by Jerry Rashid
photography by Alexandra "Alex" Symcak
In addition to national coach of the year honors, Gary Gilmore ’80 has been named Coastal Carolina University’s 2016 Top Tier Chanticleer and the 2016 Alumnus of the Year. Amid the accolades, the coach who brought CCU its first national title remains true to the code that characterizes his life and his career.
Coastal Carolina University’s historic journey to Omaha and the 2016 College World Series national title began on the mountainous backroads of Virginia more than four decades ago. As a youngster, Gary Gilmore ’80 often rode shotgun in the sales truck driven by his father Richard Gilmore, founder and former owner of Virginia Office Supply, as he crisscrossed the state in search of new business opportunities. Stuck with spotty AM radio reception more times than not, the two would usually pass the time discussing America’s favorite pastime.
Their conversations never grew old. Gilmore was keenly aware he was learning invaluable lessons about the game of baseball and the game of life. “I can never thank him enough,” Gilmore said of his father, who died in March 2014. “Everything I do resonates from philosophical beliefs that can be traced back to what he believed in.”
Gilmore grew up in Rocky Mount, located in the middle of Franklin County along Virginia’s southwestern Piedmont plateau. In this picturesque hamlet (pop. 4,830), Gilmore recalls that the highlight of a typical weekend evening was cruising with friends from one end of town to the other.
A scrappy high school athlete, he made a name for himself by excelling in baseball, basketball and football. His sport of choice, though, was baseball.
“My love for the game of baseball I know without a doubt I got from my dad,” Gilmore said. “Some of the fire I have in me probably came from my mom, Regina. My dad taught me so many different values outside of baseball. I watched how hard he had to work because he had his own business. We didn’t eat if he wasn’t successful. I learned a lot by just watching him. I was never handed money for gas or anything else. I had to roll out of bed early on Saturday mornings after taking a beating on the football field the night before and work all day to have the privilege to drive the car and go out on a date.”
During a tryout camp with the Pittsburgh Pirates at James Madison University, Gilmore’s baseball prowess caught the attention of Coastal Carolina’s then-head coach Larry Carr. After the workout, Carr offered him a scholarship on the spot.
Gilmore appreciated the fact that the small college in Conway, S.C., had a successful baseball program and was in close proximity to Myrtle Beach. The physical education major became the Chanticleers’ leadoff hitter and had a .353 batting average.
“When we had activities on campus, professors and students would always mingle together,” Gilmore fondly recalls. “You had a chance to really get to know your professors, and they got a chance to get to know you. It was an incredible time. I can’t imagine having a better college experience anywhere in the entire country. And that feeling still resonates today. Our most valuable commodity at Coastal Carolina University is not athletics or anything like that. It’s the people. Honestly, it’s been that way since the first day I stepped on this campus 38 years ago.”
By The Numbers
After graduating from Coastal in 1980, Gilmore played for a short time in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and then became a scout for the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians. In 1990, he was promoted to head baseball coach at the University of South Carolina-Aiken, where he had served the previous four years as an assistant coach. During his six seasons as mentor, he recorded 253 wins and earned a trip to the 1993 NCAA Division II College World Series.
Gilmore proudly returned to Conway as his alma mater’s head baseball coach prior to the 1996 season. During his 21 seasons as skipper, he’s tallied an overall record of 847-438 and has led the program to 14 NCAA Division I Regionals, three Super Regionals and the 2016 College World Series, which the Chanticleers won in dramatic fashion during a three-game thriller versus the University of Arizona.
“This is the only place I have ever dreamt about taking to Omaha,” Gilmore said. “It comes back to the people and this university. People have been so good to me here. I have a passion for this school. If I went somewhere else, I honestly don’t know how I would ever have that type of passion. People ask me all the time, ‘How did you do it?’ I am no different than anyone else. Having passion for what you do in life is the key ingredient to success.”
That fervor helped him earn his 1,100th career victory in game three, the winner-take-all against Arizona.
“Damn, I’m getting old, because it takes a long time to get that many wins,” Gilmore joked. “When we went to Omaha, there were several kids there who played for me at Aiken and countless former players from Coastal.
When I look back and think about all the lives that have touched mine and in return I have touched, that, to me, is what makes that number so special. It was great to see the former players sitting behind our dugout and cheering for us in Omaha. All the stories I could tell and the ones they could tell about me. The things we shared together. I have been blessed with so many incredible memories.”
When Gilmore reflects on his career and his impressive list of accomplishments, he still gets fired up thinking about all the naysayers who said he could never lead a mid-major program to a national championship. All that did was add fuel to his fire.
“Don’t ever let someone tell you that the dream of one man can’t be realized,” he said. “Someone has to dream it, someone has to sell it, and others have to buy in. But it always has to start somewhere. Whatever my life has been worth, that dream was realized in Omaha. These 27 years of coaching have been about chasing a dream. One thing I have learned is to never accept anything less than setting that bar as high as you can.”
