) a good lesson in reporting, because she doesn’t make it easy,” 2019 and 2020 softball reporter Lane Kizziah told The Daily. “In the best way possible, she challenges people to ask really good questions, to really get to know the team and know what they’re talking about.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many; everyone who chronicled Hutchins’ teams over the years saw her style as conducive to creating better reporting.
“There was no better prep for anything else you wanted to do — at The Daily or otherwise — than covering Hutch,” Max Marcovitch, who covered the 2017 team, told The Daily. “With Hutch you always had to do the work, because she would call you out if you didn’t. … So if you tried to mail it in (at) the interview, she would always be very frank with you.”
Angelique Chengelis — who’s covered Michigan softball for The Detroit News since 2007 — has seen Hutchins inadvertently improve the reporting skills of numerous young professionals in the field over the years.
“For a young reporter, for sure, I think it’s good to have that experience with someone who’s got such a strong personality,” Chengelis told The Daily.
Hutchins’ personality made for cut-to-the-chase media sessions that were often direct and substantive, lacking ‘coachspeak’ and filler comments. While that meant she was always business-first, it also made way for memorable moments in media availability throughout her career.
Katz recalled a time when he asked Hutchins why she went up to visit right-hander Megan Betsa for an early-game meeting in the circle — a job usually reserved for assistant coach Jen Brundage. Hutchins said that she simply wanted to calm Betsa down. Instead of talking about softball in the chat, she asked Betsa why she doesn’t get her own walk-up song when visiting pitchers in the circle.
The reporters followed up on the lighthearted comment, asking Hutchins what her walk-up song would be. She answered, in a serious tone and without hesitation:
The Bitch is Back by Elton John.
Sure, Hutchins is a serious coach. Chengelis referred to her as “one of the toughest coaches” she’s been around at Michigan. But Hutchins is authentically herself, creating lighthearted moments throughout. Whether it was talking to the media about her beloved dog Marley or entertaining reporters by describing the difference between jungle and zoo tigers when evaluating her players’ efforts, Hutchins created unforgettable experiences for those covering her teams.
Her unique style — often curt and direct, with a mixture of comedic anecdotes — made covering Hutch so memorable that many who covered the Wolverines, whether at the same time or not, feel a sense of camaraderie, a shared connection enabled by Hutchins.
Most reporters who covered Hutchins already knew they were covering a legend. A trailblazer in not just college softball, but collegiate athletics as a whole. Even for those who reported on Michigan softball before she became a household name throughout all of sports, it was very clear that given enough time, Hutchins would make major waves.
“I’m not surprised,” Ken Davidoff, who covered Hutchins in 1991, told The Daily. “If you told me 31 years ago that Carol Hutchins would go on to become the winningest softball coach ever, I would have said, ‘Ok, I believe that.’ Because of the way she conducted herself, with professionalism and integrity.”
Hutchins knew how to win games — and her stats speak for themselves. But she also knew how to make a profound impact in a way that is uniquely hers.
That impact spans the people she coached, the people she mentored, the people she competed with and against, the people who watched her from the stands.
That impact is massive.
It even reached the people who were there to cover it all.