Since Mike McGovern assumed command in 1990, the UIC softball team has become synonymous with success. In just over a decade, he has almost single handedly built the Flames into one of the most respected programs not only in the Midwest, but in the country. Besides his duties as softball mentor, McGovern is also an assistant professor in the College of Kinesiology and is currently the only tenured professor to also hold a position as head coach.
During his 11 seasons, McGovern has led the Flames to 537 victories and a .726 winning percentage. His teams have claimed seven conference titles, including the last five Midwestern Collegiate Conference crowns. They have appeared in five NCAA Regional Championships and in 1994 advanced all the way to the College World Series.
Adopting a business-like approach, McGovern had a plan on how to build his softball team. He recruited the best talent in the country, not only the best student-athletes from the Midwest, but California as well. In the 10 years prior to him being named head coach, UIC compiled a 173-211-1 record, but with his new philosophy the Flames became the NCAA’s eighth winningest softball team in the ‘90s. With his mix of players from California and the Midwest, he has been able to produce UIC’s first-ever Division I All-American – Samantha Iuli – 12 All-Great Lakes Region athletes, 24 first-team all-conference honorees and the last three MCC Player’s and Pitcher’s of the Year.
Last season was another triumphant campaign for the Flames, as they notched their fifth-straight MCC title, fourth consecutive 50-win season and made their third straight appearance in the NCAA Regional Tournament. McGovern, who had his team ranked in the NFCA/USA Today Top 25 poll all season long, also reached a personal milestone as he achieved career win No. 500 on Feb. 26, with a 4-2 win over Wichita State. Once again, the Flames cleaned up at the MCC awards banquet as Stefanie Christoferson earned Player of the Year honors, Samantha Iuli took home the Pitcher of the Year award while all in all six players earned All-MCC recognition. The 1999 season may very well have been the most remarkable in UIC history. McGovern guided his squad to a school-record 67 victories, tying the NCAA record set by the University of Arizona in 1998. UIC also spent two weeks ranked at No. 10 in the NFCA/USA Today Top 25 poll, its highest ranking ever. After years of being overlooked, McGovern finally was recognized as the MCC Coach of the Year. Pitcher Samantha Iuli earned Second Team All-America honors and six Flames garnered first team all-conference honors. UIC won both the MCC regular season and tournament titles for the second straight year and won two games in the NCAA Regional which was played on UIC turf at Flames Field.
During the 1998 campaign, McGovern picked up his 400th career victory when the Flames captured the championship of the Buzz Classic with a 3-1 win over Utah. The Flames rolled to their third consecutive MCC regular-season championship and won the MCC tournament for the first time since joining the league. With the conference title, the Flames made their third NCAA appearance under McGovern. UIC was ranked in the Top 25 the final seven weeks of the season and Samantha Iuli was honored as the first All-American in school history.
McGovern prepped his 1997 team for conference action by playing one of the most challenging schedules in the country. UIC faced 15 teams that earned berths in the NCAA Tournament, including five of the eight teams that reached the College World Series. The Flames shattered nearly every single-season team offensive category and erased three old pitching standards en route to a 52-28 record. UIC also posted its first undefeated conference season (14-0) since going 17-0 in the Mid-Continent Conference in 1994. Six Flames garnered MCC First Team honors and freshman Gina Arnold was lauded as the league's Newcomer of the Year.
In 1995, McGovern guided his squad to a 51-16 record, including a 14-2 mark in MCC play. The team made its second straight NCAA regional tournament appearance, collecting a 1-2 ledger. Several McGovern recruits were lauded with post-season accolades as four players were named to the All-Great Lakes Region Team. The 1994 Mid-Continent Conference Coach of the Year, McGovern picked up his 200th career victory on April 29, 1994. Guiding his charges through the conference schedule with a spotless 17-0 mark, he claimed his first-ever Mid-Con title. The Flames reached as high as third in the regional rankings and finished the regular season 19th in the national polls. UIC's success would hardly end there, however.
McGovern saw his ultimate dream become a reality when, on May 14, 1994, UIC captured the title at the Mid-Continent Conference Championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. His softball Flames had become the first team in UIC history to reach NCAA Tournament play. After defeating DePaul, Notre Dame and Big Ten champion Indiana, the dream season ended with a trip to the 1994 College World Series. The only team east of the Mississippi River to participate in the eight-team field, the Flames dropped two games to national powerhouses Arizona and UCLA.
The 1993 club started the season by winning its first 21 games en route to a national-best 57 victories. That mark, coupled with 14 losses, set a then school record for wins and winning percentage (.803). After finishing with a third-place showing in the Mid-Continent Conference, the Flames compiled a 3-1 ledger at the National Invitational Championships.
A 1965 graduate of the University of Illinois, McGovern received his master's degree in educational administration from Illinois in 1966. He joined the UIC faculty in 1965 and also served on the coaching staffs of the school's football and men's volleyball teams. In 1983, he earned his Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University. In addition to teaching, he has been an area director for Chicago Health Clubs and has served as the NCAA National Youth Sports Program director at UIC since 1967.
An avid athlete himself, McGovern was honored this past year as he was named to the Chicago 16” Softball Hall of Fame.
McGovern and his wife, Pat, reside in Lincolnwood with their two sons, Shawn and Brett.
UIC UNDER McGOVERN