By STEVE KRAH
Gary Vaught is having an impact on baseball both in Indiana and nationwide.
Vaught, who won 588 games at the high school, NCAA Division I and junior college levels before coming to America’s Crossroads, just concluded his 23rd season as head coach at the University of Indianapolis.
His UIndy teams have added 777 more wins to his collegiate head coaching total pf 944. He has taken the Greyhounds to 10 NCAA Division II tournament appearances with two trips to the D-II College World Series (2000, 2012).
Indianapolis was ranked in the Top 10 during the 2017 season. Five key injuries led to a 27-23 record and missing the Great Lakes Valley Conference tournament.
“That’s what I preach to these kids: One ball, one slide can end your career,” says Vaught. “But it doesn’t have anything to do with keeping you from getting your degree.”
The Norman, Okla., native who was a high school head coach for eight years before four at Connors State College in Warner, Okla., three at Kansas State University and three at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla.
Vaught, a University of Central Oklahoma product, was Big Eight Coach of the Year at KSU in 1985. He led ORU to the NCAA West Regional finals in 1987, bowing out to host and eventual national champion Stanford.
He went from coaching to athletic administration after the 1989 season then got called back into the dugout.
“I grew up playing the game,” says Vaught. “I missed it tremendously.”
He coached his first season at UIndy in 1995.
“I’ve been blessed enough to have coached at all these levels,” says Vaught, who serves the American Baseball Coaches Association as NCAA Division II chair. “At Division II, you are more involved with the student-athlete.
“They know they’re coming to get an education and baseball has helped them attain it.
“It’s very important that people care.”
Vaught said he certainly enjoys winning — his college head coaching win percentage is .595 — but gets even more satisfaction from seeing a player earn his degree.
“Great coaches are made by those who help kids reach their goals and sometimes those goals don’t have to do with baseball,” says Vaught. “When we ask players to play here, it’s a marriage. When I started in coaching, we saw how many people we could get into pro ball.
“That’s not what it’s all about.”
While Vaught has coached future big leaguers — Keith Lockhart among them — he knows those are few and far between.
Former players come back to campus years later — often with his family in tow — to reminisce about the good times he had as baseball-playing student.
That’s what energizes Vaught, who at 65 has no intentions of stepping away anytime soon.
Vaught notes that there is not that much difference between D-I and D-II. Both follow the same rules and calendar. It’s just that D-I offers 11.7 scholarships and limits rosters to 35 and D-II gives 9 scholarships and is not limited to the number of players it can have on the roster (though only 27 can be in uniform for tournament games).
“We get too hung up on the levels,” says Vaught. “Parents want their kid to walk around with a Division I label on his back. What’s important is that their son or daughter is happy.
“Alums of that school are able to give back to that school and the community.”
When Vaught began his college coaching career, he was one of the youngest in D-I, now has the most seniority in the Hounds athletic department and has and worked under four UIndy presidents (G. Benjamin Lantz, Jerry M. Israel, Beverly J. Pitts and Robert L. Manuel).
Former UIndy athlete and coach Dr. Sue Willey is the vice president for Intercollegiate Athletics for the Greyhounds. She oversees an expanding number of sports and facilities, including the 90,200-square foot Athletics & Recreation Center (ARC) and baseball’s Greyhound Park.
“Sue is as good a person as I’ve ever worked for,” says Vaught. “She cares for the student-athletes and cares for the coaches.
“It’s a family here. The coaching staff here all gets along. At a lot of D-I places, you’re on a island.
“Our community keeps getting stronger, stronger and stronger … I wouldn’t trade my experience at UIndy for anything.”
UIndy is proud of its retention rate, the ability to attract and keep students on campus through graduation.
“They come here and enjoy it,” says Vaught. “They realize that the professors care about them and they’re not just a number.
“Once a kid comes here, he’s not shopping and looking to go somewhere else in one year.”
Vaught is pleased to proclaim UIndy’s grade-point average is higher than 3.0 with a roster of nearly 50 players.
“My kids will get in more trouble for not going to class than missing a ground ball,” says Vaught. “That’s a known fact here.”
Vaught warns that unlike video games, hitting the “re-set button” in life is not that easy so he tries to get his athletes to understand that before they head down the wrong path.
To get players ready for the real world, Vaught insists they go through a drug test each August. The program also participates in community service projects.
UIndy’s 2017 roster included 30 players with Indiana hometowns. There are some years when many states and different countries are represented.
“We try to get the best kids in our backyard first and then we go nationwide,” says Vaught.
Since the regular season ended, Vaught has fielded many calls from players, including those at the D-I level, looking for a place to play in 2017-18.
Vaught’s coaching tree has many branches in his 35 years in the profession, with former assistants at many levels of the game. The 2017 staff included Al Ready (associate head coach), Mark Walther (pitching coach and recruiting coordinator), Colton White (assistant coach), Trevor Forde (graduate assistant) and John Wirtz (assistant coach and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer).
The Circle City will be the center of the college baseball coaching universe Jan. 4-7, 2018, when the ABCA national convention comes to Indianapolis for the first time. Given the location, Vaught said there could be as many as 10,000 in attendance. There are sure to be a few tours at UIndy and the NCAA headquarters in downtown Indianapolis.
“I’m looking forward to it,” says Vaught. “Every coach in the nation should be a member (of the ABCA). It’s our voice. Under (Executive Director) Craig Keilitz, the vision in baseball has grown in the communication area.
“I’m glad I’m a part of it.”
Gary Vaught just completed his 23rd season as head coach at the University of Indianapolis. He has more than 900 wins as a college head coach and serves as the American Baseball Coaches Association’s NCAA Division II chair. (UIndy Photo)