Longtime USC, UCI Coach Mike Gillespie Dies

Image credit: (Photo by Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Mike Gillespie, who won a College World Series title with Southern California both as a player and head coach, died Wednesday. He was 80.

Gillespie’s head coaching career lasted 47 years, spanning his time with College of the Canyons (Calif.), USC and UC Irvine. He won more than 1,500 games and took five teams to the College World Series, including the 1998 national champion Trojans.

Gillespie is one of two men who have won a national championship as both a player and head coach, joining Jerry Kindall. Gillespie was the left fielder on the Trojans’ 1961 national championship team and then led his alma mater to the 1998 championship.

Gillespie in 1971 began his coaching career when he started the baseball program at Canyons, a junior college that had opened in 1969. In 16 seasons there, he won three California state titles and 11 conference championships.

In 1987, Gillespie took over at USC, succeeding the legendary Rod Dedeaux. He coached the Trojans for 20 years and won 763 games. Both marks rank second in program history behind Dedeaux.

Gillespie led the Trojans to Omaha four times. The first trip came in 1995, when USC advanced to the national championship game before falling to Cal State Fullerton. USC returned to the CWS in 1998 and, after losing its opener in Omaha, won five straight games to win its first national championship in 20 years. USC defeated Arizona State, 21-14, in the championship game at the height of the gorilla ball era.

USC returned to Omaha in 2000 and 2001 and the Trojans in 2001 produced Mark Prior, the Player of the Year. But they missed the NCAA Tournament three times in the next five years. He was unceremoniously replaced in 2006 after going 25-33, the Trojans’ second losing season in three years. Gillespie has since told reporters he was fired, while USC has maintained that he retired.

Regardless, Gillespie soon found work as the manager of the short-season Staten Island Yankees in 2007 before taking over UCI the following season. He coached the Anteaters for 11 seasons and in 2014 led them to the College World Series.

Gillespie retired following the 2018 season after 11 seasons with UCI. He led the Anteaters to the NCAA Tournament five times and won 393 games.

Gillespie was well-respected around the game, especially on the West Coast. His passing was mourned around the game, from players and coaches alike.

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