D1Baseball Coach of the Year: Gary GilmoreAwards
OMAHA — Augie Garrido built Cal State Fullerton into a national power just about from scratch. Gene Stephenson did the same for Wichita State. Unlike those two coaching legends, Gary Gilmore didn’t start up Coastal Carolina’s program from nothing, but he means just as much to the Chanticleers as Garrido means to Fullerton and Stephenson means to Wichita. Good luck finding any other active coach in college baseball who has done more for his program than Gilmore has for Coastal Carolina.
When Gilmore cuts his finger or scrapes up his knee, chances are he bleeds teal. He has been a part of the program since long before it was relevant on the national scene — first as a speedy center fielder for the Chanticleers in 1979-80, when they competed in the NAIA ranks. After spending some time playing in the Phillies organization, working as a scout and then a coach at Division II South Carolina-Aiken, Gilmore returned to his alma mater before the 1996 season as the head coach. He took over a Coastal program that had gone 17-37 the year before and had made just one Division I regional in its history — in 1991.
By his fourth season in 1999, Gilmore had turned Coastal into a legitimate contender. The Chanticleers went 43-15 that year, then finally broke through to the NCAA tournament two years later in 2001. Since then, Coastal has made 14 regionals in 16 years, culminating in the program’s first trip to the College World Series and the school’s first team national championship in any sport this year. For his remarkable work building the program into a national power and his deft touch with this year’s unique group of Chanticleers, Gilmore is the 2016 D1Baseball Coach of the Year.
A day before opening the CWS Finals against Arizona, Gilmore looked back on the state of the program when he took over the reins, and referred to it as “a challenge.” That’s putting it mildly. Back in the mid-1990s, gorgeous Springs Brooks Stadium — the home of the Chanticleers for the last two years — wasn’t even a pipe dream.
“The facility, it was on campus but it was an old minor league facility, it really had been somewhat neglected and it was really hard to describe, to be very honest with you,” he said. “The batting cage was unusable at the time. And just some of things that I laugh about with my coaches and my wife and things that I’ve actually laughed about since I’ve been out here because several of those players have actually shown up here. And it was just kind of a different mindset.”
Gilmore recalled his first team meeting that first fall of 1995, when he told the players he’d see them at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. Two players stayed after the meeting and told him they couldn’t make it to the 9 a.m. practice because they worked as bartenders down at the beach and had to work late. “I said, ‘Well, you have a choice to make, young man. We’re going to play baseball here.’ And one of those young men was in the stands (in Omaha). And he ended up being one of our best pitchers that year.”
That anecdote illustrates just how far the program has come, thanks to Gilmore’s leadership — and his conviction and devotion. After the Chanticleers won the Baton Rouge Super Regional, Gilmore recalled that when he took over the program, he told his administration that he would take the program to Omaha someday, “and I think they thought I was smoking something.”
“When I took over the team, I was a young guy full of dreams and passion and this and that. Thought I could coach my way to a national championship or whatever,” Gilmore said at the end of the CWS. “So I tried to sell that mess and found out very quickly we needed really good players as well as coaching a whole lot. So it’s one of those things where just coming every day and having passion — I don’t play golf. I don’t have any hobbies. Probably riding bikes just to get away from the rest of the world is probably the only thing my wife and I truly enjoy doing, outside of spending time with my kids.
“My hobby is my job. I love baseball. I love watching it. I love coaching it. I love the relationships you have while you’re doing it. And there’s no place on earth I would rather be than on a baseball field throwing BP, hitting fungos, doing whatever. There’s not a better day on the face of the earth when I can go to the ballpark. So just use that attitude to sell the kids, and it’s amazing.”
After the Chancticleers beat LSU to clinch their first trip to Omaha, senior Anthony Marks spoke passionately about how the team’s mission all year long was to get Gilmore to Omaha. While Marks spoke, Gilmore lowered his head and wiped away tears, and when he raised his head again, his eyes were red. The relationship between Gilmore and his players is clearly very special.
“We go to practice, he’s out there trying to strike us out during BP. We get in little battles,” Marks said in the postgame press conference after CCU won the national title. “I mean, he loves what he does and makes it fun for us to play the game of baseball. He is the epitome of Coastal Carolina. And I think the best compliment we could give him is that ever since I’ve been at Coastal, and there’s not too many people this happens for, but when Coach Gilmore walks into a room, all silence; he gets everyone’s full attention. That’s respect that you earn. That’s not given. That is respect that you earn. And he has earned himself that. And to be able to play for Coach Gilmore is probably one of the best things that ever happened in my life. I love you to death, Coach. Thank you so much.”
Righthander Alex Cunningham echoed those sentiments.
“He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever got the pleasure to know,” Cunningham said. “He goes to war for you. He’ll battle with you, bleed with you, fight with you. And I just — I appreciate that and I respect that, because I’m honestly kind of the same way. Our motto all year has been ‘selfless and relentless,’ for the past two years, ‘selfless and relentless.’ It’s on the carpet in our locker room. And Coach Gilmore, he’s literally the epitome of that. He embodies it in everything he does. And I love him, man. I love Coach Gilmore with all my heart, I really do. He’s the best.”