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, 10th-year head coach Craig Gibson has led the Mercer baseball program to great success during his tenure.
Since taking over for long-time skipper Barry Myers in 2004, Gibson has guided the Bears from the depths of the A-Sun Conference to one of the most respected programs in the southeast. With a career 239-212 record, Gibson once again has the Bears poised for success on the national stage in 2012 thanks to his prowess in player development and recruiting.
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. Redshirt sophomore Nick Backlund shined in his first year at Mercer and was named to the Louisville Slugger All-American first team, the A-Sun All-Conference first 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 tied a program record for most wins in a single-season and their 77 wins over the past two campaigns puts the Orange and Black in a tie 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 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 second-most 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 secured road wins at then No. 20 ranked UCF in 2004 and toppled No. 22 College of Charleston in 2005. In 2006, Mercer knocked off a pair of elite squads beating then No. 1 ranked Florida and No. 1 ranked Clemson in back-to-back weeks. The next year brought more of the same, as the men from Macon swept a two-game series from No. 2 ranked Miami, Fla. in Coral Gables to start the 2007 season. The Bears took down another SEC giant in 2009 when it defeated #6 Ole Miss in the Coca Cola Classic.
Just as the Bears have excelled as a team under Gibson, there has been no shortage of individual achievements. Since 2006, eight Bears earned A-Sun All-Conference first team selections, with a total of 24 All-Conference honors given to players under Gibson’s watch. Two of those selections, 2006 closer Andrew Urena and 2010-2011 third baseman Jacob Tanis earned consensus All-American honors from several publications.
A total of 14 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.
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 (22) and Tyler (19).