With a philosophy based on the concepts of striving for excellence in the classroom, reaching out in the community and team achievement on the field, 13-year head coach Craig Gibson has led the Mercer baseball program to unparalleled success during his tenure including a Top-100 ranking as a program by D1Baseball.com.
With a career 393-291 record, Gibson once again has the Bears poised for success in the program’s second season in the Southern Conference in 2016 thanks to his prowess in player development and recruiting. Under Gibson’s watch, Mercer has developed into one of the most exciting programs in the country, leading the nation with 312 home runs over the last five years and a pitching staff that has led the conference in ERA in each of the past two seasons.
Since taking over for long-time skipper Barry Myers in 2004, Gibson has guided the Bears from the depths of the Atlantic Sun Conference to the top of the Southern Conference as one of the most respected programs in the southeast including an unprecedented run over the last six years. Under Gibson’s tutelage, Mercer has set a program record with six-straight seasons of 35 wins or more, becoming just one of nine programs in the country to achieve the feat.
A large part of that success is due to the program’s dominance at Claude Smith Field, where the Bears went 24-4 in 2014 to rank seventh in the nation with a .857 winning percentage while helping push their total tally to 83-32 at home since the start of the 2012 campaign.
Mercer did not miss a beat in 2015 on the way to its third NCAA Regional appearance in program history, despite a youth-laden roster that only featured one returning positional starter. Gibson took home SoCon Coach of the Year honors, the seventh postseason accolade of his career, after leading the Bears to the 2015 Southern Conference and regular-season crowns in possibly his best coaching effort of his career.
The veteran skipper had the Bears playing their best ball late in the season, as the team won 24 of its final 36 contests to finished with a 35-23 overall record and a 16-7 mark in SoCon play. A dominating sweep of Georgia helped Mercer once again finish among the state’s elite with five wins against in-state opponents, thanks in part to the SoCon’s top pitching staff and a defense that led league with a .973 fielding percentage. Not to be done, the Bears’ young offense heated up as the year went along, batting .313 over the final 36 games while ranking among the nation’s leaders with 69 home runs.
The program’s postseason run did not go unrecognized by opposing coaches and media pundits, as the team racked up a host of individual awards. Kyle Lewis led the way with one of the best individual seasons at Mercer, garnering Gregg Olson Breakout Player of the Year honors and consensus All-American recognition while being named the SoCon Player of the Year to join Gibson as one of three players in program history achieve the mark. Senior pitcher Eric Nyquist joined him on the All-SoCon First team, while also being named the Walt Nadzak Most Outstanding Player of the SoCon Tournament. Trey Truitt added to the long list of honors, as the freshman was one of six Mercer players honored by the SoCon and the fifth Bear to receive Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America recognition.
The Bears’ impressive play at home in 2014 helped the program finish the year ranked No. 45 in the RPI according NCAA.com, Boyd’s World and WarrenNolan.com, after putting together a 38-17 overall record and qualifying for their ninth-straight Atlantic Sun Championship with an 18-9 mark in league play. Mercer tallied a 13-5 record against RPI Top-100 teams, including a 4-2 victory over No. 4 Florida and sweeps of Atlantic Coast Conference champion Georgia Tech, High Point (No. 62) and Evansville (No. 77). Gibson’s squad climbed to high as No. 24 in the Baseball America Top-25 Poll, the team’s second ranking in as many seasons. The program also continued its dominance against in-state foes, compiling a state-best 6-2 mark against fellow NCAA Division I programs from Georgia.
The 2014 season also proved to be a record-setting year, as several program marks fell during the Bears’ successful run. Mercer opened the season with nine-straight victories to best the program record of eight consecutive wins by the 1970 squad, while also setting a school record with an Atlantic Sun-leading team ERA of 3.27. The Bears, who ranked among the nation’s top-20 in multiple statistical categories, had a record-breaking six players earn all-conference recognition, led by first team selections Sasha LaGarde, Michael Massi and Eric Nyquist. Massi, who set single-season record with 196 assists, was also selected as the A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year and Scholar-Athlete of the Year while joining Derrick Workman on the Capital One Academic All-America first team.
2013 saw the Mercer baseball program reach new heights with its highest national ranking in program history, its first Atlantic Sun Conference Regular Season Title in program history and its second NCAA Tournament appearance, via an at-large bid, in school history. Under Gibson’s tutelage the Bears compiled a 43-18 overall record in 2013, setting the school record for most wins in a single-season. Mercer finished the season with a 20-7 A-Sun Conference record to capture its first Atlantic Sun Conference Regular Season Title in program history. All the Bears success was not lost on the rest of the country, as Mercer set a new program record for the highest national ranking in program history when it was ranked No. 21 in the Perfect Game Top-25 poll. Ranked in the top-30 in the ratings percentage index (RPI) almost all season long, the Bears finished 2013 ranked No. 37 in the RPI according to NCAA.com, Boyd’s World and WarrenNolan.com.
