Coaching Management, 13.7, September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1307/qagilmore.htm
In 10 years as Head Coach at Coastal Carolina University, Gary Gilmore has seen both the school and his team grow and develop. A 1980 graduate of the Myrtle Beach, S.C., school, Gilmore played when its baseball team was a regular visitor to the NAIA World Series as the University of South Carolina Coastal Carolina College. He now guides a team that ranks among the best in NCAA Division I.
Gilmore took over at CCU in 1996, one year after the Chanticleers posted their first losing season in 18 years. Bringing the small game of pitching and defense to the field was a hard sell to some players, but Gilmore was determined to coach his way. Coastal Carolina baseball has been steadily improving ever since. In 2005, the Chanticleers set a school record with 50 wins, made their fifth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division I tournament, and earned the top seed in a regional for the first time.
A four-time Regional Coach of the Year and three-time Conference Coach of the Year, Gilmore talks to Coaching Management about recruiting, sending players to the pros, and the re-emergence of small ball in college baseball.
CM: What are some of the pros and cons of coaching at your alma mater?
Gilmore: The pros are that I knew the expectations of our administration, community, and student body when I came into the program as a coach. Having played here, I had insight into how we could further develop the baseball program. The cons are that it’s sometimes very difficult for everyone to realize what a big player Coastal Carolina can be in college baseball. I believe there are times people relish the memories of the “good old days” back in the late ’70s and ’80s when we had great success and things were far less complicated.
How do you sell CCU to your recruits?
Coastal Carolina is in a great location. We have great facilities, an outstanding schedule, fantastic weather, wonderful teammates, and an extremely dedicated coaching staff that’s committed to getting this team to Omaha while developing each player to his fullest potential. And we have great academic opportunities.
How important is it to have alumni playing professionally?
It shows recruits that through diligence and hard work they can achieve their life-long dream. From the time they’re in tee-ball, every kid dreams of playing in the big leagues. Getting that opportunity and seeing multiple guys go from here to the professional ranks pretty much every year is a big selling point for our program.
How do you keep players who are thinking about playing professionally on track toward the end of the college season?
We talk individually with them several times a year—where they’re potentially ranked in the draft and how that relates to their educational experience—and then we weigh the options. To give up the last year of college for a few thousand dollars, to me, is not what they should be looking to do. There has to be a balance between the baseball experience and the academic experience; the two have to go hand-in-hand. But you’re only young once, so if it’s the right opportunity, I’ll encourage a young man to go pro because I don’t want him to give up that chance.
How do you handle speaking with parents of recruits?
It’s very important that parents have a great relationship with me and that they understand my values regarding education and professional baseball. There’s a right time and place for both of them. My message to parents is that I would never recommend anything for their child that I wouldn’t recommend for my own son.
How did CCU adding a football team in 2003 affect baseball?
There are positives of the football program for us. When you’re primarily a commuter school, having a football team immediately provides credibility locally, regionally, and nationally. All of a sudden people begin to look at you as a complete university, whereas before we were seen as a very good commuter school that had an athletic program. When you add football, the perception is that you’re a full-fledged university. It has elevated our entire athletic program.
What has your role been in the ongoing stadium renovation project at CCU?
As head coach, you’re the guy that has to come up with the dreams and goals of your program. Obviously the dream of going to Omaha is something we’ve been preaching since the day I walked in here. Our current stadium is over 20 years old, and our program has grown to heights where we need to address our facility situation.
We’ve done a tremendous amount with the peripheral things: improving the playing field, the wall, the practice area, and the lights. Now we need to address the grandstand area. Through my own and several other committed individuals’ visions, we’ve acquired a significant donation to get us started, and we’re looking forward to tackling this project in the next 12 months. To watch your dreams be drawn up on paper is extremely exciting.
You preach the small game. How do you get your players to buy into its importance?
When we recruit players, I explain our philosophy to them—that we start with great pitching, superb defense, situational hitting, and base running. Overall, hitting and hitting with power are important in the scheme of things, and they have a presence in our order, but it’s not how we go about playing our game.
The short game in college baseball was a real struggle for four or five years back when we had the monoshaft bats and teams were hitting 150 and 170 home runs. Now that the bat velocities are similar to wood, the small game and defense have become a great part of college baseball. Look at the success Texas has had, winning the College World Series twice in the last four seasons. We play the way they do, and their philosophy is very similar to ours.
Granted, everybody loves to see the ball fly out of the park, but our kids take great pride in things like stealing a base and hitting a ground ball to a spot where we can score without a big hit. Learning to play that way, we win as a group, and that’s all we talk about.
How do you coach the mental side of the game?
I try to make every practice situation as difficult and as game-like as I possibly can. There’s a win and loss and a consequence that follows each. When we fail as a group, we pay a price as a group, and when we succeed as a group, we’re rewarded as one. It teaches us to compete in every aspect. If I can make practice drills as difficult as a game and hold the kids accountable, it prepares them for the real thing.
How do you approach egos?
Everybody has an ego, and some show it more than others. But our guys know that if their egos become bigger than the team, there’s a place on the bench right next to me where they can sit and watch for a while until they can put it in check. No one, including me, is bigger than the group. I coach that way, we practice that way, and that’s the way it’s done every single day. Everybody gets their turn raking the field, everybody gets their turn doing this and that, and everyone completes tasks the way they should be done for the good of the group, not the good of one person. You can’t play the way we play and have individuals on your team. Every single guy has to understand his role and the importance of what he’s asked to do.
Your 2004 season was marred by injuries. How did you adapt to that situation?
I had to be very patient in some areas, which is something I’m not the greatest at. Two or three of our big role players were hurt early in the season. Our regulars basically had no one to free them up for any time off, and then all of a sudden some regulars were also injured, but it coincided with some of the previously injured players recovering and stepping in to play again.
I was preaching cohesiveness on our team, and finding roles for everyone. All the kids could perform at different levels at different times. With the loss of Ryan McGraw, for example, we didn’t have an All-America center fielder sitting on the bench to replace him. The young man who moved into his spot was a very good player, but I had to be patient and learn what he could and couldn’t do and how I could incorporate him into our team to help us. I had to learn about our players and redevelop the chemistry on our team. The kids who stepped in for the injured players were great, doing anything that we asked of them, adapting to any style of play we needed. They were able to perform, and that’s why we were able to continue winning.
Bill Jarman was with you for more than 10 years as pitching coach before becoming Head Coach at Lander University this summer. How do you keep good assistants for so long?
I show a lot of confidence in them and allow them to coach. I like to have my hands in everything when it comes to coaching, but I’ve learned to surround myself with great people and allow them to do their thing. We make sure that philosophically we’re on the same page and teaching the same things and coaching baseball the right way.
I encourage them to take pride in the areas and aspects that they coach as if it was their own team. They’re celebrated and held accountable, too. I think I’ve found a happy medium between trying to have my hands in everything and letting my assistants have some freedom to express themselves and take pride in what they’re doing.
What has motivated you for the past 10 years?
I’m a blue-collar college coach. I’m one of those guys who needs to get my fix of at least one hour of batting practice every day or else I’m lost. I hope that God allows me to be a college coach for as long as possible—that’s my dream. I have goals: I want to prepare my team each game and each day as well as I possibly can, and then we want to go out and win every single game. My deep and driving desire is to take at least one team to Omaha. I want that experience. It’s a lot harder at a 7,500-student school than a major university, but it can be done. We’ve been knocking on that door, and we’re not so far away that the dream is beyond us.