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Walton continues to build on success at University of Florida

By Loren Kopff

Tim Walton may have started as just one of the guys on the Cerritos High School baseball in the late 1980s. But in 10 years, he has emerged as one of the top NCAA Division I softball head coaches who, in late May, won his second straight College World Series championship with the University of Florida.

But Walton’s success doesn’t just stop at the University of Florida. He is currently an assistant coach of the United States Junior Olympic softball team that just wrapped up action in the World Cup in Irvine on July 5. His time with that team was just the latest of accomplishments that Walton has added to his resume, which seems to be growing and growing. And all of this comes roughly around 25 years after possibly joining the Marines, which was one of his original thoughts as a teenager.

Walton finished up his elementary school days in Buena Park before attending Carmenita Junior High School. Growing up in Cerritos, he played baseball for Frontier Little League and during his final three years in high school Walton, who graduated from Cerritos in 1990, played junior varsity baseball under Jim Chapel. As a junior, he was part of the 1989 California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 4-A championship team, coached by Richard Emard, that defeated Hart 4-1. Although he didn’t play much, nor was one of the top players, Walton reflected back on his time at Cerritos and what it was like growing up in that environment.

“I’ve played Division I baseball, I’ve played professional baseball and I wasn’t good enough to play on our varsity team my junior year,” Walton said. “We were loaded and we had a CIF Player of the Year in Mark Mattingly. We had a bunch of guys play professional baseball.

“We were good at everything,” he continued. “Cerritos High School was so good in so many different things. But playing on that team, the big thing that I can remember was just how much I was challenged every day in practice.”

Walton credits many people for his early success in baseball, which transformed into his softball coaching career. He says Bill Stark, whom he played for at Frontier Little League and at Cerritos High, taught him a lot about the game. Then there was Tommy Edwards, who played at Cerritos College and one day drove Walton over there to introduce him to former head coach George Horton. Walton remembers that he didn’t know much about Cerritos College and was a redshirt his first year there, even though he was contemplating going to the Marines.

“I was a late bloomer, so I was always okay in baseball,” Walton said. “I was good, but then when I got around these other guys, I was just okay. After I was there for one week, one month, one year, my ambition was to leave Cerritos College with an AA [degree] and go play Division I baseball.”.

Walton learned everything about coaching and teaching the game at Cerritos College. Current University of Tennessee head coach Dave Serrano, who coached at Cerritos College in 1991, became the latest person to teach Walton about the game. By the time he was a sophomore, Walton was the No. 1 ace of the Falcon’s pitching staff. He was heavily recruited by Dave Snow, who was coaching Long Beach State University at the time and former California State University, Fullerton head coach George Horton as well as Pepperdine University, San Diego State University and the University of Southern California.

Walton had lots of offers but it was former University of Oklahoma head coach Larry Cochell who talked to Walton about the number of West Coast players on the Sooners team, and was the only coach to talk to Walton about legitimately winning a National Championship.

Walton played for the Crimson and Cream for two years and the Sooners went to the College World series in both of those years. He was the winning pitcher in the 1994 National Championship game against Georgia Tech, a 13-5 triumph.

Walton’s college playing days ended in Oklahoma’s final regular season game against the University of Nebraska when he blew out his arm and required Tommy John surgery. Still, he was drafted in the 25th round by the Philadelphia Phillies. After going through rehabilitation, he went to spring training in Clearwater, FL in 1996 and played in a couple of short seasons, even playing rookie ball with Jimmy Rollins.

“To be honest with you, it was a check off my list,” Walton said. “I played professional baseball and you can’t take that away from me. I had a lot of fun doing it, but I knew I wasn’t a big leaguer. I was a good baseball player but not a big leaguer.”

While Walton never advanced higher in his baseball career, his coaching career was just about to take off. His first job of a year and a half was at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, which is also where he met his wife, Samantha. In January 1999, a softball coaching job opened up at Oklahoma and although he didn’t know anything about softball at the time, he was told he would be coaching the outfielders. Walton would join head coach Patty Gasso’s staff in the middle of the season and it would only get better from there.

Walton admitted he adjusted quickly from the baseball atmosphere to that of softball but it was definitely different for the first year on the Norman campus. He said there were different mentalities.

“After I coached for half a season, I really loved the passion of the players,” Walton said. “I loved how hard the players worked. I didn’t realize that girls could work that hard and do those things. So after I had been there for a short period of time, I didn’t see them as girls or guys. I saw world class athletes.”

After the Sooners defeated the University of California, Los Angeles to win the 2000 National Championship and cap off a 66-8 season, Walton was offered another baseball job but stayed at Oklahoma. Then after two years with the Sooners, he began to pay attention to head coaching opportunities and began interviewing for open positions in his third season.