Gibson was recognized for Mercer’s banner season by being named the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year. The honor brings Gibson’s A-Sun Conference career full circle as he became the first person in league history to be named both Coach of the Year and Player of the Year, which he secured back in 1985. Hardly alone in receiving individual accolades, Gibson saw several of his players take home substantial hardware including sophomore third baseman Chesny Young who, along with an ABCA/Rawlings All-American third team selection, became the first Mercer player to win the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year since Gibson did it in 1985. Junior Nick Backlund garnered NCBWA All-America second team and ABCA/Rawlings All-South Region second team honors, junior Derrick Workman was named a Capital One Academic All-America first team member and junior Brandon Barker was named the A-Sun Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
The Bears kept their string of recent success going in 2012 with yet another stellar season on the diamond. The squad finished with a 38-21 overall record and in the process set a new program record for most regular season wins, with 37, breaking the old mark of 36 back in 1981. The Orange and Black clinched a spot in the A-Sun Championship on the final day of the regular season, marking Mercer’s seventh-straight appearance in the conference postseason tournament. The young 2012 Bears squad also showed they aren’t afraid of the big boys, notching wins over eventual ACC and SEC champions Georgia Tech and Mississippi State, respectively.
2012 also brought multiple individual awards for players coach by Gibson. Sophomore Nick Backlund shined in his first year at Mercer and was named to the Louisville Slugger All-American first team, the NCBWA All-America second team, ABCA/Rawlings All-South Region second team and the ABCA/Rawlings All-South Region first team. Freshman Chesny Young made history as he was the first Mercer player named the A-Sun Conference Freshman of the Year. Young was also named to the Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American Team while sophomore Derrick Workman was voted onto the A-Sun All-Conference first team and A-Sun Academic All-Conference first team.
After all the success the Bears had in 2010, you would think 2011 would be destined to be a down year for Mercer, but that was hardly the case. Mercer finished the campaign with a 39-20 overall record and a runner-up finish in the A-Sun Championship. The Bears 39 wins is tied for the second-most wins in a single-season in program history while their 77 wins over the 2010 and 2011 campaigns was tied for the 28th most wins in the nation over that two-year period.
Despite losing to Belmont in the Championship round of the 2011 A-Sun Championship, Mercer finished its season with a No. 56 ranking in the National Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Under Gibson, multiple Bears received postseason distinction including juniors Jacob Tanis and Brandon Love who were named to the A-Sun All-Conference first team. Tanis was also named a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) second team All-American while catcher Austin Barrett and outfielder Derrick Workman were tabbed Freshman All-Americans.
After a steady climb during the first six seasons of his tenure, Gibson’s efforts finally came to fruition in 2010 as he has guided the Bears to a 38-win season and the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Despite the preseason doubters, the 2010 season proved to be one of the most storied of the program’s 62-year history. Predicted to finish tied for sixth in the A-Sun Baseball Preseason Poll, Gibson guided Mercer to a 38-24 overall record and a 16-11 mark in conference play. The 38 wins were the fourth-most in a single-season in program history while Mercer’s 16 conference victories were the most since a 19-11 A-Sun mark in 1999.
Gibson, who garnered 2010 Georgia Dugout Club Division I Coach of the Year and 2010 SoutheasternBaseball.com Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year honors, directed the Orange and Black to their fourth Atlantic Sun Championship in program history and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Atlanta Regional. The Bears didn’t stop there, however, as they defeated No. 3 seed Elon for their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and took eventual Atlanta Regional champion Alabama down to the wire in a 5-3 defeat.
Along the way, the 2010 Bears set numerous team records, including batting average (.340), runs per game (8.9) and hits (770). Gibson also tutored Consensus All-American Jacob Tanis and a total of four All A-Sun performers. 15 Bears earned A-Sun All-Academic honors in 2010, while sophomore Billy Burns garnered a CoSIDA ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District second team selection.
After a nine and eight-game improvement in 2004 and 2005, Gibson’s first two years as head coach, the Bears 2006 season is the year that began the programs turnaround. Mercer catapulted from cellar-dweller to among the conference elite, finishing the season in third place in the standings at 34-26 overall and 19-11 in A-Sun play. The 2006 campaign produced the first 30-win season for Mercer since 1999, tied the school record for most A-Sun wins in school history and ended a seven-year postseason drought at the same time.
Gibson and the Bears didn’t waste time dwelling on the success of the 2006 season. The program continued its momentum the next year, winning 33 games and finishing second in the A-Sun regular season standings in 2007. Despite a nine-game drop off in 2008, the Bears still managed 17 wins in conference play, helping them earn a third consecutive No. 2 seed in the A-Sun Tournament. The 2009 edition of the Bears finished with a 23-23 record and secured the programs fourth-straight A-Sun Tournament appearance.
