March 1, 2015
He retired following the 2011 college baseball season after 59 years and a college baseball-best 1,893 coaching victories at the time after coaching baseball teams at Lewis, St. Francis, and Ripon Colleges.
The coaching legend amassed 2,402 victories in four sports.
Gillespie was inducted into 15 halls of fame and went 55 consecutive years (3,371 contests) without missing a game.
It was undoubtedly the greatest streak in athletics’ history before the flu sidelined him for the first 11 games of the 2008 season.
At the time of his retirement, he told Collegiate Baseball:
“When you get to be 85 years old,” said Gillespie, “The good Lord has a way of telling you that it is time to slow down. You reach a point when you just don’t have the time or the energy to do the job the way that you have always done it in the past and that time is now for me.
“I have loved every minute of what I have done in coaching for the past 59 years,” said Gillespie.
“I love this school and all the great people that I have had the opportunity to work with and the young people whom I have had the honor to coach.”
While Gillespie has achieved fame and success in coaching four sports, it is his record on the baseball diamond for which he will be remembered the most.
Gillespie began a run of 59 consecutive seasons as a college baseball head coach at then-Lewis College in 1953. He spent 24 years with the Flyers and posted no losing seasons after a 5-9 record in his first year. He directed Lewis to the NAIA World Series eight times and his teams won national titles in his last three years at Lewis in 1974, ’75 and ’76.
He then made the short move down Illinois Route 53 to Joliet and assumed the head coaching reins at St. Francis. He tutored the Saints’ baseball program for the next 19 years and took his clubs to the NAIA World Series eight more times. The Saints won the school’s first and only team national championship in 1993.
He left St. Francis after a World Series appearance in 1995 and moved up to Ripon College, an NCAA Division III school in Wisconsin, where he replaced his oldest son Bob – who was also Ripon’s director of athletics – as the Red Hawks’ head coach. He posted a 239-130 record in 10 seasons and led Ripon to the NCAA DIII playoffs in six of his last seven years.
In the spring of 2005, Gillespie’s long-time assistant and his successor at St. Francis – Tony Delgado – announced his retirement. Gillespie was offered the job and accepted.
Gillespie coached the Saints for the next six seasons and won two Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference championships and one CCAC Tournament title.
He earned over 1,000 of his 1,893 wins at St. Francis, eclipsing that magical number earlier this season. And, he did all that after he had turned 80 years of age.
Gillespie also coached men’s basketball for 15 years at Lewis and started the women’s basketball program in 1976 at St. Francis.
In his 15 years at Lewis, he had just two losing seasons and his inaugural St. Francis women’s team posted an 11-7 record.
While he is known nationally for his baseball accomplishments, the Gillespie legend may be even more prominent in Joliet in the sport of football.
Despite the fact that he never played the game, Gillespie directed the Hilltoppers of Joliet Catholic High to 222 wins and five Illinois state championships during a remarkable 27-year run.
He may have added more state titles to his resume but the state playoff system was not put into place until 1974, his 16th year on the Hilltoppers’ sideline.
He was recognized by the Chicago Tribune as the head coach of the all-time Illinois prep football team in 1991.
Gillespie left Joliet Catholic in 1986 and started the football program at St. Francis. He directed the Saints to winning seasons in each of their first six years and had the school in the NAIA national playoffs in just its second year as a program in 1987.
Overall, in 110 sport seasons over the course of 59 years, Gillespie compiled a record of 2,402-1170-6 (.672). In all, Gillespie’s teams failed to record at least a .500 mark on only 10 occasions.
Gillespie is a graduate of Chicago’s Kelvyn Park High School and DePaul University, where he played basketball for Hall of Fame coach Ray Meyer. He also played college basketball at the University of Illinois and at Great Lakes Naval Center while in the armed services.
Gillespie is the father of seven children through a previous marriage (Bob, Mike, Billie, Greg, Gordie, Jr., Margaret Mary and Jackie). He and his wife, Joan, reside in Joliet. Between the two of them, they have a combined total of 37 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren.
A special look at Gillespie and what he meant to thousands of coaches across the USA will be in the March 20, 2015 edition. To reserve a copy, CLICK HERE.