The Santa Clarita Valley baseball community was in mourning Thursday, following the death of legendary college coach Mike Gillespie. He died Wednesday at age 80.
Gillespie’s reputation as a coach and mentor went far beyond the Santa Clarita Valley, where he started as a coach in 1971 at College of the Canyons. His career included state championships, national collegiate No. 1 rankings and multiple entries into the halls of fame for his various subsequent coaching stops, including USC, the Staten Island Yankees and the University of California, Irvine.
“He leaves a big hole in Southern California baseball … all levels,” said Dale Legaspi, who played for Gillespie at USC and then helped Legaspi land his first college coaching job at California State University, Los Angeles. “He was always proud of his start at COC, though.”
Legaspi credited Gillespie as “the reason I ever even had a chance to coach college baseball,” noting his kindness and support. “But even before that, when I was a high school freshman coach, ‘Skip’ welcomed me as a colleague and always greeted me as a friend — (the fact that I was a) former player came in a distant third.”
Chuck Lyon, COC’s current athletic director and a hall of fame coach in his own right, said he considered Gillespie like a second father, as well as a mentor for his career.
“He was like my second dad, truly a mentor and a friend,” Lyon, who’s also the college’s current dean of physical education and kinesiology, said in a statement posted on the Cougars baseball team’s website.
Lyon was a dual-sport athlete under Gillespie from 1973-75, when he won a pair of conference championships on the baseball team, and another as a quarterback. Lyon returned to COC in 1998 and led the team to a national championship in 2004.
“He was my baseball coach in the spring and he was my quarterback coach in the fall,” Lyon said. “Most of my coaching style I learned from Mike.”
Gillespie left COC after the 1986 title run to helm USC’s baseball program, where he continued his winning tradition over a nearly 20-year span, including a 1998 national championship.
According to COC’s record books, Gillespie is one of just two coaches in the college’s 50-year history to win multiple state titles, along with men’s and women’s golf coach Gary Peterson.
He amassed a 420-167 record, three state championships and 11 conference titles.
After his time in the minor leagues, he coached at UCI for 10 years, and built the program up to a national contender, earning a trip to the 2014 College World Series and a second Coach of the Year award, before retiring in 2018.