Richmond softball head coach Rick Coughlin and fans behind him celebrate as his Bobcats make the final out and win their third straight Class D state championship on June 20, 2015 at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

Rick Coughlin wasn’t going to be the coach to smile and tell a player to “get ’em next time” after a strikeout. Or give someone a pat on the back after missing a grounder or firing wide of an open net. Players for his Richmond softball and soccer teams learned that they were expected to play well, and miscues weren’t going to be tolerated.

And in the end, they found out there was a method to the madness.

Coughlin, who coached the Richmond softball team for 29 years and the boys soccer team for 25, won 12 state championships and turned the Bobcats into a Class D softball juggernaut, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Coughlin led the softball team to seven state titles before retiring in 2016, and the Richmond boys soccer team to five state championships before retiring after the 2005 season. He was a fixture in the community, nearly synonymous with Richmond athletics, and even with his illness, the news still packed a punch for the players who played and the coaches who worked for him.

“It was sad news when we heard it. … He was an amazing man,” said current softball coach Tony Martin, who before taking over for Coughlin in 2016 worked with him as an assistant for eight years. “The last few years, you could tell he was failing a little bit. Seeing that was sad in itself. … It’s very sad news, to see him gone now, for sure. He meant a lot to the whole community itself, whether it was a softball coach or middle school basketball, he coached soccer. He was a well-rounded individual in the sporting world of Richmond, for sure.”

On the softball field, where he coached until 2016, Coughlin’s record spoke for itself. He compiled a record of 373-125, and led the Bobcats to Class D championships in 1995, 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2013-15. He won the final 52 games he coached, beginning what became Richmond’s celebrated 88-game winning streak from 2013-17.

“Rick was one of the best coaches that I’ve ever had,” said Meranda Martin, Tony’s daughter and a star pitcher with the Bobcats from 2014-17. “He was very smart, and he knew just about everything with the game of softball. He was just an amazing coach, and the three years that I played for him … I had the best three years ever, considering the three state championships that we won.”

Teams playing Coughlin’s softball teams could expect two things: The Bobcats were going to make them work, and they weren’t going to be the ones making the mistakes in the field.

“Definitely defensive. Every time we’d get out there and go take defense, he’d say ‘This is what wins games,'” said Kelsea Anair, a third baseman from 2013-16. “‘This is what you need to do. Focus on this. Defense wins games.’ He’d say that all the time.”

“He loved to be aggressive on the bases. He loved playing small ball,” Tony Martin said. “You never knew what was coming next. You knew it was going to be some sort of small ball, or some play or something. That was part of the game he was really good at.”

He wasn’t an easy-natured players’ coach, however. Coughlin was tough on his players, and drove them hard while insisting that they be dedicated and driven when on the softball field. For players new to his style, especially freshmen, the adjustment could be intimidating.

“He was very hard on people at times, and some people took it the wrong way,” said Meranda Martin. “If he was mad at you because you were fooling around, he was very stern. … He definitely was not an angry coach. When he got mad, he yelled, and some people might have thought he was angry. But that was just the way he came off.”

With time, however, the players saw why Coughlin was wired the way he was. By holding his players to high standards, he got them to play at the highest level.

“My freshman year, we were all so scared of him. We’d heard stories about him,” Anair said. “(Later) with the incoming freshmen, we were like ‘You’ll see at the end, when you’re a senior and you haven’t lost a game, why he’s that way.'”

His players quickly saw the passion he brought to coaching. Coughlin wanted the sport to be important to his players, in part because it was important to him.

“Every single year, no matter how much he had aged, he would still come out and he would teach everybody to slide,” said Jamie Plummer, who played for Coughlin from 2010-13. “He’s running the bases, throwing batting practice with no L screen. He was just fearless.”

For the players eager to win, Coughlin’s style was a fit.

“I’m a very competitive player … and he was the same way,” Meranda Martin said. “He and I were both on the same page with that. … We really clicked right from the start. I loved his coaching style. He always put his foot down when he needed to, and he let girls have fun when he needed to. He knew the right situations and he always knew what to do.”

“He really pushed us, challenged us and had so much enthusiasm and passion for the game,” Plummer said. “He did whatever he had to to kind of get that out of us. Clearly, he did some things right.”

He taught his players the sport, but after their careers were over, those players saw that his style had prepared them for life beyond the field.

“A lot of life lessons came with it too from him,” Anair said. “Work hard, and you’ll have the reward at the end.”

“His name will be well remembered in our community forever,” Plummer said. “It’s a very sad loss for us … but he will be certainly remembered well, well into the future, which he deserves.”

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