While riding the recent wave of success, the Bears have captured a number of program-defining victories over some of the nation’s elite. Mercer has secured 14 wins over ranked foes under Gibson’s tenure including wins over then No. 1 ranked Florida and No. 1 ranked Clemson in 2006, a two-game series sweep at No. 2 ranked Miami to start the 2007 season, a neutral site win over No. 6 Ole Miss in the Coca Cola Classic in 2009, a pair of wins against a No. 6 and No. 9 ranked Georgia Tech team in 2011 and a three-game home series sweep of No. 24 FGCU in 2013.
Just as the Bears have excelled as a team under Gibson, there has been no shortage of individual achievements. Since 2006, 22 Bears earned All-Conference first team selections, with a total of 49 All-Conference honors given to players under Gibson’s watch. Five of those selections, closer Andrew Urena (2006), third baseman Jacob Tanis (2010-11), designated hitter Nick Backlund (2012-13), third baseman Chesny Young (2013) and centerfielder Kyle Lewis (2015) earned All-American honors from several publications.
A total of 16 players under Gibson’s tutelage have been drafted since the 2006 season. Urena (11th round, Chicago White Sox) and teammate Brantley New (27th round, Boston Red Sox) went in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft. Reliever Cory Gearrin (4th round, Atlanta Braves) and catcher Josh Thompson (32nd round, Florida Marlins) were selected in the 2007 Draft. Outfielders Billy Burns (16th round, Atlanta Braves) and Matthew Crawford (23rd round, Anaheim Angels) along with pitcher Lath Guyer (48th round, Tampa Bay Rays) each had their names chosen in June of 2008. Starter Dan April (39th round, Tampa Bay Rays) was the Bears lone draftee in 2009, third baseman Jacob Tanis (26th round, Colorado Rockies) and second baseman DJ Johnson (21st round, New York Mets) were taken in the 2010 Draft, while third baseman Jacob Tanis (13th round, Oakland Athletics), starting pitcher Justice French (25th round, Cincinnati Reds), outfielder Joseph Winker (28th round, Los Angeles Dodgers) and outfielder Billy Burns (32nd round, Washington Nationals) were selected in the 2011 MLB Draft. Mercer had two players taken in the 2014 draft, as third baseman Chesny Young (14th round, Chicago Cubs) and pitcher Brandon Barker (16th round, Atlanta Braves).
While his dedication on the field is without question, it’s Gibson’s ability to push his players in the classroom that separates him from the rest. Mercer’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) has steadily improved under Gibson, now reflecting an outstanding four-year average of 974.
Gibson started his career at Mercer as a player. In his junior year of 1985, the hard-hitting first baseman earned Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year honors, while leading the Bears to an Atlantic Sun Championship. Gibson is one of only three Bears to earn A-Sun Player of the Year honors and the last Mercer player to claim the distinction. He still ranks in the Mercer single-season Top-10 in multiple statistical categories including batting average (T-8th), doubles (T-6th), home runs (8th), RBI (8th) and total bases (7th).
Following his playing career, Gibson served as a graduate assistant coach on Myers’ Mercer staff for two years. He then took over as the head baseball coach at Jupiter Community High School in Jupiter, Fla. for two years before moving over to Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach, Fla., for one season. Gibson wrapped up his high school coaching career in 1993 as the head coach at Palm Beach Gardens High School in Palm Beach, Fla.
In August 1993, Gibson got the call to come home and serve as a full-time assistant under Myers. With his strong ties to Mercer and a wealth of coaching experience, it made former Athletics Director Bobby Pope’s choice an easy one when he elevated Gibson to the head job following Myers resignation.
On top of his victories on the field, Gibson was a winner in the classroom, earning a bachelor’s degree in history and health, physical education and recreation in 1986, and a master’s of education in social science from Mercer in 1988.
A native of Macon, Ga., Gibson and his wife Diane have two children, Lindsey and Tyler.
Craig Gibson at a Glance:
|Year||School||Record||Conference Record||Postseason Appearance|
|2015||Mercer||35-23 (.603)||16-7 (.696)||SoCon Regular Season & Tournament Champion; NCAA Tallahassee Regional|
|2014||Mercer||38-17 (.691)||18-9 (.667)||A-Sun Tournament|
|2013||Mercer||43-18 (.705)||20-7 (.741)||A-Sun Regular Season & Tournament Champion; NCAA Starkville Regional|
|2012||Mercer||38-21 (.644)||15-12 (556)||A-Sun Tournament|
|2011||Mercer||39-20 (.661)||17-12 (.586)||A-Sun Tournament Runner-Up|
|2010||Mercer||38-24 (.613)||16-11 (.593)||A-Sun Tournament Champion; NCAA Atlanta Regional|
|2009||Mercer||23-23 (.500)||12-15 (.444)||A-Sun Tournament|
|2008||Mercer||24-33 (.421)||17-16 (.515)||A-Sun Tournament
|2007||Mercer||33-25 (.569)||17-10 (.630)||A-Sun Tournament
|2006||Mercer||34-26 (.567)||19-11 (.633)||A-Sun Tournament
|2005||Mercer||28-26 (.519)||12-18 (.400)|
|2004||Mercer||20-35 (.364)||8-22 (.267)|