By- Michael Ashcraft, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
KENT, Ohio - Head coaches always take a "one game at a time" approach and seldom look back to reflect on any personal accomplishments or milestones while in the middle of a season.
Kent State 13-year softball head coach Karen Linder is no different. Despite winning back-to-back MAC regular season titles (2007, 2008) and two MAC Tournament championships in the last three seasons, Linder’s focus remains locked in on the present and not on past accolades.
Linder’s latest achievement, though, admittedly was a personal, emotional, and special one that made her look back on not only her coaching career but also her entire life.
With a doubleheader sweep of Ohio in Mid-American Conference action on Friday, April 10, Linder earned career victories 617 and 618 to tie and then pass her late father and former longtime Otterbein College baseball head coach Dick Fishbaugh (617 wins) in career victories. Linder has since added to the total as the Flashes currently lead the MAC East. Fishbaugh, who coached the Cards 33 years, and Linder are the only father-daughter combination in NCAA history to win 600 games as baseball and softball head coaches.
"It’s an honor," Linder said of being in the company of her father. "He was a mentor to me and had the greatest influence of anyone on my coaching career."
It probably should come as a surprise to no one that Linder became a head coach and a highly successful one at that considering that she grew up in a dugout and learned from one of the Division III level’s best baseball minds.
Fishbaugh began coaching the Otterbein baseball team when Linder was in the fourth grade. Ironically enough, Fishbaugh had been a baseball standout under the great Bob Wren at Ohio and set the NCAA record for most RBI in an NCAA tournament game.
Fishbaugh came to Otterbein with experience as a high school assistant football coach upon graduation from Ohio. He maintained his tremendous passion for baseball though, and built Otterbein up into one of Ohio’s great small-school powers.
"I think my dad’s strength in coaching was his hitting philosophy and his ability to coach hitters," Linder said. "They were always known as a real strong hitting team."
Otterbein’s hitting under Fishbaugh’s watch helped the Cards to 617 triumphs in 33 years, including an appearance in the Division III College World Series title game against rival Marietta. Despite all the achievements and greatness on the field, the way Fishbaugh carried himself is what Linder most attempts to emulate as the head coach of the Golden Flashes today.
"He was very, very concerned with principle, integrity and ethics," said Linder. "Everything was by the book. That’s the thing that I learned from him more than anything, is to uphold the standards of the game. That was something that was always very important to him. His players loved playing for him because he was laid back, but he had high standards for them."
Fishbaugh became so respected in the state of Ohio and across the country that he was on the national Division III Baseball Committee and was chair of the region for many years. He is the only college baseball coach that was inducted into the Ohio High School Athletic Association Baseball Hall of Fame despite never coaching high school baseball.
As a young girl, Linder constantly volunteered to travel with her father and his teams and keep score or shag balls during infield. Linder has taken what she learned and observed from her dad and turned it into an impressive coaching career of her own.
"When my sisters or my brother come watch us play, they see some of my mannerisms that are similar to his or some of the things that I say are similar to what he says," said Linder. "Most of my hitting philosophies are the same things that he taught his guys. There are a lot of things that I say or do or look at or focus in on that I learned from him."
Linder picked up 253 wins in her first NCAA head coaching gig at Ashland from 1986-96. Linder arrived at Kent State for the 1997 season, and by 2007 she was the winningest coach in school history. Linder has mentored one All-American, seven All-Mid-East region selections, 21 Academic All-District IV honorees, 35 Academic All-MAC picks, 35 All-MAC players, nine MAC All-Tournament Team members, three MAC Pitchers of the Year, two MAC Tournament MVPs and one MAC Player of the Year.
"He was great because I could bounce things off of him when I first started coaching," said Linder of her relationship with her father. "Some of it was strategy, but some of it was dealing with kids and issues and discipline issues or how to deal with umpires or administrators. He was always helpful in that aspect."
More than wins or trophies or honors, Linder has followed Fishbaugh in loving the game, respecting it, and teaching it the right way to younger generations.
"To my father, baseball was the fundamentals and teaching and playing the game the way it was supposed to be played," said Linder. "He’d rather watch little kids play baseball in the backyard or Little League than go watch a professional game. That was probably his biggest passion in life, being able to teach the game and use it to teach the kids and athletes about the game of life."
To anyone who follows Kent State softball, it is clear the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, and that might be the biggest Fishbaugh-Linder accomplishment of all.