Fran Troyan (center) made a major career change to become Lehigh's softball coach.
Over the past decade, Fran Troyan has built one of the most successful women's softball
programs in the nation at Lehigh University.
But he took a less-than-traditional road into coaching.
Back in the fall of 1989, Fran's future wife, Sue, was a graduate assistant at Lehigh, where she was studying to get her MBA. Meanwhile, Fran was entering his final year of law school at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. After he graduated from law school in the spring of 1990, Fran moved to Allentown, while Sue lived in Bethlehem and still had a one-year academic and coaching commitment remaining to Lehigh.
The plan was for the two of them to decide what direction they would head in with their advanced degrees once Sue completed her MBA studies.
"However, Lehigh's athletic director, Joe Sterrett, fell in love with Sue's work and offered her a job as assistant basketball coach," Fran recalls. "But in order to fund the position, she had to be the women's softball coach, too."
The problem? The women's softball program was a serious fixer-upper that had gone 8-30 the previous season. But Sue accepted the position with one condition: That Fran -- a former Academic All-American baseball shortstop at Allegheny College who had played some fast-pitch softball, too -- would be able to help out.
The dynamic duo quickly turned Lehigh's softball fortunes around, winning a Patriot League title within three years.
"My wife and I are extremely competitive people... We can't play Yahtzee without trying to win," Fran says. "So we really got after it recruiting-wise in the Lehigh Valley and things turned around rather quickly."
After winning a league crown in 1993, Sue became pregnant with the couple's first child, Katie, so the Troyans only coached softball that year. During Sue's year away from the women's basketball team, the head coach resigned and Sterrett came to the Troyans with yet another proposition.
"Joe asked Sue to take over the women's basketball team
and me to be her assistant coach and me to take over the softball program and Sue to be my assistant coach," Fran recalls.
That left Fran facing quite a decision: Would it be torts or women's sports? In the fall of 1995, he left his law practice in Allentown and became Lehigh's softball coach.
"Some people still think I'm crazy to have done that," Fran says. "But once you get into college coaching and get to work with student-athletes the caliber of [2005 tri-captains] Kelly Kliewer, Emily Ling, and Jessica Young, the rewards are tremendous."
Since making that decision, Fran Troyan has built Lehigh into a perennial Patriot League softball powerhouse. Entering the 2005 season, he had a 277-176-2 record (including a 124-27 mark in league play) and had led the Mountain Hawks to eight regular season titles, three league tournament titles, and two NCAA Tournament appearances.
How has he done it? By still recruiting the Lehigh Valley and neighboring New Jersey hard, but also by reaching out to softball hotbeds such as southern California (where he landed outstanding third baseman Kliewer and pitcher Heather Hamaski) and Binghamton, N.Y. (where he recruited arguably the best pitcher in Lehigh history, Ling).
"Lehigh offers the perfect combination of academic and softball excellence, so I expect the program to keep on winning after I'm gone," says Kliewer, who will graduate in the spring.
"Coach Troyan truly cares about each of his players," Ling says. "He goes out of his way to help you succeed in all areas of life. Who wouldn't want to play for someone like that?"
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin