TAMPA — Turns out, USF softball coach Ken Eriksen will have a lot more to celebrate this weekend than his 50th birthday.
Eriksen has been named coach of the U.S. women's national team. The longtime Bulls coach, who turns 50 Monday, will lead the national team in 2011 and 2012, including the 2011 Pan American Games and the 2012 World Championships.
Eriksen was an assistant on the U.S. women's team that won gold at the 2004 Olympics, but he won't have the chance to repeat the feat since softball was dropped from the 2012 London Games. But he will become the first man to represent USA Softball as both a player and a head coach.
"As an athlete, it's a huge, huge honor," said Eriksen, who played at the elite fastpitch level after graduating from USF, retiring in 1997 after winning an ASA men's national title with the Tampa Smokers. "As a coach, it's a huge responsibility, to make sure the athletes have a great opportunity to win championships."
Eriksen was touched Friday when a meeting called by athletic director Doug Woolard turned into a surprise celebration (complete with cake), with coaches and school president Judy Genshaft congratulating him.
But Eriksen, an assistant on the U.S. team from 2001-04 who rejoined in 2009, faces a tough time. The U.S. women won three gold medals and a silver from 1996-2008, but eight players have left the program to participate in the new, four-team National Pro Fastpitch league.
"It's a task I have ahead of me right now," said Eriksen, a former USF baseball player who became its softball coach in 1997. "It's not like you've been handed the keys to the New York Yankees that just came off two, three world championships. You came with a whole brand new team that has the reputation of the New York Yankees, so it's a challenge."