The entire history of the Chattanooga State Community College softball program has been a golden era, but the actual Golden era just started.
Beth Keylon-Randolph resigned Friday afternoon after 11 years as coach of the Lady Tigers to become the head coach at a four-year university in a conference that put four teams in NCAA Division I regionals last spring. Chattanooga State's president, Dr. Jim Catanzaro, immediately named Blythe Golden as her successor.
"We were looking for someone who will connect with our students, who is committed to winning, who understands junior college athletics and who will be the star coach of the future," Catanzaro said. "We've had the star coach in Beth -- I think she's the best in the country -- and I believe Blythe is going to be that star coach."
Golden, 27, has assisted Susan Painter the last four years at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla. Playing for Gulf Coast in 2006, she knocked Chattanooga State out of the 2006 NJCAA Division I national tournament with a three-run home run. After playing two years at Stetson University, she returned to the Lady Commodores and became a big part of their continued success -- calling pitches, among other duties.
Painter and Keylon-Randolph were co-coaches of Team USA in the World University Games in Thailand in 2007. Gulf Coast went 39-17 last season and split with Chatt State in a late-February tournament.
"Blythe not only was a great player, but she's a student of the game and I think she's a great teacher of the game," said Keylon-Randolph, whose new job is expected to be announced officially Monday. "As much respect as I have for Susan, Blythe clearly has helped take Gulf Coast to a new level, and she knows our program and will keep it going strong."
Golden is the third coach of a program that has been a fixture at the nationals, with 17 region championships in 19 years and perennially high NJCAA rankings. Frank Reed started the program and went 476-87 before taking over at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Keylon-Randolph went 602-118.
That culminated with a 62-5 record and the national championship in 2012.
Catanzaro had advertised for Keylon-Randolph's position for a couple of weeks before she resigned, just to be ready to move quickly if she chose not to stay. He said "about 15" serious candidates inquired about the job even in that time frame.
"We had interest from all over the United States," he said.
He said he liked Golden's "youth, energy and commitment to excellence," and he said she could be part of the school's development of a sports management program. Her bachelor's degree is in that, and she has a master's in kinesiology with an emphasis on coaching from Texas Woman's University.
"I was very aware of Chatt State and what a great opportunity this would be," said the native of Marianna, Fla. "I love the two-year and everything about it, and I thought this would be a great start to my [head] coaching career. I'm really excited to be able to step into a program that is nationally known for excellence. I just want to build on the foundation Beth and [assistant coach Steve] Jaecks have created."
The lifetime Floridian said she also is "excited about coming to Tennessee, and Chattanooga seems like a great place to live, with a lot to offer."
Catanzaro introduced Golden to the Chattanooga State players Friday, with Keylon-Randolph present and helping with the transition.
"I like her so far," first baseman and pitcher Lacye Walker said. "We'll have a real meeting with just her and the team on Monday."
Right fielder Marina Wilkerson is the only other regular starter remaining from the national-title team, and she said Golden "seems like a good person to take Coach Randolph's spot. It will be hard to get used to, but we're looking forward to starting practice with her and helping her build a name.
"Gulf Coast was a good team. Every time we played them we had to come ready to play. It was always a good game."
Of Keylon-Randolph, Wilkerson said, "We're going to miss her. She's made a difference in all of our lives, but we all understand the opportunity she has to move up. And we're going to keep in touch."
Walker, who starred at Grace Academy, started taking lessons from Keylon-Randolph at 9 years old.
"We've had a longtime connection, and I am going to miss her, but I don't blame her for leaving," Walker said.