Crimson Tide limited to three hits by Tigers' starter Aaron Nola
Mitch Gaspard returns for his fourth year as the head baseball coach at the Capstone. In his first two years as the head coach at Alabama, Gaspard led the Crimson Tide to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, as the 2011 NCAA Regional appearance in 2011 was the 22nd overall for Bama. The 2010 season for Gaspard ended with 42 victories and a NCAA Super Regional finish in his first season. Alabama finished 2010 with a 42-25 record, as Gaspard tied the school record for most wins by a first-year coach, while becoming the first Alabama coach to lead his team to an NCAA Regional championship in his first season.
Gaspard has developed his own philosophies on hitting, pitching, defense and ways to build a championship program and one cannot argue with his success. That success has come from hard work and high energy, both on and off the field.
"We want to be known as a blue-collar-type team," Gaspard said. "I believe in hard work. We want to work hard in the classroom, during practice and at the games. We want to out-work the teams we play. Our strength and conditioning program is built around mental toughness. When the game is on the line in the ninth inning, we want to be mentally stronger than our opponent. We want the toughness to show in all areas of our team."
Gaspard spent his first season as the head coach instilling that toughness for the Alabama squad. The toughness translated into opening the season with a 16-1 record to match the best 17-game start in school history. Gaspard led the Tide to 14 wins over top-25 competition, and the season wrapped up with the team winning 13 of its final 17 games.
Gaspard has assembled a high-energy coaching staff with a deep passion for the game and deep passion for the Crimson Tide program.
That energy and passion paid dividends in 2011, as the Tide fought its way to a 35-28 record and was ranked in the top-25 for three weeks, before playing in the championship game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional against No. 6-ranked Florida State.
Assistant coaches Dax Norris and Andy Phillips both were all-American players for the Crimson Tide in the 1990s. Norris, the team's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator, played two years at Alabama in 1995-96. Phillips, who is the hitting and infield coach, was a four-year letterwinner for Alabama from 1996-99. After his All-American season in 1999, Phillips went on to play baseball professionally for 11 seasons, including five in Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.
The energy level of the coaching staff has brought about some intense practices and tension-filled scrimmages, putting the players in game-like situations to see how they would respond.
"The one unique quality we have here is we have power but we also have athletes with speed," Gaspard said. "We've got to utilize that and have the aggressive style that's going to put pressure on the defense. We can do that with a little bit of a running game, hit-and-run, playing the short game some and also being able to hit the three-run homer. We can use all three packages on that."
Gaspard also wants to translate that mental toughness to the mound. "The number one goal for us pitching-wise, is to command the strike zone. We've got to have that same aggressive style on the mound. Throw the fastball and put it where we need it and get tough mentally on the mound, the same as many of our position players."
Gaspard has learned from some of the best in the business. He comes from a coaching tree that is a virtual Hall of Fame. His 25-year coaching career has included playing and working for some of the best in the game, such as former LSU coach Skip Bertman, former Houston coach Bragg Stockton and Jim Wells, the former Northwestern State and former Alabama skipper.
After graduating from Port Arthur-Jefferson High School, where he led the team to a state title and earned all-state honors at shortstop, Gaspard played one season for Bertman at LSU. He transferred to Houston in 1986 and finished his career with the Cougars. Stockton offered Gaspard his first coaching job and he spent one year at Houston, before moving on to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette for the next three seasons. From 1989-92, the Ragin Cajuns won three straight conference titles and played in three NCAA Regionals.
During his days as Wells' assistant at NSU, the Demons won SLC titles in 1993 and 1994, winning in 1994 NCAA Regional play.
Gaspard was a pivotal figure as an ace recruiter and shrewd tactician in the remarkable revival of the Crimson Tide in the 1990s. Alabama had four SEC wins in 1994, but after Gaspard arrived the Tide won the SEC Tournament in 1995 and was one win away from the College World Series. By the time Gaspard returned to NSU, as the head coach, Alabama had earned six NCAA Regional appearances and three College World Series berths, including a national championship game loss to LSU in 1997.
In his first seven seasons as an assistant coach at Alabama, Gaspard helped mold the Tide into one of the nation's finest defensive units. Alabama set numerous school records and ranked among the nation's top 10 fielding teams twice in his tenure.
Gaspard was the chief recruiter for Alabama. In each of his first five seasons, Alabama ranked among the nation's top-20 recruiting classes, including three straight top-10 recruiting classes, according to Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.
"Mitch is a bright, young, energetic coach with a great passion for the game of baseball," Wells said. "He is an outstanding recruiter and teacher. He is a tireless worker and is one of the main reasons that we were so successful in the early stages of building our program at Northwestern State and Alabama."
Gaspard got his first head coaching job at Northwestern State in 2002 and compiled a 210-138 (.603) record in his six-year tenure. During that time, he led the Demons to a pair of Southland Conference championships, one SLC Tournament championship and a berth in the 2005 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.
After the 2007 season, Gaspard decided to return to Alabama, where he would be reunited with Wells. After two years as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, Gaspard helped the Tide regain its baseball momentum and ultimately was named the Tide's 30th head coach on Sept. 2, 2009, after Wells' retirement.
