Gary Gilmore led his Coastal Carolina Chanticleers through a gauntlet of challenges to the 2016 national title. Down to its last strike in the Raleigh Regional, the Chants dug down deep to upend North Carolina State. The following weekend, CCU traveled to Alex Box Stadium and upset the perennial powerhouse LSU Tigers. Their award for advancing to the College World Series was a first round matchup with the Florida Gators, the nation’s top seed.
A 1980 Coastal Carolina alum himself, Gilmore has been a head coach for 27 years at the college level, 21 with the Chanticleers. His 1,100th win as a head coach was one that claimed the 2016 national championship trophy. We chatted with “Gilly” recently about the “stepping stones” that his program took on the way to the top (including living in a camper just beyond the outfield fence during his first year at CCU), his family life, and how his team “monkeyed around” in the dugout this past year… all the way to a national championship.
Inside Pitch: What's it like coaching at your alma mater?
It’s been a fantastic experience. It’s kind of funny when you look back; it’s really the only school I ever dreamt of coaching at in my lifetime. I’ve always wanted to come back to Coastal Carolina, I had an incredible undergrad experience and it’s where my heart has been all along. I had a great experience at USC Aiken as a coach, but my heart yearned to be back here.
I took a $6-7,000 pay cut to come to Coastal Carolina, that’s how bad I wanted to be here. I had to leave my family behind and we couldn’t afford a rental down here at Myrtle Beach in the summertime. We had a pop-up camper with AC in it and I took it down here and plugged it in behind the baseball stadium. Believe it or not, I lived in there with my pitching coach, who was my only full-time assistant. We were on each end of that thing sleeping every night and on the road all the time. We did that for five or six months before my wife was able to get a teaching job down here and we sold the house. People tease me about it now, even back in those days it was primitive, it didn’t have an indoor bathroom or anything!
IP: Describe what your program's fundraising efforts are like.
At smaller programs and mid-majors, day-to-day finances and resources can be such a challenge. We’ve done golf tournaments, programs where people pledge money for stolen bases or homeruns, and we do a lot of stuff where parents get involved. I think it all comes down to what you’re willing to do to get what you need to be successful. For me, we’ve always tried to use our fundraising to target something we need to make the team better. Not necessarily for our budget, but items like a pitching machine, video cameras, tangible things that I can sell to the parents and say ‘if your child has these things, they can become a better player.’ When you do that it’s easier to get people involved.
There was a time we had to raise $50-60,000 to survive here and that number has dwindled down; we’re able to use monies for a vision program or a sports psychologist to come in and help us all be mentally stronger. Tangible, achievable goals that help every single member of our team get better is what we strive for. Getting it out there and selling it to people is key and like anything, some people pitch in more than others and just like anything with fundraising, you have to show people a lot of love.
IP: What are some memorable stepping stones for Coastal Carolina baseball?
The first was 2001 when we made it to the last pitch of a Regional down in Georgia against Coach Polk’s club that went to the World Series. That was our first Regional since I’d been here, that team helped us turn a corner.
In 2005 we had a great team, we were a number one seed but we didn’t have a stadium to play in. What we had wasn’t nice enough and the pro park wasn’t available, so we went to Arizona State as a one seed, that was a lot of fun! I feel like it opened some eyes. As a result, the resources began to pick up and that dream of Omaha became more real.
In 2008 we hosted again [at home this time], won our Regional and went to North Carolina against that Major League pitching staff. We lost in that Super but it really energized our community and our players.
In 2010, we were the number four national seed. In all honesty, on paper most everybody in the country would agree that it was probably a better team than the one we had that just won it all. But ironically enough, South Carolina’s team that year was very similar to our 2016 club; they were kind of a team of destiny. It didn’t really matter what we did, they found a way to counteract it and ended up winning a National Championship. They had Michael Roth come up and pitch bigger than life, just like we did this past year when [Andrew] Beckwith was bigger than life.
The 2010 team was the type of club we had been trying to get back to. We were top two or three in the country in home runs with 119, we were among the top in stolen bases, top ten in ERA. I must not have coached well enough!
IP: What’s the same for you as a head coach whose team has just won a national title? What’s different?
Well, it’s the same when I pull into the driveway and my wife is on my rear end, that feels the same! What doesn’t feel the same is when I go out in the community. When you're in the moment, you're paying so much attention to what you're trying to get done you don't really notice it. It's been crazy, basically every place I go, someone knows who I am. I've never been anywhere where people recognize who you are, who your school is. Just wearing a teal shirt out anywhere, people are going to say something, they'll walk by and say 'we were locked in, you guys were awesome!' It's the most unbelievable thing. I'm so happy for our program and so happy for our school. It's a huge wave of positivity for our university, it's incredible.
