With a 3-2 victory over Central Arkansas on March 30, 2013, Jim Gilligan reached yet another milestone in his long and storied baseball-coaching career. It was Gilligan's 1,250th victory, placing him in an elite circle with only four other active NCAA Division I coaches.
Gilligan's victory total was at 1,267 when the 2013 season ended, and it's a great source of pride for Lamar University that 1,257 of those victories have been achieved over the 36 seasons during which he has worn a Cardinal uniform as head coach. Counting his playing career and his time as an assistant coach, Gilligan has faithfully served Lamar for some 40 years.
Over this span, Gilligan has guided the Cardinals to 12 NCAA Regional Tournaments, the most recent being in 2010 when the team swept its way through the Southland Conference Tournament in Corpus Christi.
Gilligan was inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, and the City of Beaumont thought so highly of him that the city council voted unanimously in 2010 to rename the stretch of Florida Avenue running adjacent to Vincent-Beck Stadium Jim Gilligan Way. Additionally, Gilligan was honored as a Distinguished Lamar Alum.
Gilligan has won six conference Coach of the Year awards - five in the Southland and one in the Sun Belt. He has guided the Cardinals to 12 conference championships and five conference tournament championships, and he has sent over 150 players into professional baseball and many others on to baseball-coaching careers.
In recognition of these accomplishments and many others, Gilligan was inducted last spring into the Southland Conference Hall of Honor, joining seven other former Lamar dignitaries who earned the same distinction. They are football coach/athletics director J.B. Higgins, university president F.L. McDonald, men's basketball coach/athletics director Billy Tubbs, women's athletics director Belle Mead Holm, track and field coach/athletics director Sonny Jolly, volleyball coach Katrinka Jo Crawford and athletic trainer/administrator Paul Zeek.
"When the proposed street name change came up before the council, I had no doubt it would be unanimous," said Becky Ames, Beaumont's mayor, during the dedication ceremonies for the naming of Jim Gilligan Way. "We all love Coach Gilligan.
"We can now proudly drive down this street renamed in honor of this man who has done so much for Lamar University and the city of Beaumont. He has touched so many people in so many different ways."
Gilligan, who coached the 2010 Cardinals to the SLC Tournament championship and to their 13th NCAA regional appearance, ranks sixth among the NCAA's active coaches in career victories with 1,218 (his first 10 came in one season at Western New Mexico).
Gilligan is a Lamar graduate, having earned a bachelor's degree in 1969 and a master's in 1970, whose head-coaching tenure at his alma mater is split into two periods. In coaching the Cardinals for 14 seasons (1973-1986), he guided LU to seven SLC championships, six NCAA Regional appearances and two SLC zone titles.
Gilligan's teams played twice in NCAA regional semifinals, one step from a shot at the College World Series. He garnered his 500th victory in 1986, becoming the youngest coach to do so at the time.
After a five-year foray into professional baseball, Gilligan returned to Lamar for the 1992 season. He wasted little time in rebuilding the program, and the Cardinals won the 1993 Sun Belt Conference championship and advanced to the NCAA Central Regional.
Since Gilligan's return, Lamar has won three conference championships, four conference tournament championships and appeared in six more NCAA Regionals.
Among Gilligan's greatest honors was his 2004 induction into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame alongside Houston Astros legends Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio and Kenny Rogers of the Texas Rangers.
Between his stints at Lamar, Gilligan managed the 1987 Salt Lake Trappers of the Pioneer League when they broke a 68-year-old professional record by winning 29 consecutive games. To recognize the achievement, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., created a permanent display featuring Gilligan's No. 29 jersey.
Gilligan's 1981 Cardinals won a school-record 54 games, and his teams have reached the 35-victory level on 22 other occasions.
Gilligan's overall record is 1,267-820-6 (.605) which ranks him as the 14th all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division I history in wins. He has a 1,257-810-6 (.607) record at Lamar.
Gilligan led the Cardinals to their 10th SLC regular season title in 2004. Lamar also made its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance as the No. 3 seed at the Houston Regional, hosted by Rice University. Lamar lost to second-seeded Texas A&M and was eliminated by host and top-seeded Rice.
In 2003, Gilligan guided Lamar to its ninth SLC regular season title and a spot in the NCAA Regional in Austin. The Cardinals came within one win of advancing to an NCAA Super Regional after pushing the host Longhorns to a championship game.
Texas pulled out a 6-3 win over the Cardinals and went on to participate in the College World Series. Gilligan has coached 82 first-team, all-conference players and sent over 150 players into professional baseball.
Gilligan's trademark is getting the most out of his players, especially the pitching staff, having been a pitcher himself. He took an overachieving club in 1995 which placed fourth in the Sun Belt's regular season race to Jacksonville, Fla., for the conference tournament. Four days later, the Cardinals came back to Beaumont (after beating the host Dolphins in back-to-back games) to celebrate their SBC Tournament championship and prepare for a berth in the NCAA Regionals.
Lamar played in the Midwest Regional in Wichita, Kan., where they beat host Wichita State twice and lost to eventual College World Series participant Stanford twice.
At least part of the appeal of the Cardinal program stems from Gilligan's days as a player at Lamar to add to his 38 seasons of coaching in Beaumont (two as an assistant to Bill Vincent). Lamar has played for the conference championship on the last day of the season in 18 of those seasons.
A former southpaw pitching star for the Cardinals, Gilligan led Lamar's 1967 staff in victories (five), earned run average (2.54), and strikeouts (60). He worked as a graduate assistant coach for the Cardinals in 1970 and 1971 after pitching a year in the Detroit Tigers' organization.
In 1972, Gilligan had his only collegiate head coaching stint besides Lamar, going 10-10 at Western New Mexico before returning to the same position at his alma mater in 1973.
Before becoming Salt Lake's manager in 1987, Gilligan served as the Trappers' pitching coach in 1986. That season, Salt Lake had the best pitching staff in the league, and the Trappers won the Pioneer League championship.
The primary goal Gilligan has yet to reach is a berth in the College World Series. It's an objective he plans to fulfill as part of his commitment to the Cardinals' program.
Gilligan and his wife LaVerne reside in Beaumont. LaVerne has been instrumental in the success of the annual Lamar Baseball Banquet and also assists in securing outfield billboard sponsors.