Much has been made of Mike Gillespie's unceremonious departure from USC in 2006, and with good reason.
Gillespie spent 20 years as the the Trojans' head baseball coach, and his teams qualified for an NCAA Regional 15 times. They twice made it to the national championship game and won the title once, in 1998.
But in three of his last four seasons at USC, Gillespie's Trojans finished under .500. And in June of 2006, as quickly and as quietly as possible, USC replaced him with his son-in-law, former major leaguer Chad Kreuter.
At the time, USC's press release said Gillespie retired, and the university has stuck to that stance since. But the ever-forthright Gillespie admitted Monday that he was indeed fired and did not retire or resign.
"To be brutally frank and candid, I got fired there," Gillespie said. "Over the period of the 20 years that we were there, I don’t have any false pride or humility in saying that we had a great run.
"By and large, we had a great run. But in 3 of the last 4 years, we didn’t and I got fired."
Shown Gillespie's comments, a USC spokesperson maintained that Gillespie retired, as was detailed here.
As the story goes, soon after his firing Gillespie took a job managing the Staten Island Yankees, New York's Single-A affiliate. Just 17 months from the time he left USC, he was hired to take over a prestigious program at UC Irvine. He has directed the Anteaters to two consecutive playoff appearances and the program's first-ever midseason No. 1 ranking.
And he's on pace for another playoff run this year, ranked in the Top 25 nationally by multiple outlets. But Gillespie harbors no ill will towards the USC baseball program or anyone in the administration, he emphasized.
Kreuter has struggled to the tune of a 108-116 overall record in four seasons at the helm of the USC program and no postseason appearances, leading to louder and louder calls for his firing at the end of this season. But, if it was up to Gillespie, Kreuter would keep his job.
"People can criticize Chad Kreuter all they want, but they’re morons," Gillespie said. "They do not know what’s going on. Chad’s a premier baseball guy, and he’s got a lot of help on that coaching staff. They’ve just been cursed."
Gillespie dismissed Kreuter's recruiting misses over the years, calling his son-in-law a "good recruiter" and mentioning the scholarship problem that Kreuter has brought up many times over the years. Simply put, a 50 percent scholarship to play baseball at USC means less to many middle-class families than a similar scholarship to a state school does, because of the increased cost of attending a private school the caliber of USC.
Said Gillespie: "If Chad Kreuter is stupid, the other 280 coaches in the country are stupid as well."
Gillespie and Kreuter will match up tonight (7:15 p.m., Dedeaux Field), in the Irvine coach's third time returning to USC since the coaching switch. In each of the two previous games, UC Irvine topped USC. In fact, when the Trojans beat the Anteaters, 8-6, at UCI earlier this month, it was Irvine's first loss to USC under Gillespie.
Gillespie, who also turned 70 earlier this month, talked Monday about the frustrating loss. In the game, USC rallied to score three runs in the ninth after entering the inning trailing 6-5. Trojans freshman designated hitter Cade Kreuter — Kreuter's son and Gillespie's grandson — also hit a solo homer to tie up the game in the fourth inning.
"It was a good win for them," Gillespie said. "They played well, but the thing that was memorable was that my grandson hit one out of here."