Coach Gaspard Previews the Stephen F. Austin Series
Mitch Gaspard returns for his sixth year as the head baseball coach at The University of Alabama in 2015. In his first five years as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, Gaspard led the Tide to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2010 and 2011 and again in 2013 and 2014. The Crimson Tide made their 24th NCAA Regional appearance in 2014 marking the fourth time Gaspard’s teams have reached the postseason in his five years at the Capstone.
In 2014, Gaspard earned the 350th victory of his career, while also claiming his 150th win at Alabama and coaching his 300th game at the helm for the Tide. He reached the 350 win plateau on March 7 when Alabama took down Mississippi Valley State, 8-0. In that same month, Gaspard secured his 150th career victory at Alabama on March 28, taking down ninth-ranked Ole Miss, 7-6, in the series opener. Nearing the end of the season, Gaspard managed his 300th game as the Crimson Tide head coach when Alabama claimed a 15-10 victory at Jacksonville State.
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 is built on a foundation of 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 in 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 also wants to translate that mental toughness to translate 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," Gaspard said. "Throw the fastball, put it where we need it and get tough mentally on the mound, the same as many of our position players."
His focus on pitching really paid off during the 2014 season, as the Alabama staff limited opposing hitters to a lowly .224 average against and maintained a 3.19 ERA for the year. The Crimson Tide staff had three pitchers combine for the program’s eight no-hitter in UA history when the Tide took down Mississippi Valley State on March 8. The no-hitter was Alabama’s first no-hitter since March 31, 1993, when three players combined for a rain-shortened, six-inning perfect game against South Florida. It marked the first nine-inning no-hitter since 1942.
The 2010 season for Gaspard, his first as the head coach at Alabama, ended with 42 victories and an NCAA Super Regional appearance. Gaspard spent his first season as the head coach instilling that toughness for the Alabama program. 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 2010 season wrapped up with the team winning 13 of its final 17 games.
The Tide finished the 2010 season with a 42-25 record, as Gaspard tied the school record for most wins by a first-year coach and became the first Alabama coach to lead his team to an NCAA Regional championship in his first season. One year later, Alabama advanced to the championship game of the 2011 NCAA Tallahassee Regional and then after missing the postseason in 2012, the Tide, which featured four freshmen in the 2013 starting lineup, returned to the NCAA tournament, finishing with a 35-28 record and ranking 29th in the RPI.
In 2014, Alabama made their second back-to-back NCAA Regional appearance under Gaspard, with the Tide advancing to the championship game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional against Kennesaw State. The 2014 squad finished with a 37-24 record and ranked 24th in the RPI.
Over his first five seasons as the Alabama skipper, Gaspard led the Tide to a 170-139 (.550) record and four NCAA tournament appearances. He has coached one first team All-American, four freshman All-Americans, has had two national Gold Glove Award winners, three ABCA All-South Region selections, seven All-SEC honorees, five SEC All-Freshman Team picks, one SEC All-Defensive team recipient, and 58 players earn SEC Academic Honor Roll recognition.
Gaspard has assembled a high-energy coaching staff with a deep passion for the game and deep passion for the Crimson Tide program. That spirited energy fostered by the coaching staff paid dividends in 2011, as the Tide fought its way to a 35-28 record and was ranked in the top-25 for several 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 were All-America players for the Crimson Tide in the 1990s. Norris, the team’s pitching coach, played two years at Alabama in 1995-96, earning first team All-American honors in 1996. Phillips, currently the hitting and infield coach for the Tide, was a four-year letterwinner for Alabama from 1996-99. After his All-American season in 1999, Phillips went on to play professionally for 11 seasons, including five in Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees, Cincinnati Reds and New York Mets.
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 27-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 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 Gaspard’s days as an assistant coach for Wells at NSU, the Demons won Southland Conference titles in 1993 and 1994 and posted their first NCAA tournament win in NCAA Regional play in 1994.
Gaspard was a pivotal figure as an ace recruiter and shrewd tactician during 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 and was one win away from the College World Series in 1995. By the time Gaspard returned to NSU as the head coach in 2002, Alabama had earned six NCAA Regional appearances and three CWS 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 during that 1995-2001 span. In each of his first five seasons, Alabama ranked among the nation’s top-20 recruiting classes, including three straight top-10 classes according to Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball.
Gaspard got his first head coaching position at Northwestern State in 2002 and compiled a 210-138 (.604) 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, where he led the Demons to the program’s second NCAA tournament victory.
After the 2007 season, Gaspard returned to Alabama, where he 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 the day he was announced as the Crimson Tide head coach. "I consider Alabama to be the greatest university. We play in the greatest conference and against the best competition that there is in the country in college baseball."
Gaspard married Kim Howell in 1988. They have two daughters, Brae and Paeton.
CREDENTIALS Gaspard has enjoyed success at every level of his baseball career as a player, assistant coach and head coach. The sixth-year Crimson Tide head coach has been in the dugout for more than 1,800 games and his teams have compiled a 1,221-669-3 (.645) overall record, including a 380-277 (.578) record as a head coach. Those teams have won 10 conference championships and nine conference tournament titles, while playing in 18 NCAA Regionals and three College World Series. Gaspard has played or coached 17 teams that have won 40 or more games and three teams with 50-plus 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 Houston team in 1986, helping the Cougars post a 35-23 overall mark. In his final season as a player, Gaspard helped the Cougars compile 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.
