High school baseball: How Bill Blankenship explained to Sunny Golloway the rewards of high school coaching

Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway congratulates designated hitter Matt Oberste after he hit his second homerun of the game against Baylor Saturday, May 26, 2012, in the Big 12 baseball championship at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City. Jerry Laizure/The Transcript

Bill Blankenship didn’t know what advice to offer when Auburn fired his friend Sunny Golloway four years ago.

“There’s just nothing to say to somebody when somebody else wants to get a divorce, especially when it’s someone you care about,” Blankenship said.

The two met in Tulsa in the ‘90s. Their careers intersected while Golloway was coaching baseball at Oral Roberts and Blankenship was overseeing one of the state’s premier high school football programs at Union.

They stayed in touch, and last fall when Golloway asked Blankenship about coaching again — but in high school — this time Blankenship knew what to say.

Do it, he said.

That’s what Blankenship had done after the University of Tulsa fired him as its football coach, and he has achieved arguably the best work-life balance of his career since. He also won two championships — a state title at Fayetteville (Arkansas) High School and another that shifted Class 6A’s top-heavy structure during his first season at Owasso.

“I just told [Golloway] that if you find the right place, I think you’ll still love doing it,” Blankenship said. “The college experience helped me so much in going back to high school, to not always be looking ahead at what might be next.

“I’m excited to have the lifestyle I have and my daily buzz of going to work is as good as it’s ever been. I don’t think being at the high school level changed that for me.”

Golloway, a proven winner with 743 Division I baseball victories, recently accepted a head coach and teaching position at Moore High School. His opportunity is similar to Blankenship’s, though he’ll have to rebuild a Lion program that has not been to the state tournament since 2009.

Still, Golloway’s anxious to coach games that matter again. And he insists this isn’t a temporary stop.

“I anticipate I will finish my coaching career as a Moore Lion,” Golloway said. “That is the plan.”

Arizona State and San Diego State both discussed openings with the former University of Oklahoma head coach after his time at Auburn ended, but Golloway wanted to have a presence while his son, Callen, played high school baseball.

The family wound up living on a ranch in Blanchard and Golloway taught baseball privately on the side. He helped start OK Instructs, a baseball academy that he’ll reduce his coaching role to avoid a conflict of interest with Moore.

Proximity to family and friends and reduced travel were important job aspects after his wife Charlotte’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis this spring. She has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy and will undergo surgery once her cancer marker recedes.

It’s been a life-changing experience for Golloway, whose name found negative spotlight at times during his college coaching career.

His intense, fiery persona was never a secret. Auburn fired him with cause for what it deemed as violation of university and NCAA rules, denying him a $1.25 million buyout on his contract. (The two sides eventually settled and the NCAA published a letter clearing Golloway of any major infractions.)

Now he says his coaching style has changed since he was the nation’s youngest Division I baseball coach at ORU in 1996, when he brought a palpable attitude to the ballpark every day. Back then, he was competing against successful coaches like Gary Ward (Oklahoma State), Larry Cochell (Oklahoma) and Norm DeBriyn (Arkansas).

Golloway took an edge with him to OU, where he earned seven regional berths, four super regionals and the 2010 College World Series in nearly nine seasons.

“I felt it was me against the world at ORU,” Golloway said. “I would say I’ve adjusted the way I coach. I feel like we’ve always loved our players and treated them good, but when players went off in the wrong direction and I’d had enough, I mean, I’d had enough. But there’s just smarter ways to do things than I have before.

“I’ve made my mistakes, I really have, and I’ve owned my mistakes and I’ve learned from them … I choose not to be polarizing. I choose not to be fire and brimstone.”

Now, Golloway’s almost back where he began. His career started as Norman High’s pitching coach in 1991. That’s where he taught Chad Cochell, whose dad attended games when he wasn’t coaching OU’s baseball team. This twist of fate ultimately kickstarted Golloway’s college career.

“I’ve watched you,” Larry Cochell told him once. “I think you’ve got a special talent. I’ve think you’ve got a tremendous amount of passion. We need a young, energetic guy.”

OU brought Golloway on board as an assistant and four years later he was at ORU. That’s around the time he met Blankenship.

“He was a football fan, I was a baseball fan,” Blankenship said. “I know we had some mutual friends in FCA. He asked to stand on the sideline for games, I’d go out and watch some baseball. That kind of stuff.”

Blankenship believes his friend will find the high school life rewarding. He remembers someone telling him he’d be a good fit at Fayetteville, and at the time he disagreed.

“[Because] I didn’t think so,” Blankenship said. “Then I went over and visited with them and thought, man, I’d like to do this. Then you get there and you’re like, hey, I’m right back where I was before. And the game, at least for me, wasn’t all that much different.”