Connecting the Dots: Faith, Family & Hard Knocks Lead Golloway to Moore High SchoolJul 10, 2019
Photos courtesy of the Golloway family
"You know one of the interesting lessons that life teaches you is that you can connect the dots of your life when you look back over it," said new Moore Lions head baseball coach, Sunny Golloway. "You can't connect the dots when you're looking forward. You have to look back in your life and realize that things have happened for a reason."
You might be connecting the dots yourself and recognize that name: Sunny Golloway.
Yep. That Sunny Golloway.
The man who coached ORU to six consecutive conference championships and NCAA regional appearances before being hired (for the second time) as an assistant at OU, the heir apparent to longtime coach and friend Larry Cochell. The man who then became OU's next head coach after an improbable series of events that saw then Wichita State Coach, Gene Stephenson, accept the OU job only to leave after a few hours on the job. In his 9 years as OU's head coach, Golloway led the Sooners to 8 NCAA Regionals, 4 Super Regionals, a College World Series appearance (including a 3-2 extra innings loss to eventual national champion South Carolina), and the highest regular-season ranking ever attained by an OU baseball team (2nd). The same man who left OU for Auburn in 2014 and was then fired in 2015 after getting the Tigers back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.
Now, he's back in the saddle as a head baseball coach for the first time since he left Auburn. As Golloway recently reflected on the journey, he pointed to his choice of baseball jersey numbers as just one of many signs that God has had a hand on his life every step of the way.
"I wore number 29 at OU and then when I went up to Oral Roberts that number was retired," said Golloway, "So I chose number 11. It was only years after choosing those jersey numbers that I realized they matched my favorite scripture verse: Jeremiah 29:11."
The verse reads, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Golloway's original plans, like so many Oklahoma youngsters who grow up playing baseball, was to make it the big leagues. His journey began at Stillwater High School, continued at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College, and then ended at Oklahoma Christian College (now Oklahoma Christian University). Golloway loved his time at Oklahoma Christian and ended up taking a job as a pitching coach there right after graduation.
"I was one of those guys who was a sponge about learning the game," said Golloway. "So right away, I made that transition from playing to coaching, and it really clicked for me."
From there Golloway went to Bishop McGuinness as an assistant football and baseball coach where he found that Irish head coach Tom Ward took high school football very seriously. He and his assistants worked long hours during the season, even meeting after church on Sunday's to watch film and game plan before finally heading home after sunset.
"I joked with our head football coach Tom Ward, an outstanding football coach, that he was confused," said Golloway. "I told him he thought we were the Notre Dame Fighting Irish not the McGuinness Fighting Irish."
The connecting dot in the Golloway journey was to Whittier Middle School in Norman where he was the site athletic facilitator and football coach for 7th and 8th grade. To this day Golloway and longtime friend Toby Keith argue over who was the best coach at Whittier. As Golloway looks back at that time, he recognizes another of those connecting dots that have defined his career and how he approaches coaching.
"I didn't treat that time any different than when I was at OU," said Golloway. "It doesn't matter where you coach. You try to be the best you can be no matter where you are coaching or playing."
After a 1-year stint as pitching coach at Norman, Golloway was hired by Cochell to coach pitchers at OU. From that point on, the coaching wheel began turning quickly, but the dots still connected. Golloway had a chance to coach players like J.D. Drew in the Alaska Baseball Summer League. Then Oral Roberts University came knocking in 1995, and Golloway became the youngest head baseball coach in the nation.
"I'm not going to lie to you, I was pretty nervous going into that season," said Golloway. "I was wondering if we were going to win a game at all. We went into that first weekend series with TCU and lost the first game, but then won the second game and I just had a huge sigh relief."
After six straight conference championships and NCAA Regional appearances, the University of Kentucky offered their head coaching job to Golloway, who was planning on accepting and taking his friend and assistant, Rob Walton along with him. Before he could accept, OU called and asked if he would return to assist Larry Cochell with the struggling Sooner program.
"My loyalty brought me back," said Golloway. "Larry gave me my first chance in college so I went back and Rob Walton got the head coach job at ORU when I left."
Golloway admits that he expected that when Cochell stepped down, he would be the logical choice as the next Sooner head coach. Cochell resigned in May of 2005 and Golloway took over as interim. But instead of permanent promotion to head coach, the OU administration decided to hire Gene Stephenson, longtime coach at Wichita State. This was one of those connecting dots that Golloway admits he had a hard time understanding.
"That was a really tough time for me," said Golloway. "Camera crews were wanting to ask me questions about whether or not I had been promised the job. I decided just to take the high road and not cry about it. Gene was a great coach, and he was Joe Castiglione's choice."
Then, after just several hours on the job, the unthinkable happened. Stephenson decided to return to Wichita State, reportedly over concerns about scholarships. Golloway said that the OU administration called to see if he was bitter about what had happened. Golloway said he wasn't. So the Sooners hired him.
"At the press conference I remember being asked if I minded being OU's second choice," said Golloway. "I answered that Gene Stephenson is a Hall of Fame coach and there's no shame in being a second choice behind him. To be honest, I probably wasn't my wife's first choice, either. That worked out pretty good."
What followed was nine years of success that included three Super Regionals and a College World Series trip where the Sooners beat eventual national champion South Carolina in the first round before losing to them 3-2 in extra innings.
"We didn't cry over it because we gave it our best shot and we were that close to winning," said Golloway. "It's important to be good at the College World Series, but you also have to have some luck, and it just wasn't our year."
After the 2013 season, Golloway's agent called and told him some big-name schools were interested in him. Though he was happy at OU, the allure of more money and coaching in the SEC proved to be too much for him to resist. As he looks back at this particular connecting dot, Golloway admits he was about to learn a hard lesson.
"Don't let money be your deciding factor," said Golloway. "I let it be the deciding factor and looking back, I understand that was a mistake. But I've learned from that and moved on from that."
The mistake blew up after the 2015 season when Golloway, along with his good friend and assistant coach Tom Holliday, were accused of NCAA violations. Golloway was fired "with cause," which meant that the school wasn't going to pay him the remaining $1.25 million he was owed on the deal. Golloway says the money was never important. Truth, honor, and the reputation of himself and his friend, Holliday, were the things he cared about most.
"It took eight months for the NCAA allegations to be cleared up against Tom and myself," said Golloway. "We were happy about that, but both of us were left without jobs, so we came back to Oklahoma. Tom in Stillwater to be close to his son and we settled in Blanchard so my son, Callen could play baseball there."
As Golloway reflects on that chapter of his life, he said the dots he looks to connect become painfully evident as he considers why things happened the way they did at Auburn.
"It was great that we were cleared of wrongdoing," said Golloway, "But I still have to assume responsibility as the head coach. I made mistakes. Absolutely. There are things that we could have and should have done differently. But you learn from those things, and you grow from those things."
In the time between returning home, Golloway has come to appreciate living life at a different pace. That includes the joy of watching Callen and his Blanchard teammates win a state championship this past spring. That joy is increased as Golloway sees the connected dots of the past come into focus.
"Blanchard went 39-and-0 and won a state championship," said Golloway. "How great was it to see them win that title and then dogpile on the field at L. Dale Mitchell, the same ballpark where Callen was a ball boy as a youngster."
These days, things feel a long way from those painful days in 2015 when Golloway saw the news of his firing on an ESPN ticker. He talks about being hurt and frustrated that he was being called guilty before the truth was known.
"There was an article written about me back here in Oklahoma that said, 'Sunny Golloway, the train wreck you can't help but watch.' That's tough to bear, and it was a really tough time."
Golloway leaned into his faith and family, finding comfort and healing that has led him to a place of peace.
"It all really comes back to God," said Golloway. "I have a relationship with Christ, and without that, I would be lost."
As he began healing and seeing how even those most painful moments have been a part of the journey, Golloway had another "connected dot" moment that he was unaware of at the time.
"Last fall, I was at a football game between Owasso and Norman and went down to the sideline to chat with my old buddy, Bill Blankenship. I asked him if he ever wanted to coach in college again and he said, 'My days are spent a little more wisely. I'm where I want to be. I'm at peace, and there's a balance between work, my family, and my wife.' At the time, I had no idea that the conversation with Bill would be so profound."
That conversation became more critical to Golloway this past spring when he and his wife, Charlotte, traveled out to Tuscon to watch Callen and the Blanchard baseball team in a spring break tournament. During the trip, Charlotte began showing signs of jaundice. They traveled back to Oklahoma City where a cancer marker test showed Charlotte's count was extremely high, over 100,000. A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer followed, and treatment began. Golloway said that Charlotte is responding very well to the treatment and her cancer marker count is down to around 1,400. Also, her tumor has shrunk dramatically, and they're hoping to reach a cancer marker count of 1,000 or less, which would qualify them for surgery. As they've walked through this particularly tricky part of their journey together, Golloway said he couldn't help but think about his conversation with Blankenship last fall.
"At the time I had no idea that the conversation with Bill would be so profound," said Golloway. "But I thought about it when we found out that my wife has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I had no idea, but God knew at that time that I needed to have that conversation and so that conversation was Bill help me make the final decision about coming to Moore High School."
Golloway said an instant connection with Moore administrators sealed the deal to return to coaching as the head baseball coach at Moore.
"I had a great conversation with district athletic director Brian Fitzgerald and on-site athletic director Chad Mashburn," said Golloway. "Those guys won me over 100% in the interview process. They're genuine, and they want what's the very best for kids and baseball players."
Golloway's excited about being back on the field and even more excited about working with high school kids again. He had a chance to share that excitement in a recent conversation with Moore alumnus, Toby Keith.
"We were talking about Auburn, and I was telling him there's a reason I'm supposed to be back here, and there's a reason I'm at Moore," said Golloway. "I believe in my heart this is where I'm supposed to be at this time in my life, and it's time for me to give back, time for me to pour into kids and help them do their very best to reach their dreams."
And as the dots come into focus and connect for Golloway, he said he feels a new sort of peace settling in over the fiery temperament most people associate with him.
"Christ has led me through every door," said Golloway. "He truly has had His hand on me every step of the way. He knows my children. He knows my wife and that we would face this battle with pancreatic cancer. We know that God has a plan, and we're gonna live our lives according to his plan."