I don't feel like I was truly nervous during the postseason, other than our conference tournament. The group of kids we had had never won a conference tournament, never won a ring. They were very close to being the first team in a long time that had not won a ring during their time here. We wanted to get to Omaha, but incrementally we needed to prove to ourselves we could win a conference championship. I wanted it so bad for them, it was the one goal we truly had. My guys tell me I was a little tight in the conference tournament this past year, and I probably was!
Heck, that first game in the World Series against Florida, we screwed up something on the base paths and I'm like, 'I coach that stuff!' Years ago I'd be slamming stuff in the dugout, but this past year I just said 'not a problem, we're going to get it done,' and sure enough, we lead off the next inning and hit a home run, and you forget about how you screwed up the last inning.
At NC State we were down to our last strike, and it was completely out of my hands. We coached our guys before they went to bed, we coached them that morning, we reviewed the video and at the end of the day, you have to go out there and do it. Everybody doing something different led to some incredible things. Honestly, those games in the World Series, those games at LSU, I probably enjoyed them the most because I wasn't beside myself in the middle of it all. Everybody around me, the fans, my family, I thought my wife was going to lose it, how nervous they all were. I hope I can coach the rest of my career like that, it was truly fun and I think you saw our kids have fun.
Our program had set that benchmark of 'we can do it.' This class of seniors flat bought into that when they first came here. Pretty much all of them – including our coaches – had experienced a tragedy of some sort with illness or family, there always seemed to be something going on that our guys had to battle through and continue to play and get an opportunity to chase a championship. Our older guys had to pitch in and basically coach themselves, and that was a turning point on this particular season that made them the people you ultimately saw in the very end, I truly believe that.
IP: Speaking of fun, how would you exlain the Coastal Carolina dugout?
If I got asked one time I got asked by 100 of my former play- ers, ‘who is this guy coaching the team now? He would never let a monkey and a shark in his dugout!’ It was funny, we got swept at Georgia Tech earlier in the season. We went in there knowing that if we won the series we would probably host at home, maybe if we only won one game, but we got swept. About everything that could go wrong went wrong. We were in exams so in the bus on the way back, our assistants and myself are get- ting ready to go recruiting for a few days. Bobby Holmes found that monkey on the way back and it just gradually found its way into the dugout. We started winning again and momentum built and the more it built, the more the monkey took on its own per- sonality. It was something for them to laugh about and enjoy, and when we got out of Raleigh after the Regional, the monkey became bigger than life. He was for real, as crazy as it sounds!
Then we go to LSU and they’ve got the rally possum, that thing’s real big down there. It was amazing, our guys were talking about how the monkey was going to take that possum down. Bobby Holmes was great with that thing, it was hilarious. My daughter sat beside Bobby on the way home, and that monkey had his own seat. Bobby was talking to him and asking the monkey whether he wanted a soft drink or water. My daughter had tears in her eyes from laughing so hard be- cause everyone was treating that monkey like a human being.
It was a neat thing for our school, I can’t tell you how many of those monkey shirts people wear, it’s incredible. Honestly it was bigger than our mascot, it really was. Nowadays the monkey’s got a spot right there in the trophy case right next to the championship trophy.
IP: Dugout conduct – atmosphere or antics?
I thought the monkey thing was neat, I really didn’t think it got out of hand. The monkey hung around and would show up when the cameras were on and from the sixth inning on, Bobby would take the monkey and go to the bullpen with it, so it wasn’t a distraction of any kind.
With our team, we just discuss that we want to be professional in the dugout. It’s all about having class with what you do, and I think the majority of guys in college have tremendous class with what’s going on. The antics in the dugout, 99 percent of it is con- tained in the dugout, it’s not something that’s showing up the other team or whatever. At the end of the day you gotta have fun.
IP: Describe your family and the challenges of balancing work life with home life.
I’ve got the greatest baseball wife in the world, and I’m sure a lot of other coaches feel the same way. I’m not proud of some of the choices I made earlier in my career when I chose baseball over family. There are times I look back and think ‘if I hadn’t gone to this event I could have spent that quality time with my kids and it would- n’t have made a difference.’ There are things that can be really chal- lenging with deciding what’s right and what’s wrong in that area.
I think being able to balance everything is the challenge these days, because you’re recruiting two or three classes at a time, hav- ing team practice and have so many other things going on. I don’t know that we’ve gone on too many vacations that weren’t base- ball-driven. It’s not like my wife and kids don’t love baseball, but it is an incredibly time demanding sport these days, seven days a week, about 10 or 11 months out of the year.
IP: What's your advice to young coaches? To a young Gary Gilmore?
Be a grinder. Come every day and bring your lunch pail. Love it and dream your dream. Not everyone gets to have the great fortune that I’ve had, but dream it, man. Dream it, chase it and work towards it.
I’ve had my challenges but I think every one of my challenges was an opportunity to battle and grow as a person...as a coach. With that, I’d just say ‘do it,’ man. Go for it. Keep battling and give it everything you have and at the end of the night when you look yourself in the mirror, ask yourself if you’ve given a relentless effort, all day long.