In a season that has seen plenty of adversity, Kelly Rae Finley was named the USA Today Sports Network SEC Coach of the Year. “It is a great honor to receive this award from my peers,” Finley said of the Coach of the Year accolade. “This team has worked so hard all year and it is a great accomplishment to be recognized by the other SEC coaches.”
Finley, in her first year as head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs softball team, has led her squad to a 38-19 record and an appearance in the SEC Tournament. This past weekend, she was recognized for her achievements in leading the Mississippi State Bulldogs softball program to a first-place finish in the SEC West and an appearance in the SEC Championship game. The Bulldogs ultimately lost to Florida in the championship game, but Finley’s coaching prowess was still duly noted.
The Bulldogs have overcome injuries to several key players, including pitcher Kylie Bass, to earn their spot in the tournament. “It’s definitely been a challenging season,” Finley said. “The girls have battled and fought hard all year long.”
“Kelly Rae is one of the brightest young coaches in the country,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “She has a tremendous work ethic and is an excellent teacher of the game. I am thrilled for her and her team as they continue their journey in the SEC Championship Game.”
Finley has been a part of the Auburn softball program for many years, first as a player and then as an assistant coach. She knows what it takes to win at this level, and she has instilled that winning mentality in her team.
“Kelly Rae is very deserving of this award,” said Auburn Athletic Director Allen Greene. “She has worked tirelessly to build a championship-caliber program, and her players respond to her passion and competitiveness. We are all proud of her accomplishments.”
Finley was previously an assistant coach at Georgia for six years prior to being named head coach. She is also a former standout player at LSU. She was an assistant coach at Clemson University for five years. She has also coached at several other universities, including Duke and North Carolina.
“Coach Finley has done an amazing job this year,” Georgia outfielder Cortni Emanuel said. “She’s been through a lot of adversity, and she’s handled it so well. We’re all really proud of her.”
Finley will lead the Bulldogs into the SEC Tournament as the No. 5 seed. They open play against No. 12 Missouri on Wednesday. Finley is in her fifth season as head coach at Auburn and has a career record of 191-101. She is a two-time SEC Coach of the Year and was named National Coach of the Year in 2013.
Auburn’s softball team is currently ranked first in the SEC and third in the nation. Finley has played a major role in their success, and she is undoubtedly one of the best coaches in the country. Her players adore her and credit her with helping them achieve their goals.