OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso sat next to three male head coaches — Alabama's Patrick Murphy, Florida's Tim Walton and Oklahoma State's Kenny Gajewski — in a press conference before day one of the NCAA Women's College World Series.
The four coaches are on the same side of the WCWS bracket, while another press conference held shortly after featured three female head coaches — Washington's Heather Tarr, UCLA's Kelly Inouye-Perez and Minnesota's Jamie Trachsel — and a lone male head coach, Arizona's Mike Candrea. In the entire championship, it's evenly matched; four men and four women.
Gasso was asked whether or not that was a problem in her sport, and was reminded of Notre Dame women's basketball head coach Muffet McGraw and her comments on hiring women only.
Gasso slowly gandered at the men to her right and laughed.
"You're setting me up," she said as the room erupted in laughter. But what followed was a thoughtful analysis from Gasso on the topic of gender in NCAA coaching staffs across America.
"Look, to be honest," Gasso said, "the one thing that makes me the happiest is when my players go into coaching. That makes me happy and I'm proud because I feel like they might see that I'm able to do it."
"I would echo the same thing," Gajewski said. "We're starting to see some of our kids that are wanting to coach. You know your program is moving in the right way when they want to stay in and do what you do."
"These guys have made our sport better," Gasso said gesturing to the coaches to her right. "Guys have made our sport better. I'm not saying you just have to hire women only. Men in our sport have made our sport better."
But Gasso doesn't deny that the player expertise is present. Gasso wants her players to be coaches, which brings actual experience to teams and the game itself. It's a women's sport.
"These players know the game because they play it," Gasso said. "There's something to be said about that, the experience of being on the field."
The discussion of job opportunities for women continued a few hours later from ESPN panelists play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins, broadcaster and New York Mets baseball operations advisor Jessica Mendoza, two-time Olympic gold medalist Michele Smith and sports commentator Holly Rowe in a press conference.
"I would agree with Patty that it's a personal decision and if you think that there's a guy that will be the best person for that job then I don't have a problem with that," Rowins said. "But I do think that there should be an opportunity to put more and more women in the discussion in the process to potentially be hired for those jobs so that a coach can decide who is the best person for that position."
Rowe, who has been an ESPN sideline reporter for sports ranging from women's college sports to the WNBA and the NBA, thinks women could have more opportunities for coaching jobs if there was an increase in female administrators.
"I'd like to see more female administrators because that's who's hiring," Rowe said. "Let's get some of these student athletes who have all of these qualities and all of these skills — competitive, organized, go getters — and let's get them pushing into these administrative roles, and then we'll see these hiring changes made."
"It shouldn't be about the gender but we absolutely need to make opportunities for women to stay in the game," Smith said, "even though women have different hurdles that they have to surpass with families and maybe raising children."
Mendoza, a trailblazer who advises the Mets, thinks women shouldn't only be included in women's sports.
"I'd like to see a crossover; a two-way street," Mendoza said. "It'd be cool to see female assistant coaches in baseball."
The Sooners play Alabama at 8:30 p.m. CT on Friday, May 30, at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. The match will be broadcasted on ESPN2.