Ralph Cole announced his retirement as head coach of the Bears softball team after 23 seasons at the helm following the 2013-14 season. During his time leading the softball program, Cole racked up 625 wins against just 317 losses and two ties, a .663 career winning percentage. At the time of his retirement announcement, Cole ranks 10th among all active coaches in the NAIA in career coaching victories. He took over as the Bears' head coach prior to the 1992 season.
Cole was an eight-time conference coach of the year during his career with the most recent honor coming after the 2012 season when he was named the Mid-South Conference Coach of the Year. He led the team to nine conference championships and six NAIA Tournament appearances. He won his 600th career game in the home opener this past season with a 10-9 victory over Cumberland University on March 1, 2014.
At no point in his career was Cole more dominant than during his time in the Mid-Ohio Conference when he was named MOC Coach of the Year on six different occasions from 1992-98. In his first year as head coach, Cole certainly hit the ground running as he won the program's first conference championship during the 1992 season as his team went 31-12-1 with a 12-2 record in the MOC. The Bears placed 10th in the NAIA that season in their first appearance at the national tournament.
That season only proved to be a sign of things to come as Cole won the Mid-Ohio Conference title in each of his first seven seasons before Shawnee State transitioned to the American Mideast Conference. During his seven years of ruling the MOC, the Bears racked up a record of 105-5 against MOC foes, including unbeaten conference seasons in 1993, 1995, and 1996.
From April 23, 1994 through April 11, 1997, the Bears ran off 43 consecutive MOC wins. Immediately following that 43-game winning streak, which was snapped with a 3-2 loss to Walsh in eight innings, Shawnee State ran off 25 straight conference victories. The Bears also had a 24-game winning streak in conference play that spanned the 1993 and 1994 seasons.
One of the most memorable seasons for Shawnee State Softball came during the 1996 season when Cole guided his team to the 1996 NAIA National finals. During that season, the Bears ran off 42 consecutive victories, spanning from March 20 through May 17. Up until the 2012 season, that streak ranked as the longest winning streak in the country. It now sits second in the record book. To get to the finals of the national championship, Cole guided the Bears to victories over No. 1 Oklahoma City and No. 2 Hawaii Pacific in back-to-back games.
The Bears finished the 1996 season with a 44-4 record, the fifth-best single season winning percentage (.917 winning percentage) in NAIA history. The Bears also earned a third national distinction that season as they went 90 games without being shutout from March 19, 1996 through May 8, 1997. That is the second-longest streak in NAIA history. Cole's Bears also placed eighth in the NAIA during the 1995 season and 10th in the country during the 1997 season, giving him four top 10 finishes in the national tournament in his career.
During his coaching career, Cole has guided 13 players to NAIA All-America honors, 10 of which were first-team selections. Included in this list is four-time NAIA first-team All-American and 1997 NAIA Player of the Year Kim White. White would go on to be inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame after her playing career came to an end. Under Cole, White was a four-time Conference Player of the Year. He has also coached three other players to Conference Player of the Year honors.