"It's the ultimate for me and I'm extremely excited and honored to take over the program and move forward and strengthen where we're at right now," Gaspard said. "I consider Alabama to be the greatest university and we play in the greatest conference against the top competition that there is in the country in college baseball."
CREDENTIALS Gaspard has enjoyed success at every level of his baseball career as a player, assistant coach and head coach. The fourth-year Crimson Tide head coach has worked more than 1,700 games and his teams have compiled a 1,149-617-3 (.650) overall record, including a 308-225 (.578) record as a head coach. Those teams have won 10 conference championships and nine conference tournament titles, while playing in 16 NCAA Regionals and one NCAA Super Regional. Gaspard has played or coached on 17 teams that have won 40 or more games and three teams with 50 or more wins in a season.
THE COACHING TREE Gaspard has been associated with some of college baseball's top coaches, including Skip Bertman, Bragg Stockton and Jim Wells. Bertman changed the face of baseball in the Southeastern Conference and led the Tigers to five national championships. Stockton had great influence on Gaspard's career and offered the young infielder his first coaching position. That first job has turned into more than 20 years of coaching excellence, with Gaspard demanding the best of his players on and off the field. Gaspard played a vital role in the revival of Alabama baseball in the mid-1990s. His keen eye for talent and his ability to teach the game of baseball helped send the Crimson Tide to the College World Series in 1996, 1997 and 1999.
THE PLAYER Gaspard's four-year collegiate career at LSU and Houston saw his teams compile a 148-91 (.619) overall record, post two 40-win seasons and play in two NCAA regionals (1985 and 1987). He began his career at LSU in 1984 and 1985, earning one varsity letter on coach Skip Bertman's first LSU squad in 1984. The 1984 edition of the Tigers posted a 32-23 overall record. The 1985 team went 41-18 en route to the SEC Western Division championship and collected the school's first NCAA Regional appearance since 1975. He transferred to Houston following his sophomore season and played two years for the Cougars, lettering in 1986 and 1987. Gaspard played on coach Rolan Walton's final UH team in 1986, helping the Cougars post a 35-23 overall mark. In his final season as a UH player, Gaspard helped the Cougars to a 40-27 record and a berth in the NCAA Central Regional in Austin, Texas, under first-year head coach Dr. Bragg Stockton. The Cougars finished 1987 ranked 14th nationally.
HOUSTON (1988) Gaspard's first coaching job came at Houston in 1988, under the legendary Dr. Bragg Stockton. He tutored with the Cougars infielders, as Houston posted a 33-22-3 overall record. Gaspard's first game as an assistant coach came on Feb. 13, 1988, against Texas Lutheran.
LOUISIANA LAFAYETTE (1989-92) Gaspard spent four years at Louisiana Lafayette and the Ragin' Cajuns won four conference titles during his time on campus. ULL posted a 183-74 (.712) record during Gaspard's time under coach Mike Boulanger. In 1989, the Cajuns posted a 49-13 overall record and captured the American South Conference championship with an 11-4 record. The following year, ULL (47-18, 11-4) repeated as conference champs and advanced to the NCAA South I Regional in Baton Rouge, before losing to host LSU and Southern Mississippi in consecutive games. The Cajuns (49-20, 14-4) pulled off the three-peat in 1991, winning a third straight American South Conference championship. ULL beat Texas, Clemson and Mississippi State during the 1991 regular season. The Cajuns advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the second straight year, finishing runner-up to eventual national champion LSU at the NCAA South II Regional in Baton Rouge. After an opening-round loss to Texas A&M, ULL bounced back to beat Northwestern State, South Alabama and Texas A&M, before dropping the title game to the Tigers. In 1992, ULL (38-23) finished first in the Sun Belt Conference Western Division and played in the school's third straight NCAA Regional, losing two straight games to Long Beach State and VCU at the NCAA Central Regional in Austin, Texas.
NORTHWESTERN STATE (1993-94) Gaspard hooked up with Jim Wells for the first time in 1993 with the two building a close friendship and working relationship over the next 15 years. In his two seasons as an assistant coach at NSU, the Demons went 85-29 (.737) and won two Southland Conference championships, one SLC Tournament championship and played in one NCAA Tournament. The 1993 NSU squad went 40-14 en route to the SLC title. The 1994 team won a school-record 45 games (45-15) and earned a berth in the NCAA Midwest II Regional in Stillwater, Okla. The 1994 Demons won eight games against top-25 clubs and set 19 school or SLC records, en route to an 18-6 conference mark.
