Gilmore has eye on Omaha in 20th season with Chants

ccubase-gilmoreGary Gilmore is on the verge of concluding his 20th season as baseball coach at Coastal Carolina. If there’s any justice in the sports karma universe, he will end it in Omaha, Nebraska, not College Station, Texas.

For newcomers to the Chanticleer baseball bandwagon, you need a bit of perspective to truly appreciate the job Gilmore has done at his alma mater, transforming the program from barely a mid-major to national contender. Baseball fans who couldn’t find Coastal Carolina with a GPS now know about the mighty Chants.

Rewind 20 years to the day a new-to-the-job reporter went to interview the new-to-the-job coach. I asked then-sports information director Wayne White where to find Gilmore’s office, and he seemed a bit embarrassed to admit the coach was staying in a pop-up camper under the baseball stadium until he could move his family.

Not that he needed a place to sleep because Gilmore rarely did. From day one he hit the ground running to recruit a higher-caliber athlete to play at a school they’d never heard of. In those days, he was head coach, head recruiter, head salesman, head groundskeeper while trying to make chicken salad on a chicken-scratch budget.

This wasn’t a Joe Moglia football magic act. Gilmore had to keep his nose to the grindstone for years before Coastal was considered more than a Big South Conference power. His 781-418 record reflects both the success his teams have enjoyed and the hardships they have endured during his steadily advancing tenure.

Block by block he built the program before things started falling into place about 1999. Since then, he has 10 regular-season conference titles, nine Big South tournament titles, 12 NCAA Regional appearances, two Super Regionals, and so far, zero trips to the College World Series – the big stage for college coaches.

There have been close calls. South Carolina rallied from late deficits to claim a pair of one-run wins in the 2010 Super Regional at Pelicans Ballpark. The Chants were swept by host North Carolina in 2008, and the 2001 team had host Georgia on the ropes in the Athens Regional only to see the Bulldogs sweep a doubleheader. The CWS seemed within their reach all three years.

To finally get there, Gilmore must erase another bad memory that also serves as one of my favorite encounters with the coach. His 2001 squad, ranked No. 17 in the nation and hosting a star-studded tournament to open the season, was humiliated in a 17-0 loss to then-No. 21 Cal, which will face CCU in Friday’s Regional opener.

Gilmore is a fierce competitor and he was always a tough interview after a disappointing loss, but he would grit his teeth and try to say the right things, knowing his words were going into a family newspaper. But sometimes, like maybe a 17-0 butt-waxing to start a season, his hatred of failure got the best of him.

Knowing he was in no mood for B.S., I tried to lob him a few softball questions he could knock out before going off the vent. Each one was answered with an angry gaze, like he wanted to rip his new team to shreds but knew better. I think “I don’t know what to say” was the only usable quote I got from him that day.

Back at the newspaper office, I was trying my best to polish the turd of a story about a 17-0 defeat with one bad quote. The phone rang. It was Gilmore, calling to apologize for being so cold in the postgame interview and asking me if he could answer any more questions. That gesture, along with his 20 years of hard work, speaks volumes about the coach and the man Gilmore is, and how much he deserves a ticket to Omaha.

Photo courtesy of CCU Athletics

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