Each time Gilmore takes the field, he proudly dons jersey No. 14. It’s a tribute to Pete Rose, who holds numerous Major League Baseball records, including career hits and games played. While Gilmore admits that Rose has tarnished his name by betting on MLB games, he still appreciates the way Rose played on the field and the things he stood for as a competitor.
“He was an undersized guy who was always told he couldn’t do this and couldn’t do that,” Gilmore said. “Wasn’t big enough, wasn’t fast enough. Wasn’t this, wasn’t that. It was a lot of the same things I heard during my lifetime. I wanted to honor him by wearing his number.”
Whether it’s putting on his jersey a certain way or using the same blue office pen, Gilmore, like coaches at all levels of competition, has his fair share of superstitions. He’s always looking for that little something extra, perceived or real, to help pull out a victory.
“If we are playing really well, I wear the same socks every game; I don’t wash them,” he said. “They could probably get up and walk down the hall by themselves. That’s what’s so great about sports. Just like how everything started with that crazy monkey [Rafiki, the team’s stuffed animal good-luck charm that was often seen in the dugout during the CWS]. It became bigger than life for us.”
NCAA Division I college baseball programs are allowed 11.7 scholarships for a 35-player team roster, which is one of the lowest ratios in intercollegiate athletics. And of that group, only 27 student-athletes are allowed to receive scholarship support.
“I think it’s really horrible, to be honest with you,” Gilmore said. “The scholarship limit in college baseball is like dealing with the salary cap in professional sports. You are constantly mixing and matching pieces. That is the greatest coaching challenge.”
Gilmore has been a master at solidifying his roster each year with diamond in the rough players who develop into outstanding contributors to the program. Several such players—Connor Owings, Anthony Marks and Mike Morrison—were on display during the Chanticleers’ CWS championship run.
“Those are three pretty doggone good walk-on guys,” he said. “They came here, bought into our system and continued to develop. The players who survive as walk-ons are a little tougher and usually have a chip on their shoulders.”
A Gilmore-led program has always focused on developing the fundamentals. He teaches the game from the ground up. “I don’t care who you are or where you come from, you are going to get taught the fundamentals of the game. If players listen and are willing to put in the time, they end up becoming like coaches on the field for us—like we had this year in Zach Remillard and Andrew Beckwith.
“We had never played in a place like LSU and in that type of environment,” Gilmore said. “We talked about the environment before we got there. The second they saw something wasn’t going in our favor, those two guys were all over it. They were huddling everyone together, slowing the game down to make sure everyone knew what was going on. The coaches couldn’t communicate as we normally do because of the size of their crowd and how loud it was. The maturity of the players and how they executed everything was really great to watch.”
Despite the challenges created by the scholarship limitations, Gilmore has fielded a number of great teams during his two decades at the helm. He still believes the 2010 squad was physically the best team in the country that year. It went undefeated in all 25 conference games and reached the Super Regionals, where the season ended with a mark of 55-10.
“For reasons beyond our control, it wasn’t our time,” Gilmore said. “But I am so glad this year’s team made it all the way. They have been through more adversity than any other team I have ever coached.”
He shared how Owings has bravely played with only one kidney, which does not fully function, and will need to have a kidney transplant. Many doubted that
Remillard would ever throw again after having major surgery on his right arm. Alex Cunningham had a screw inserted in his elbow and was in jeopardy of losing his arm due to an infection. Jaymie Thomas, the wife of assistant coach Drew Thomas, is battling stage 3 breast cancer. And Jayden Schnall, the son of associate head coach Kevin Schnall, had to be airlifted three times last year to the Medical University of South Carolina due to a life-threatening blood clot in the back of his head.
“I could go on with another 15 stories,” Gilmore said. “We have kids in this program whose family life is far from what it should be. This group of players and coaches has been through a lot. I honestly think it made us stronger together. Everyone pitched in and picked up the slack where needed. It made a brotherhood beyond the normal bond we already had.
“They lived by the motto: ‘I got your back. If you don’t get it done, I’ll get it done for you.’ If you look at how we played, very seldom did we all fail enough to lose. I don’t think any of us knew we were going to be national champions until we threw that last pitch. Winning at LSU gave us a lot of confidence. Beating Florida gave us a lot of confidence. Despite what everyone was saying about us, we knew we weren’t the Cinderella team. I don’t know if anyone really comprehends all the emotions that came out of this team and coaching staff at the end of that national championship game. It was truly unbelievable.”
Gilmore admits that the physical and emotional wear and tear from years of coaching and recruiting has tested his faith. He gives credit to Mark Roach ’84, CCU’s vice president for philanthropy, for his ongoing support and guidance. The two became close friends through devotional classes Roach held in the athletic department when he served as executive director of the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation (CAF).
“God has worked some miracles in my life,” Gilmore said. “I was at the end of my rope at Aiken, and He helped me find a way to Coastal. I was at the end of my rope here a couple of times early in my career, and He found a way to get me in front of the right people to hear the right things, and I continued to grind and grind.”
Gilmore believes this was the catalyst for CCU’s first-ever national championship.