ALABAMA (2010-Present) Through five seasons as the head coach at Alabama, Gaspard has led the Crimson Tide to a 170-139 (.550) overall record, while guiding the Tide to NCAA Regional appearances in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. His 2010 squad was one win from earning the school’s sixth College World Series appearance, after winning the NCAA Atlanta Regional before falling to Clemson, two games to one, in the Super Regional series. Gaspard’s 42 wins in 2010 set a school record for wins by a first-year head coach, and he became the first coach in program 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), Nathan Kilcrease (30th) and Brock Bennett (33rd). Dugas also was an ABCA Gold Glove outfielder, an All-SEC Defensive Team selection, 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 program history. Gaspard inked one of the top recruiting classes in the country for 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. The No. 4 ranking is the highest-rated recruiting class in Alabama history. That recruiting class paid dividends early, as the 2013 squad finished the year with four freshmen in the starting lineup, plus one in the midweek rotation and one in the closer’s role. The selections of Mikey White and Ray Castillo as Freshman All-Americans marked the second time Alabama had two Freshman All-Americans in the same season. The talented group of freshmen, along with Gaspard’s other accumulated talent, earned a No. 2 seed to the 2013 NCAA Tallahassee Regional, the third NCAA Regional appearance for Gaspard and the 23rd for the University. White also earned second team All-SEC honors at shortstop, while Castillo and Kyle Overstreet were SEC All-Freshman Team selections. Overstreet also was named the Division I ABCA Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner at second base. Gaspard’s 2014 team advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Tallahassee Regional, marking the fourth postseason berth in his five-year tenure. Four Tide players were selected to the All-Regional team, including Austen Smith, White, Chance Vincent and Ben Moore. His pitching staff excelled in 2014, as Justin Kamplain, Jay Shaw, and Geoffrey Bramblett combined to throw Alabama’s first nine-inning no-hitter since 1942 on March 8 versus Mississippi State. Thanks to his meager 2.15 ERA AND .226 average against, closer Thomas Burrows was named a freshman All-American by both the NCBA and Collegiate Baseball. Following Burrows’ nomination, the Tide has had a freshman All-American in each of the past three years. Burrows was also selected as a freshman All-SEC honoree, while teammates Ben Moore and Wade Wass were selected as second-team All-SEC members.
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 top 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 slugging percentage (7th), home runs (8th), doubles (12th), runs scored (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.
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, with each ultimately leading their SEC programs to the College World Series (Wells with the Tide, Van Horn with Arkansas and earlier with Nebraska, and Cohen with Mississippi State).Gaspard’s six-year record at NSU was 210-138 (.603), which included two Southland Conference championships, one SLC Tournament title and one NCAA Regional appearance. Under Gaspard’s guidance, the Demons had 28 All-Southland Conference selections, including 12 first-team picks. Gaspard saw two NSU players win major awards under his watch: 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 set the school record with 19 saves. Daniel Desclouds (10) and Blake Jones (8) accounted for 18 of those 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 (1995-2001) Gaspard followed Wells to Alabama and played a prominent role in the revival of Crimson Tide baseball. During his seven years as an assistant coach, the 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 were the No. 1 seed at both the 1996 and 1997 CWS, becoming the first team to be the top seed in consecutive College World Series. Gaspard was responsible signing 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 program’s all-time leader in appearances, innings pitched, wins and strikeouts. Cormier was a fourth-round draft pick following his stellar collegiate career. With Gaspard on watch, Alabama fielded some of the finest defensive units in program history. Alabama led the SEC and ranked fourth nationally with a .971 fielding mark in 1996. The following year, Alabama led the league and ranked ninth nationally with a .968 fielding mark. The 1997 squad remains arguably 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 (1993-94) Gaspard hooked up with Jim Wells for the first time in 1993, building a close friendship and working relationship over the next 15 years. In his two seasons as an assistant coach at Northwestern State, the Demons went 85-29 (.737) and won two Southland Conference championships, one SLC Tournament title 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. Those 1994 Demons won eight games against top-25 clubs, set 19 school or SLC records and compiled an 18-6 conference mark.
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 head coach Mike Boulanger. In 1989, the Cajuns posted a 49-13 overall record and captured the American South Conference championship with an 11-4 mark. The following year, the Cajuns (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 Miss in consecutive games. Louisiana-Lafayette (49-20, 14-4) pulled off the three-peat in 1991, winning a third straight ASC championship. ULL beat Texas, Clemson and Mississippi State during the 1991 regular season before advancing 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, the Cajuns 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 program’s third straight NCAA Regional, losing to Long Beach State and VCU at the NCAA Central Regional in Austin, Texas.
HOUSTON (1988) Gaspard’s first coaching position came at Houston in 1988, under the legendary Dr. Bragg Stockton. Gaspard 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.