“When I first got into softball, I thought I would do this for a short period of time and then I’ll jump back into baseball,” Walton remembered. “Once I figured it out, probably the first two years, I felt, ‘man, I love softball. This is fun and I feel like I’m good at it’.”

Walton finally got his first head coaching job in softball in 2003 when he took over a Wichita State University program that gone 20-34 in 2002. In his first season there, Walton’s team went 39-20 overall and 16-9 in the Missouri Valley Conference. In his third season, he coached the Wheat Shockers to a 46-18 season, the most wins in school history. Wichita State advanced to the Norman, OK Regional where it lost to Oklahoma 2-0 and the University of Oregon 3-2 in eight innings. Walton would compile a record of 123-64 at Wichita State.

“That’s where I think the irony goes back to Cerritos High School and Cerritos College,” Walton said of his experience at Wichita State University. “We learned how to defend everything. So at Cerritos High School and Cerritos College, we didn’t just go play baseball games and hope we win. We prepared for every situation of the game. And then you win those situations at those moments and that’s ultimately going to win you the game. Most people try to play the opponent and I was taught at a young age, you don’t ever play the opponent. You play against yourselves.”

In his second season at Wichita State, Walton interviewed at a couple of Southeastern Conference institutions but was turned down because of the lack of coaching experience in one of the toughest softball conferences. Shortly before Memorial Day in 2005, the University of Florida job opened up and during the interview, Walton had to convince athletic director Jeremy Foley he has a system that works and that he could also recruit. On June 25, Foley called Walton to officially offer Walton the job and from that point on, Walton has enjoyed success at the Gainesville campus.

“In standards of everyday business and everyday athletics, we were a good program,” Walton said. “We had good players, good academics, and good kids. We were good but we weren’t great, and the expectation at Florida is, we’re going to the College World Series. The program had never been to the College World Series, ever. We had never even been to a Super Regional. So at the end of the day, the resources that Jeremy Foley has given this program are a lot.”

In late May, the Gators became the third NCAA Division I school to win back to back National Championships. In 10 seasons at the University of Florida, Walton has compiled a 553-118 mark. He has also been the SEC Coach of the Year four times and in 2008, the Gators finished 70-5, the most wins by any NCAA softball team. But to Walton, everything has been about recruiting great players and he says he wants to own California and Florida for recruiting.

“Nothing has been easy,” Walton said. “I’ve coached at Florida for 10 years. We’ve been to the World Series 70 percent of the time. We’ve been to a Super Regional eight out of 10 [years]. We’ve been to a regional 10 out of 10 [years]. We’ve won the conference four times. So, nothing has been easy.”

Besides coaching at the college level, Walton has also had other opportunities. In Dec. 2009, Don DeDonaties, the CEO of the United States Specialty Sports Association, approached Walton about the chance to coach the Pride softball team of the National Pro Fastpitch softball league. Walton said that opportunity was more of learning a little bit more about the game as he still had not felt as confident in certain parts of the game.

“This has been a great opportunity,” Walton said. “I haven’t had an opportunity to work with ASA or USA Softball. My goal isn’t to try to go ahead and accomplish all of these things. But I do have a check-off list of things that I’d like to experience to make sure I’m not missing anything. If there’s an edge in coaching, and I’m not talking about recruiting and I can learn one thing from USA and ASA Softball, to me, it’s worth it.”

And if that wasn’t enough, Walton was recently put in a pool of 25 coaches with four coaching the U.S. National team and another four coaching the Junior National team this year and next year. He was asked to coach the latter team.

“I chose to do this tour with USA because the World Cup was in Irvine; my family is here,” Walton said. “The World Championships are in Oklahoma City; my wife’s family is there. It was going to allow me an opportunity to be around my family but still coach. The number one priority I have is with the University of Florida and I can’t do both.”

Off the field, Walton is a strong advocate of academics and in the summer of 2012, the Gators program was one of 30 Division I programs to post Academic Progress Rate scores the top 10 percent of all softball teams in the nation in multiple years.

“I think the point of all good coaches is they’ve had all good role models,” Walton said. “Although I’ve kind of elevated my status as a coach to a whole another level by winning National Championships, at the end of the day, it’s the foundation. My parents did a great job of raising me, and my grandparents [too]. We all live and learn, we all make mistakes and we all do things.

“But the guidance and the support of the people who have always influenced us in everything we do at a young age…I think the message would be you’re always influencing kids whether you know it or not,” he continued. “I’ve been around some really good coaches that have taught me how to do things and I’ve been around some coaches that have taught me how not to do things as well.”

Walton plans on coaching the Gators for now, stating that he loves the job, the university, who he works for and the players. He says he doesn’t plan on leaving. But if his life goals change and there’s a reason to do something different, then he would do that.