ALABAMA (1995-2001) Gaspard followed Wells to Alabama and played a prominent role in the revival of Crimson Tide baseball. During his seven years on the staff, the Crimson Tide posted a 320-127 (.732) record, played in six NCAA Regionals and made three College World Series appearances (1996, 1997 and 1999) in a four-year span. Alabama also won the 1996 SEC championship and captured four SEC Tournament titles (1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999). The Crimson Tide also was the No. 1 seed at the 1996 and 1997 CWS, the first team in history to be the top seed in consecutive World Series. Gaspard was responsible for bringing in some of the nation's top baseball players with five top-20 classes, including three straight top-10 rankings. One of his star pupils, Lance Cormier, earned All-America honors on the field and in the classroom and left the Capstone as the all-time leader in appearances, innings pitched, wins and strikeouts. Cormier was a fourth-round draft pick following his stellar collegiate career. Under Gaspard's watch, Alabama fielded some fine defensive units. Alabama led the SEC and ranked fourth nationally with a school-record .971 fielding mark in 1996. The following year, Alabama led the league and ranked ninth nationally with a .968 fielding mark in 1997. The 1997 squad was the most prolific offensive team in school history, leading the nation in total hits (860), runs (679), total bases (1,571) and slugging percentage (.622). The 1997 Tide also ranked second nationally in home runs (160), home runs per game (2.29) and wins (56), all school records.
NORTHWESTERN STATE (2002-07) Gaspard was named the head coach at Northwestern State after the 2001 season, following in the footsteps of Jim Wells, Dave Van Horn and John Cohen - all who had left the Louisiana school for SEC head coaching jobs. His six-year record was 210-138 (.603), which included two Southland Conference championships, one SLC Tournament championship and one NCAA Regional appearance. Under Gaspard's guidance, the Demons had 28 All-Southland Conference selections, including 12 first-team picks. Gaspard had two players win major awards under his watch, including 2002 Southland Conference Pitcher of the Year O.J. King and 2004 CoSIDA Academic All-American Bobby Barbier. Gaspard led the Demons to SLC championships in 2002 and 2005. His first NSU squad captured the Southland Conference championship and finished with a 43-17 overall record, including a 14-10 mark in league play. The Demons ranked third nationally in fielding (.974), 11th in double plays (1.17), 12th in earned run average (3.54) and 18th in winning percentage (.717). That 2002 NSU team also set the school records with 612 hits and 53 sacrifice bunts. Despite a solid RPI and key wins over South Alabama and Minnesota, the Demons were left out of the 2002 NCAA Tournament. The 2003 team then posted a 35-22 record, including a 16-11 mark in SLC play, and ranked 12th nationally with 2.02 stolen bases per game. Tigger Lyles was 19th nationally with 0.59 thefts per game. The 2004 Demons posted a 33-23 record and 16-9 mark in conference play. NSU set a school record with 134 stolen bases to rank sixth nationally with 2.34 per game. Lyles and Josh Boop were among the nation's top stolen base artists, each with 0.52 stolen bases per game to rank 29th nationally. Gaspard led the 2005 NSU team to a 41-20 overall record and his first trip to the NCAA Regionals. The Demons posted a 22-5 conference record, setting the SLC record for wins en route to the league championship and a berth in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional. The 2005 squad also set the school record with 19 saves. Daniel Desclouds (10) and Blake Jones (8) accounted for 18 of the saves and both ranked among the nation's top-50 closers. The Demons compiled a 33-28 record in 2006 and set the school record with 522.1 innings pitched. Gaspard was 25-28 in his final season at NSU in 2007.
ALABAMA (2008-09) Gaspard came back to Alabama as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator on July 9, 2007. He spent two years as the Crimson Tide chief assistant coach and ace recruiter. Alabama went 72-49 over those two seasons and played in the 2009 NCAA Clemson Regional. The 2009 squad was one of the most potent offensive squads in the nation, as the Tide ranked among the nation's top-25 teams in home runs per game (7th), slugging percentage (7th), home runs (8th), doubles (12th), runs scored (18th), runs per game (18th), batting average (22nd), doubles per game (23rd) and total hits (25th). The 2009 Alabama team featured SEC Player of the Year Kent Matthes and a school-record tying five first team All-SEC selections.
ALABAMA (2010-PRESENT) Through three seasons as the head coach at Alabama, Gaspard has led the Crimson Tide to a 98-87 (.529) overall record, guiding the Tide to back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances to start his tenure at the Capstone. His 2010 squad was one win from earning the school's sixth College World Series appearance in 2010, winning the NCAA Atlanta Regional before falling to Clemson (2-1) in the Super Regional series. Gaspard's 42 wins in 2010 set a school record for wins by a first-year head coach, and became the first coach in school history to lead his squad to a NCAA Super Regional finish in his first year. Taylor Dugas earned 2010 first team All-America honors by Baseball America and four players earned All-SEC honors, as Dugas and shortstop Josh Rutledge were first team honorees. Following the 2011 season, four Tide players were drafted including Adam Morgan (3rd round), Dugas (8th round), Nathan Kilcrease (30th round) and Brock Bennett (33rd round). Dugas also was an ABCA Gold Glove outfielder and an All-SEC Defensive Team selection, helping the Tide post a school record .973 fielding percentage. Dugas also was a second team All-SEC honoree and an ABCA All-South Region selection. Dugas wrapped up his career at Alabama as the school's all-time hits leader (334), while posting the most doubles (67) and triples (18) in school history. Gaspard has inked one of the top recruiting classes in the country entering the 2013 season, as the crop of 11 players (10 freshmen and one junior college transfer) was rated as the fourth-best recruiting class by Baseball America and the 16th-best class by Collegiate Baseball.