Jeff Breeden put on one of the few blue polo shirts he owns Tuesday afternoon.
The nine-year Riverdale coach mainly wears Cardinal red. But there will be plenty more blue in his wardrobe over the upcoming weeks.
The only Rutherford County softball coach to ever win a TSSAA state championship, resigned from Riverdale and accepted the head coaching position at MTSU.
“It’s a big change,” said Breeden, 46. “It’s going to be a big challenge. It’s a great university over here. This job has been in the back of my mind for several years.
“We’re going to roll our sleeves up and go to work.”
Breeden spent the past 22 seasons as a head softball coach in the high school ranks. At Riverdale he accumulated a 432-67-3 record and led the school to the TSSAA’s 2009 Class AAA state title. His teams won the District 7-AAA tournament every year he was at Riverdale. Breeden has coached Riverdale to four state tournaments.
Prior to coaching in Murfreesboro, he spent 13 seasons at Coffee County. He leaves the prep softball world with a mind boggling 764-188-3 record.
His 2011 Riverdale team was ranked as high as No. 4 in the national prep rankings.
Riverdale finished 45-13 in 2012 and won the District 7-AAA regular season and tournament before falling to Soddy-Daisy in the Class AAA sectionals.
“Jeff has proven at Coffee County and Riverdale he can coach winning softball,” MTSU athletics director Chris Massaro said. “He will bring toughness and direction to our softball program, and I am eager to see the results under his leadership. I have watched his teams the past few years from afar and I have been impressed with his success.”
Breeden will be challenged at MTSU. The Blue Raiders finished 16-33 under former coach Sue Nevar this past season. MTSU has not been to an NCAA regional since former coach Karen Green led the program there in 2000. Green is now the head coach at Siegel High.
Green said she felt recruiting was the biggest challenge between coaching in high school and college.
“It’s a cut-throat business,” said Green, who was the first MTSU softball coach in school history. “The biggest difference is that everybody is good. It’s about who can get the best athletes there and who can coach them up. It’s not like in high school where you take what tries out. Now, you are competing with the best to get the best.”
Green was pleased with MTSU’s decision. She has coached against Breeden since Siegel High opened during the 2003-04 school year, Breeden’s first season at Riverdale.
“I’m excited for him,” Green said. “He’s done about all he can do at the high school level. It’s not often you get a chance to stay in town. I think he will do fine.”
Longtime assistant Dennis Weaver said Breeden has had other opportunities to coach in college previously.
But Breeden has stayed away, saying the only job he’d leave Riverdale for was MTSU.
“I think he will do great things,” Weaver said. “He has the ability to inspire young ladies to give their best.”
Turning the MTSU program around
MTSU hasn’t had a winning record since 2004 when Cindy Connelly’s team went 34-23.
Now Breeden, the fifth person to coach the MTSU softball program, will attempt to get MTSU back to the level that Green had it.
Breeden said his recruiting plan is to “draw a 350-mile circle around Murfreesboro” and use that for his core recruiting. But he also knows he must recruit regionally and nationally.
That may encourage more fans to see their games.
“I think Jeff knows that we’ve got great local talent and hopefully some pretty decent talent that can be recruited there,” Oakland coach Janice Morey said. “I’m excited for Jeff to pump things up a little bit.”
Breeden said he realizes that to turn the program around it will take a significant amount of hard work.
“There are some guarantees that I’m going to give in this thing,” Breeden said. “And that is we are not going to get outworked as a staff and as a team. We’re going to be disciplined and we are going to be exciting to watch.”
So what can fans expect to see from MTSU’s offense?
Breeden said it will depend on his personnel. He’s not set in stone.
“I like slash and dash,” Breeden said. “I like kids that can run, slap, lay the ball down and steal bases. But if we’ve got crushers, let’s go hit home runs. If we have a mixture, let’s mix it.
“That will depend on the personnel and how it all goes.”
Breeden is a hard-nosed coach, who demands perfection. And that won’t change.
What will change is the color of his shirt.