Austin Peay University’s former head baseball coach Gary McClure didn’t start coaching baseball out of ambition. But, his never-say-die attitude led the Govs to more wins than ever before, and earned Gary McClure a spot in the University’s Hall of Fame.
Q: How did you originally begin coaching?
Gary McClure: I finished up playing at Cumberland University. I told my college coach I wanted to coach and he suggested I come to Austin Peay. He then spoke with their coach and then I contacted him as well. The next fall, I began coaching as student assistant and finished my undergrad hours. I then became the graduate assistant coach the following year.
Q: And then later on you were named head coach?
Gary McClure: Actually, I took over later that year in late October. The job was given to me as sort of an afterthought and on an interim basis for that year.
Q: How’s that?
Gary McClure: The coach we had at the time, Billy Merkel, stepped down. Not really having a suitable (and more experienced) coach lined up, I convinced Bob Brooks (the Athletics’ director in 1987) to give me a chance.
Q: What a lucky break.
Gary McClure: Looking back, it did make some sense. I was familiar with the team because I had done the recruiting for that year and had been working closely with Coach Merkel for two years already.
Q: How did the first year go?
Gary McClure: Better, I’ll admit, than I think anyone expected. My first season, we bypassed the cumulative number of wins the team had in the previous two years combined.
Q: You did extremely well…
Gary McClure: I don’t think it ever occurred to me that I wouldn’t. I was young and always believed in myself. Me and my assistant worked very hard and were able to get the players to believe in us and buy into our system even though we were very young. A major problem I had starting out was the condition of our home field, but we started addressing that immediately.
Q: I know that you pushed for improvements over the years. Tell us about them.
Gary McClure: We added indoor training facilities, new lighting, and improved the seating situation. To be honest, the entire park has basically been redone a little bit at a time.
Q: You’ve always been known as a “do-it-yourselfer.” How was it — having to rely on assistant coaches throughout the years?
Gary McClure: At first, I thought I needed to do most everything, but over the years, I learned to delegate things which made me more effective as well. I have been fortunate to have had some very good assistants, especially as the years went on.
Q: How do you feel about being remembered as the best coach in the OVC?
Gary McClure: To be honest, the next game was always the most important to me! Fortunately, we were able to have a lot of success and as a result of longevity and a lot of good players, I was able to rack up quite a few wins. When I passed (Johnny) Reagan’s record a few years back is when it really came to my attention that something special had happened, because he’s a guy that I always admired and respected greatly. Again, I look at it as a team effort. You don’t have success in college athletics without good players and good assistant coaches.
Q: What was your longest OVC Championship streak?
Gary McClure: Three in a row!
Q: That’s something to remember!
Gary McClure: Yes it definitely is, and we were able to make that happen twice — which is unbelievable. (2003, 2004, and 2005) and (2011, 2012, and 2013).
Q: You’ve turned out several pro players over the years…How can you tell they’re going to make it before they get scouted?
Gary McClure: They definitely have something special about them from a mental standpoint and work ethic. The bottom line though, is that they must have the tools to play at the pro level and still be capable of progressing after they are drafted.
Q: What would you say was your best year?
Gary McClure: All 27 of them! It is unbelievable to have the opportunity to do something that you love doing.
Q: Let’s talk about 2013.
Gary McClure: That was a special group of guys. We won 47 games – a school record, we were ranked nationally, we won the conference tournament and went on to be a number 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Q: And you had 5 players selected the MLB Amateur Player Draft…
Gary McClure: We also got to the championship of that regional.
Q: The Govs were definitely a force to be reckoned with while you were in charge.
Gary McClure: Thank you. I truly hope they continue to succeed and I certainly wish them the best of luck!