Tracey Kee, one of the most successful softball coaches in Conference USA over the last few years, is taking over North Texas’ program, the school announced Wednesday.
Kee spent 16 seasons as the head coach at East Carolina and guided the Pirates to the NCAA tournament four times, including three trips in her last five seasons.
“I’m very excited,” Kee said. “Anyone who knows anything about college softball would be excited to take over a program in the state of Texas, where there is so much talent. I tried to recruit Texas while I was at East Carolina, which was tough since it was a couple of states away.”
Kee takes over for T.J. Hubbard, who left the program in June to spend more time with his family and later took a job as an assistant coach at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Kee spent 26 seasons at ECU as a player, assistant coach and head coach. She was named C-USA’s Coach of the Year three times and has a 684-362 career record. UNT will play its first season in C-USA this year after founding the program in 2004 as a member of the Sun Belt.
“It gives me a head start having been in Conference USA, even though the lineup [of schools] will change somewhat,” Kee said. “I am very familiar with the programs. When you have an idea of the caliber of the teams at the top of the conference and have played them on a regular basis, it helps you understand them, what kind of talent they have and how to prepare for them.”
Kee led ECU to back-to-back C-USA tournament titles in 2010 and 2011 and will receive a second chance to coach in the league after being fired following last season.
Kee and associate head coach Natalie Kozlowski were dismissed in September after an initial investigation found an emotionally hostile environment in the program, identified potential NCAA violations and noted shortcomings related to oversight of property and fiscal matters, according to a statement released by ECU chancellor Steve Ballard.
An ECU spokesman said Wednesday that a report was submitted nearly a year ago on potential violations to the NCAA.
Kee said Wednesday that she could not comment on the circumstances surrounding her departure from ECU, but she and Kozlowski released a statement after being fired.
“At the conclusion of East Carolina University’s investigation related to the softball program, we were asked to submit our resignations,” they said in the statement. “We have chosen not to resign because we believe that such actions would be interpreted as admissions of wrongdoing. ... We regret that we cannot continue to work and move forward with the quality program that we have built.”
UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said the school conducted a thorough review of Kee and her time at ECU.
“We never hire a coach without doing our due diligence,” Villarreal said. “We have talked to people close to the situation, including those at the conference office, and feel comfortable and excited about her becoming part of our staff.”
Kee takes over a program that improved during Hubbard’s tenure. UNT posted a 29-24 record last season and finished above .500 in three of his final four seasons at the school. UNT posted an 81-169 record in the program’s first four years before Hubbard was elevated to head coach before the 2008 campaign.
Villarreal said that he was pleased with the pool of candidates UNT officials had to choose from after Hubbard’s departure. Kee quickly rose to the top of that list due not only to the performance of her players on the field, but their success in the classroom as well, he said.
ECU posted a perfect multi-year score of 1,000 on the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate report released in May 2011 and ranked in the top half of Division I softball programs with a score of 984 in the latest report released in June. The report ranks a program’s performance in keeping its athletes in school and eligible.
Kee met a few of UNT’s players when she interviewed with school officials.
“What really swayed me was that everyone spoke so highly of the girls on the team and how impressive they were,” Kee said.
The time Kee spent with UNT’s players helped convince her that the school would be the right fit as she looked to resume her coaching career.
“It was time for me to move on, regroup and find a place where I could be happy personally and professionally,” Kee said.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.