Gillispie last week was named head baseball coach at Youngstown State, ending an 11-year run as the Gamecocks’ top assistant who head coach Jim Case said “in so many ways was like another head coach.”
He leaves a program that had nine 30-win seasons and played in three NCAA Regionals during his tenure for one that won 25 games the last two years and hasn’t had a winning season since 2005, but has some impressive facilities to aid his already strong ability to recruit nationally.
“If you have a desire to be a head coach, you need to make that move when a good opportunity presents itself,” Gillispie said Monday, back in town after a whirlwind introduction to his new community. “I don’t think many people knew what kind of position it was. It was very attractive to me and in a league where you can win right away, not take three or four years to try to get a different type or caliber player in there.
“The last two years they were third in their conference tournament. It’s a league you can compete in right away. It’s a baseball friendly place. I think it’s a good time and a good fit.”
This will be Gillispie’s second stint at a head coach and first at the Division I level. His hat was in the ring for coaching jobs before — at Samford several years ago, recently at Montevallo and even this summer with Ohio Valley Conference rival Morehead State — but Youngstown was the only offer. The interviews at Morehead and Youngstown were literally days apart.
It wasn’t as if his biological coaching clock was ticking, but at 48 and Case firmly in place at JSU, the deep end of the pool was approaching.
“I think that’s a legitimate point, but there wasn’t any pressure,” Gillispie said. “I’ve always desired to be a head coach, (but) it wasn’t what I made decisions on the last 10 years. You are at a point where you start looking around at the ages of the SEC, ACC, Big 12 coaches, and the head coaches there are younger than me and typically their assistants are younger than them. For a lot of schools it seems that’s the pool they go to.
“If this is something I want to do and stay in the business and keep moving forward, the biggest thing is to continue to challenge yourself. ... It was a good time to take on something new.”
Case said the search for Gillispie’s replacement is “moving forward” but has no timetable for its completion. Mike Murphree, who just completed his first season with the team, is the only assistant currently on staff.
“It will be different,” Case said of a staff without his longtime assistant. “G and I came here together and he did a fantastic job. I couldn’t be more appreciative of what he did while he was there. At the same time, I couldn’t be more excited for him now.
“I would tell you he was a huge part of the success we had here; there’s no doubt about that. He had so much to do with it and in so many ways was like another head coach. I never really looked at him as an assistant coach; I looked at him as an extension (of the head coach). ... When you have someone qualified, there are going to be opportunities. I feel fortunate he was here for 11 years.”
Gillispie isn’t the only JSU assistant coach to leave the athletic department this summer. Basketball assistant Ben Hicks was hired at Columbus State after one year on JSU coach James Green’s staff. Hicks’ departure comes less than a month after the Gamecocks basketball program received a one-year postseason ban and other sanctions for failing to meet the conditions of a previous academic progress penalty waiver.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.