By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – In the last 15 years, Bonnie Graham's name has been synonymous with Tennessee Tech softball. Whether it was as a record-shattering pitcher, an NCAA-caliber coach or as a Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Famer, Graham has just about seen it all.
But on Thursday, Graham decided it was time to take on a new role and begin a new chapter as she resigned from the head coach position after seven seasons at the helm.
Graham will remain in Cookeville, but move on to a position with Cookeville Leisure Services, allowing her to spend more time with her family.
"Unfortunately, anyone who works in athletics knows you don't get a lot of free time or weekends away," Graham said. "It was definitely a hard decision, but it's one that I think will have a better impact on my family and work/life balance.
"I'm excited for it. It's definitely going to be something different, and I really don't know anything outside of coaching as a career, so I'm excited for this new challenge and starting a new chapter."
The search for the fifth Golden Eagle softball coach in the program's 35-year history will begin immediately. Assistant coach Carly Van Auken will serve as the team's interim coach until the new head coach is selected.
Still, while the news came as a surprise to the Golden Eagle players, they understood the reason.
"I really think a lot of them were really shocked," Graham said. "A lot of them made me cry with the extremely nice words they had to say to me. It certainly made it harder on me than I was expecting, but it was definitely a bittersweet moment. They had so many nice words of affirmation for me. It's just hard to realize I'm leaving and these were my 20 kids and I love them as much as my own kid."
The former Bonnie Bynum still holds the Tech records for wins (103), strikeouts (1,021), innings pitched (994 1/3) and is second in earned run average (1.37). She also holds the single-season records for strikeouts (330), wins (34), saves (7), appearances (58) and tied for shutouts (14). She was named the Ohio Valley Conference's Pitcher of the Week nine times in her career, and also leads the team in no-hitters thrown with five.
She was named to the all-OVC team all four seasons as a pitcher, one second-team and three first-team nods, as well as earned the OVC Pitcher of the Year award twice in 2006 and 2007. She was named the conference's Female Athlete of the Year in 2006. Bynum was also named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-Region team in 2006 and 2007.
Graham and her Golden Eagle teammates put together one of the most dominant runs in program history with three straight OVC Tournament championships and two regular-season titles, with NCAA tournament appearances for three straight years.
Graham pitched what could be seen as the program's biggest win to date, a 4-2 victory over top-seeded Alabama in the Tuscaloosa regional in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, allowing two runs on four hits and six weeks to fend off the host. The Golden Eagles defeated the Crimson Tide and California to reach the regional's championship game.
Following her graduation in 2007, Graham joined the Western Kentucky coaching staff for five seasons as an assistant coach, then returned to her alma mater in 2012 to assist legendary Tech coach Tory Acheson.
The next season, Graham was promoted to head coach after Acheson's resignation. Two years later, Graham guided the Golden Eagles to their seventh NCAA appearance in program history with the 2015 Auburn regional.
Graham ends her coaching career with the Golden Eagles with a 153-213 record, 78-84 in the OVC.
Still Tennessee Tech will be near and dear to Graham's heart as not only was she was inducted into the Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2017, Graham also met her husband, athletic trainer Adam Graham, and had their first child, daughter Hattie.
"Absolutely," Graham said. "I love Cookeville, I love Tech. Obviously it was not an easy decision. I'll probably still be at every sporting event – I'll probably be able to come to more sporting events now and cheer on more teams at Tech."
With the players the Golden Eagle team has coming back, the cupboard is definitely not bare.
"That really made the decision harder, because I feel like where we are with our current players, we're setting ourselves up for turning this program back around," Graham said. "I have no doubt whoever the new head coach is going to be, these players are going to be ready to compete."
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information