“I’ll say it until the day I die, during the last month or so of the season, there was a hand on my shoulder putting a calmness and a confidence in me that I have never shown during my entire career. It coincided with us being on the road so much. Instead of spending 10 to 15 minutes reading a few Bible verses, I would do my due diligence and spend a couple of hours throughout the day putting my heart and soul into it. It was amazing how much closer I got to God. And it felt like the calmness in me resonated through our team as well. It was an unbelievable experience. Like I said, I’ll go to my grave believing there was a hand on my shoulder through it all. I truly believe it.”
Gilmore says his faith has also been strongly impacted by his wife, Cathy ’81, who recently retired after 34 years as a special education teacher at Lakewood Elementary School. “She has been way more of a lifetime devoted Christian than I have as far as living it 24-7. Without her, I am not sure where I would be.”
The Gilmores live in Pawleys Island and are the proud parents of two CCU graduates: Chance ’10, a former Chanticleer standout baseball player, and Samantha ’12. Chance and fiancée Katie Remmell ’12, have one son, Liam.
Much has happened with the Chanticleer baseball program since Gilmore’s arrival on campus. Outside of winning the College World Series title, one of the greatest accomplishments is the addition of Springs Brooks Stadium. The stadium, which the Chanticleers officially opened with a 4-0 victory against Old Dominion on Feb. 13, 2015, along with the Boni Belle Practice & Hitting Facility, gives Coastal one of the finest complexes in all of college baseball.
Gilmore’s new third-floor office along the third baseline features floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the expansive complex. It’s a far cry from the old trailer near the Singleton Building that doubled as his office for more than 15 years.
“People who come up to my new office now have no idea where we were just a few years ago,” he said. “We won a lot of games and championships working out of that old trailer. But it was nice to see them tow it away. And when they did, a river rat the size of a cat came running out from underneath it. If that thing had shown up inside my office while I was there, I would have never come back.”
Fortunately, that never happened. It’s hard to imagine the Chanticleer baseball program without seeing No. 14 waving players home from his customary spot in the third base coach’s box.
The five-time national coach of the year knows all too well that the success of the program in no way belongs to him alone. It took buy-in from hundreds of student-athletes, the hard work of numerous assistant coaches, and the friendship and unwavering support from Wyatt Henderson ’98, board of trustees chair; President David DeCenzo; John Vrooman, former head baseball coach; and the late Dick Singleton, chancellor emeritus, to name a few.
“I truly wish I could thank everyone who made this dream of going to Omaha become a reality, but it’s impossible,” Gilmore said. “From my family to current and past administrators to Tami Springs Brooks and her family and everyone associated with the CAF. The community members and everyone who showed up at the airport and attended the parade in Conway and then came to the celebration at Springs Brooks Stadium. This community and Teal Nation have been awesome to us.
“We are very blessed to have all the support we have for our baseball program. It’s a joy to come to work every day. Not many people get to live out their dream. I am very humbled by it all. I just want to say thank you to everyone. It’s been an incredible journey.”
Gilmore plays two seasons (1979–1980) of Chanticleer baseball at USC Coastal Carolina. A center fielder, he has a .353 career batting average, and the 1979 team finishes with a 42-9 record.
The Chanticleers win 38 games and Gilmore helps propel the team to win the 1980 NAIA World Series.
Gilmore leaves scouting with the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians to become an assistant coach at Division II USC Aiken.
Gilmore is named USC-Aiken’s head coach. In his first two seasons, USC-Aiken has a combined winning percentage of over .800.
Gilmore is named the ABCA Division II South Atlantic Region Coach of the Year and the ABCA Division II Coach of the Year.
On June 13, Gilmore becomes the head coach of Division I Coastal Carolina College for the start of the 1996 season.
The Chants win the Big South regular season championship with a 10–2 conference record. Gilmore is named the Big South Coach of the Year.
The Chants win the Big South Tournament to qualify for their first NCAA Tournament during Gilmore’s tenure.
Gilmore is named Big South Conference Coach of the Year. The Chants win the Big South Tournament and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
On Feb. 21, Gilmore wins his 500th game. The Chants win the Big South Tournament and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Gilmore is named Big South Conference Coach of the Year. The Chants win the Big South Tournament and qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
The Chants host an NCAA Regional for the first time but lose to Clemson in the final. The team finishes with a 50–13 record.
The Chants host and win the Conway Regional, beating Columbia, Alabama and East Carolina for their first-ever NCAA Regional Championship.
The Chants become the first Big South team to go undefeated in league play (25-0) and in the Big South Tournament (4-0) in the same year. They are selected as the No. 4 national seed and host and win the Myrtle Beach Regional.
On March 29, the Chants play the American League champion Texas Rangers at BB&T Field in Myrtle Beach.
On Thursday, April 17, Gilmore earns career victory No. 1,000 as the Chanticleers defeat Presbyterian College 4-3.
The Chants begin play in the new Springs Brooks Stadium that is part of a $15.2 million renovation of both the baseball and softball programs’ facilities.
June 30, Gilmore leads the Chants to the NCAA National Championship, with a 4-3 victory over Arizona. It is CCU’s first trip to the CWS in program history.