Expectations are sky-high for college coaches, especially in the SEC.
Excellence is the standard and that applies to anyone from a first-year coach to a someone with sustained success like Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
It could be argued that Tim Walton is the SEC softball version of Saban.
He had three years of coaching under his belt and he took on that pressure when Florida gave him a shot to head up the Gators' softball program in 2006. Now Walton is known as the head coach who brought Florida back-to-back national titles in 2014 and 2015, while bringing immense success to the program over the long haul. He current;y has the Gators playing in the Women's College World Series for the remarkable 11th time.
Walton was just 33 years old when he began with the Gators and by the end of the 2006 he was holding the record of most wins (43) by a Florida coach in their first season. The next season resulted in a 50-win year and by 2008, Walton led the Gators to an NCAA-record 70-win season and their first Women's College World Series berth.
Florida continued to build on its success, but the 2013 season was when a national title was the most realistic. Walton led his team to a 58-9 record, a SEC Tournament championship and the fifth WCWS appearance.
The Gators were ready to go all the way following 2013 and it resulted in consecutive national titles.
As noted by Assistant Director Herb Brooks from Florida, Walton read a book called "Lone Survivor" and it sparked an idea heading into the 2014 season.
"I have the secret ingredients - here it is," Walton said to his team, via FloridaGators.com. "I want each one of you to give up two things for the season, just give up two things, but I also want you to do one more thing than you normally would. I'm not telling you what you have to give up. I'm telling you that if we can all give up two things and do one more thing above everything else then I think this team has a chance. I think we've got a special opportunity in front of us."
That's when everything changed.
Brooks discussed Florida's roller coaster ride in 2014 that was capped by the program's first title win. The Gators lost key players in Hannah Rogers and Stephanie Toftt following 2014 and that's when Walton realized his team needed a new identity every season.
"Each team, each year and sometimes each week, it's a new team. (In) 2015, as much as we were prepared, it was a new season and a new team with people doing it for the first time.," Walton said as he reflected on the back-to-back national titles.
The Gators made an unlikely run to the WCWS this season and it came from a hot run through a 3-0 sweep as host of the Gainesville Regional and a 2-1 triumph over Georgia Tech in their best-of-three Super Regional series. Florida was the only SEC team to make it to OKC as they outscored opponents 47-10 in five of its first six postseason games.
Ahead of the WCWS in a pre-game press conference, Walton discussed the unique characteristics that helped his 2022 group through adversity.
"You know, it's really hard when you start --when you do this as long as I do, everything is a comparison," Walton said. "You compare the goods to the bad, a lot of different things. I think one of the things that this team really embodies, just the 'team' word, the chemistry on the field, the chemistry in our work ethic and just the constant ability to communicate with each other the right way, push each other and lead not only by example, but also lead with some encouraging and sometimes discouraging words. You have to be honest and accountable
"I think this team embodies that. It's really hard to -- when you start looking at the players up here, they're all so unique. This is a down year for the Gators, and here we are in Oklahoma City. This is a down year for Charla Echols, and she's hitting .300 with 50-some RBIs, and how the heck is that a down year for anything? How is this a down?"
It took a while, but the Gators came together as a team and started rolling exactly when needed. Walton's group entered the postseason with the 14 seed and didn't have championship expectations.
But he took his unique approach with a highly skilled group and set them up for an opportunity to get the program's third NCAA championship win.
"The expectations that we have and that our fans have and people around the country have for the Gators are really high," Walton said. "I think this team early on didn't embrace that. I think we struggled with that a little bit because of the expectations and the constant words out of our team and the constant words out of our -- maybe my mouth was just, 'Hey, it doesn't matter where we're at. Where do you guys want to go and how do we get there?' I think we just really started creating a road map to get there."