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Called to Coach: Kevin Fagan

Called to Coach: Kevin Fagan

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of Hurricanes Magazine.

Kevin Fagan has always considered himself to be highly competitive.

That drive to succeed – and to win – helped him earn a football scholarship at Miami and was on full display during his first year as a starter when he was part of the Hurricanes’ 1983 national championship team.

It helped propel him from being a fourth-round draft pick to a successful NFL defensive lineman who enjoyed an eight-year career with the San Francisco 49ers and won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1988 and 1989.

When his football career came to an end, Fagan embraced retirement before he found a new way to channel his competitive drive: tournament bass fishing.

Still, his family had another idea for the father of six, whose three eldest daughters were discovering their own knack for competition thanks to soccer and fast-pitch softball.

It was a suggestion that would change Fagan’s life.

“I was gone every weekend, multiple days, fishing bass tournaments and doing all of that. I think when my oldest was like six or seven, my dad was like, ‘You need to start coaching them in softball.’ They were in a local league then, but I wasn’t involved as coach,” said Fagan, who began coaching his daughters in travel ball before eventually coaching them at Dunnellon High School near Ocala. “I got to the point where I was like, ‘You know what? This isn’t about me anymore. It needs to be about them.’ I started coaching them and it was a perfect fit.

“I got to be with my kids, be invested with them, and compete at the same time. I spent time with them and watched them grow through the trials and the ups and downs of sports. I loved it. I loved the game of fast pitch [softball]. I thought about getting into football coaching … but the time constraints on a football coach are huge. You don’t have quality time with your family. So, I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to invest in fast pitch’ and that’s how I started on this journey.”

It’s a journey that has brought Fagan and his daughters – Kasey, Sami, Haley, and later, Cameron – a series of championships, opportunities, and countless memories.

It’s also, most recently, brought Fagan to a corner of northeast Georgia where he now leads the softball program at Emmanuel University.

Photo Courtesy Emmanuel University

Under his guidance, the Lions have posted back-to-back 30-win seasons. His impact on the program was immediate, with Emmanuel advancing to the NCAA Division II Softball Championship Tournament and winning the Conference Carolinas championship during his first season there in 2021.

But Emmanuel isn’t the only place where Fagan has experienced softball success.

Before taking the reins of the Lions’ program, Fagan coached at the College of Central Florida, where he produced 20 FCA All-Americans and 10 NJCAA All-Americans and helped the program achieve a series of firsts, including the first conference championship in school history and the first national championship tournament appearance.

At Dunnellon, meanwhile, Fagan led the Tigers to back-to-back state titles and a national championship in 2010 before stepping down to briefly coach football.

He eventually returned to coaching softball, though, and while that may not have been the post-football career he imagined while winning championships in Miami and San Francisco, he discovered that developing student-athletes and watching them grow in the sport that had meant so much to his daughters proved a special calling.

“I think it’s really rewarding, obviously, to see a player take advantage of your coaching, to have them buy in and improve in whatever technical or tactical aspects of the game you’re coaching them on,” Fagan said. “And then, the character improvement, seeing kids that when they got here their first year, they were the last ones to help get things off the bus or they were the last kid to grab a rake or the last kid to help set up the pitching machines or whatever.

“Then you see the character development and now they’re leading. They’re saying, ‘Hey, guys, let’s grab our rakes. Let’s do this. Let’s load the bus.’ That growth is just huge. It’s so rewarding, and we see it here at Emmanuel. … To see kids developing work ethic and character and trying to be more servant-minded is probably the single most rewarding thing.”

Photo Courtesy Emmanuel University

As he’s navigated his coaching career, Fagan has tried to draw inspiration from the coaches who impacted his life, including a pair of legends: former Hurricanes coach Howard Schnellenberger and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bill Walsh, whom Fagan played for in San Francisco.

Their influence, Fagan said, impacts him even today.

“Howard Schnellenberger taught me how to be punctual, organized, and prepared. There’s never been, in my opinion, a better coach when it comes to being organized and punctual. I mean, if we had to be on the bus at 12:58, it wasn’t one o’clock, it was 12:58. Super organized, very prepared and I took a lot of that from him. I had the utmost respect for him,” said Fagan, who was inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame 2003. “And then my other coaches in the NFL, I mean, we all know Bill Walsh. I felt like he was incredible at getting guys to bond as a team. I think the 49ers in the 80s and early 90s were probably the most cohesive teams in the NFL and I think that was a huge credit to him. That’s what he instilled from the get-go.

“We’d get to training camp, and his opening speech was [about how] there were no rookies, there was no hazing. We were all in it to win a championship and we were all in it together, coaches and players. When we loaded the plane, he made sure players got on first and staff, front office personnel, everyone else got on last. When people were fed, players were fed first. He created that mentality, ‘Hey, it’s about you guys.’ And I got that from him. That was huge. So, my coaching [influences], I got from somebody else. I had some really, really good role models.”

Today, Fagan has become a sort of coaching role model himself.

Not only did each of his daughters play softball at the Division I level, but three – Kasey, Sami, and Haley – have followed his footsteps and embarked on their own coaching careers.

Kasey and Sami are both assistant softball coaches at Liberty University, while Haley is on her father’s staff at Emmanuel as a volunteer coach.

And, Fagan says, Cameron Fagan – who is currently an infielder at Virginia Tech – has expressed an interest in becoming a graduate assistant when her playing days are over.

“They all are so invested in the game. They know the game. They love the game, so for them to go into coaching is neat, because their dad was a coach,” Fagan said. “Softball’s in their blood. We lived it for many years and they’re just kind of carrying the torch. They enjoy coaching and investing in the young ladies, more than just the coaching. They want to be examples of character and the right way to do things … and that’s pretty cool to witness and see.”

Photo Courtesy Kevin Fagan

Because coaching and spending time with his family have dominated his schedule for years, Fagan concedes he hasn’t been able to make many return visits to Coral Gables. There hasn’t been much time to return to San Francisco for reunions with the 49ers either.

But, he says, he tries to keep tabs on how his alma mater is doing and to this day, is grateful for his time in orange and green and all the experiences that came with it.

“Miami is probably the happiest time of my life before I found Jesus Christ. My memories there, it’s where I met my wife … and where we saw a program that was nothing develop into a national champion,” Fagan said. “The friends, the camaraderie, it was such a high point in my life. … and the things that were instilled in me at the University of Miami by Howard Schnellenberger, I’ll be forever grateful for my time there.”