So there Heather Tarr was, sharing a table three years ago with Washington assistant athletic director Ken Winstead at a Wallingford cafe...
OKLAHOMA CITY — So there Heather Tarr was, sharing a table three years ago with Washington assistant athletic director Ken Winstead at a Wallingford cafe, her past and her future all bound up in what she called a “business plan” of eight to 10 pages.
She was 29, and confused and conflicted. She was an assistant softball coach at Pacific, but she was a Washington alum, a former player, and darn it, a school owed a grad more than the silence she got when she mailed in a résumé, hoping to become the coaching successor to Teresa Wilson in 2004.
“I guess maybe you have to know somebody,” she said. “I was like, ‘I was educated by this university. I played here. Can I at least get a call?’ “
So she called them. Winstead was the point man for the search committee. Athletic director Todd Turner hadn’t even been named yet.
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They had lunch, she and Winstead, and she pulled out the business plan. On the cover, she played upon her roots with a photograph of her as a UW third baseman, and another of her, 8 years old, posing on Washington football picture day with her big brother and coach Don James in those gold polyester pants, circa early 1980s.
And then in the place where a third photo might go, there was simply a large question mark.
Winstead said he thought the plan was cool. Tarr was unsure: Should she let him take it, knowing it might end up in the same dead end as her résumé? Or keep it, and risk the possibility it might never have any sway with the search committee?
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Might it never see its way into their hands? Her last couple of years in the program, William Scheyer — the problem doctor — was around, and she wondered: “Are they going to nick me for that?”
She kept it.
“I want to be able to show this,” she thought. She says now, “I put a lot of pride into that. I’m like, ‘That’s my life right there.’ “
Fortunately, Winstead came through. A couple of top-flight UW players when Tarr was a UW volunteer assistant in 1998 told him they might not have come but for Tarr.
“A current Pac-10 coach told me, ‘You need to hire Heather Tarr,’ ” Winstead said Saturday from Seattle.
Tarr met with the search committee, and when Turner got the AD job, he rerouted a flight to Seattle from Nashville, Tenn., to interview Tarr in Las Vegas.
She was hired, for better or worse, to breathe life into the program that was then running a close second to football for bad publicity at the UW.
Sometimes the best thing an administrator can do is get out of the way and listen to others. Turner has made some debatable moves — hoisting football ticket prices after a 1-10 season; complicity with his men’s basketball staff in curtailing the popular Gonzaga series; playing hardball in the firestorm over women’s basketball signee Katelan Redmon and her attempt to rescind her letter of intent — but this one has come up aces.
Today, Washington plays for the right to make the best-of-three finals in the Women’s College World Series. Even Tarr — bright, energetic, collegial — couldn’t have seen that her first year, when she looked out on the UW diamond and wondered if she had done something really stupid.
She loved the softball complex, loved Seattle. And then she thought, “Why did I want to go into this, just because it was such a challenge? Like, there’s people [players] that maybe don’t want you there as a coach — that’s not a fun feeling. And I’ve always been, like, the favorite coach by my players. For that not to be able to happen the first year … “
It was a year just to get over with, a 35-25 season with a 6-15 Pac-10 record. But she was getting people in place, her recruits, chiefly star pitcher Danielle Lawrie.
Last season, it was 35-22, and 10-11 in league. And now this, seemingly out of the blue, the first time Washington has won as many as two games in the WCWS in eight years.
“It’s more of a relaxed intensity,” says senior Dominique Lastrapes, describing the evolution from the hard-driving Wilson’s style to Tarr’s.
Tarr’s people skills are perhaps no better illustrated than in her ability to maintain a relationship with Wilson and go about mending the factions that developed after the Scheyer problems.
“I was trying to back her, trying to help here,” Tarr says. “Meanwhile, I’m trying to say, ‘Coach, can I apply, should I apply?’
“She supported me in my endeavors. She was out of the picture, but I needed her support to make sure she was OK with it. First and foremost, I’m her player.”
Once, they took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a test that reveals personality traits.
“I’m totally opposite of her,” Tarr says.
But they talk occasionally, even if some subjects are hard. Tarr believes Wilson eventually found the empire she built hard to manage.
“When you get to the top five, top three every year, you’re going to get the best players,” Tarr says. “Sometimes the best players aren’t the best players for you as a coach. You’ve got personalities that maybe aren’t going to see it’s bigger than themselves.”
Tarr hasn’t yet encountered that, but she’s only 32. The question mark has become an exclamation point, thanks to the woman with the plan.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org