July 5, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
Sunny Golloway learned early in life that his path to success would not be easy or even fair. He responded by pushing always to work harder and achieve more.
That drive led him to Auburn, where, on June 15, he was introduced by athletics director Jay Jacobs as head baseball coach. Early in his life, such a day would have seemed unlikely.
When Golloway was 3, his father left the family. It wasn't until Golloway was 50 years old that he saw his father again. His relationship with the stepfather who helped raise him was often distant. He lost his beloved sister to cancer. Through it all, he was unbowed, relying on his faith and on the competitive fires that burned within.
Growing up in Stillwater, Okla., Golloway wasn't the greatest of players, but he soaked up knowledge of the game. He was fascinated by legendary Oklahoma State coach Gary Ward, who inspired him to get into coaching. Even before he went to play baseball for Oklahoma Baptist University, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to coach baseball.
"You end up being kind of a self-made man, and you learn as you go," Golloway says. "I lean on the Lord and lean on my wife. A lot of things have happened in my coaching career I don't think have been fair, but I'm not a guy to sit around and say life is not fair. It's not fair for a lot of people.
"I lost my sister to cancer 13 years ago. We weren't real close to our parents. We weren't and we aren't. That's why I tell my son and my daughters how much I love them. I'm not afraid to tell them every day."
As a high school baseball and football coach, as an assistant coach at Oklahoma and as head coach at Oral Roberts and Oklahoma, Golloway's passion has made him successful. In the past 15 seasons as a head coach, he's been to 14 NCAA regionals. He's been to four Super Regionals and a College World Series. His overall record is 681-337-1.
Carl Golloway, an ex-Marine and an IT manager and personal trainer in Chicago, says nothing in his younger brother's life has happened by accident.
"He is relentless," says Carl, two years his brother's senior. "You hear it in his voice. It is not fake. He is passionate about baseball. When I talk to him or I'm sitting with him, he talks baseball. It's more than just business. The way he talks about baseball sometimes is almost romantic. He gets you excited about it.
"He didn't take the paved path to where he is right now. He's not just a head coach at the Division I level. He's at the top, and look at where he started. Those hard times made him appreciate the good times. There is a fire in him."
That fire and that passion, Carl says, were obvious early when they would play game called "pickle" in their back yard. With two bases, they would take turns getting into a rundown and trying to avoid being tagged out. Even then, losing was unacceptable.
"He would just play to the death just to get back on base," Carl says. "That's the story of his life. He's fought hard. He's given it everything he's got. He leaves it on the field on behalf of his players."
When>Sunny Golloway graduated from college, he asked Ward for a job at Oklahoma State. Ward turned him down, but even in doing that, he offered a lesson that sticks with Golloway still today.
"The thing he told me that has never left me is he told me `Nobody is ever going to sell Sonny Golloway except Sonny Golloway.' I have never forgotten that, and I give that advice to young coaches all the time," Golloway says. "I tell them to quit waiting on somebody else to take care of things for them. Go and do it yourself. That's kind of how we coach now. If you want to play and be and impact guy, then go do it."
Golloway helped Oklahoma win a national championship as an assistant in 1994 and got his chance to be a head coach in 1996 at Oral Roberts. After his second season, the Golden Eagles joined the Mid-Continent Conference. Golloway led the way to six straight conference championships and six NCAA regional appearances. In his final four seasons at Oral Roberts, he lost just five conference games.
From there, Golloway rejoined Larry Cochell's Oklahoma staff in 2004. He was named interim head coach in 2005 when Cochell was forced out and eventually head coach. Only once in his nine seasons did the Sooners fail to make it into a regional.
But when Golloway heard John Pawlowski was out at Auburn, he was immediately interested. When he talked with Jacobs and former Auburn greats Tim Hudson and Joe Beckwith in Atlanta, he knew he wanted the job.
"I told myself when I had a chance to meet Jay that was going to be the key," Golloway says. "To have a really a good working relationship is something I've really wanted. When I met Jay and Huddy and Joe Beckwith, I thought they are straight shooters. They have a have definite direction and we have common goals. It just clicked."
More than anything or anybody, it was Jacobs, Golloway says, who convinced him that Auburn is the place for him.
"Jay really impressed me," Golloway says. "He genuinely cares about people. You see that quickly. Someone asked me `Why are you here?' I said `Jay Jacobs.' He was the face of Auburn athletics to me in Atlanta. I knew nothing about the place, and I was sold before I ever got on campus."
His return flight from Atlanta delayed by weather, Golloway talked to his wife, Charlotte, for so long that his cell phone's battery ran out of juice. As he talked, his excitement about the move he was getting ready to make grew.
"This is something I've prayed about and I want to do. If you get on that plane, you're not going to want to come home,'" Golloway told his wife, a Mississippi native and graduate of Mississippi State.
The plane, with Auburn insignia, created a stir in Norman when it landed to pick up Golloway and his family. He and his wife were joined by their youngest daughter Taylor, a recent Oklahoma graduate and the Sooners' head cheerleader last year, and son Callen. His oldest daughter, Sunni Kate, was at home with her husband and newborn baby. Jacobs asked the pilot to twice fly low over the Auburn campus so Golloway and his family could see it from above.
"That was very impressive," Golloway says. "Next thing you know we are here, signing a contract. We fell in love with the place."
Golloway says he hopes to have his family moved later this month, but his focus is increasingly on baseball. He has retained Scott Foxhall as the pitching coach and Scott Duval as the director of baseball operations. He will soon name a hitting coach. He's visited Auburn players playing in the Cape Cod League, talked to others playing summer baseball and met with those still on campus.
His team, Golloway says, has the talent to win right away. And that's what he plans to do.
"We are going to have a talented bunch, and those are my guys," Golloway says. "I've always disliked hearing the comment `when I get my guys.' They are here. They didn't ask for a coaching change. I'm the one that chose to come. I'd better call them my guys if I want them to call me their coach."
Having fun, Golloway says, is at the center of his philosophy of baseball - work hard, compete hard and always enjoy the journey.
"They don't say `Work ball!' when the game starts," Golloway says. "They say `Play ball!' You get paid a lot of money. They expect a return on their investment, and they will get that. One thing I promised Jay is I would not let him down. I've never not been successful, no matter where I've been. We are going to be successful, but we need to have fun while we do it."
When Golloway talks about baseball, he talks about Omaha and the College World Series. He says that will be the goal this season and in every season to come. That goal is his passion.
"The Auburn fans are going to see," his brother says. "It's not about just winning a weekend series. He preaches it, he believes it and his whole being is focused on getting those young men to play in Omaha."
Tomorrow: Golloway talks about his philosophy of baseball and his plans for the Auburn program.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: