By Brian VanOchten | The Grand Rapids Press
Article Source: mlive.com
WYOMING — All that Grace Bible College men’s basketball coach Gary Bailey remembers after hanging up the phone following the first call from retired Hope College coach Glenn Van Wieren a few months ago is he still wasn’t sure what, if anything, had been decided during their brief exchange.
He thought he had been informed of a prestigious coaching honor.
“I was pretty shocked when I got the call,” said Bailey, who is, in fact, being honored as the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan men’s coach of the year at a banquet tonight in Lansing. “Glenn Van Wieren is on the selection committee and he’s the one who called me to tell me about it. I felt really stupid when I talked to him because I wasn’t sure if he told me I won it or if I was a candidate or a finalist or what. He told me he’d call me back in a couple days and give me some details.
“I didn’t say anything to him (when he called back). I was too embarrassed,” he added with a laugh.
The 51-year-old Bailey has nothing to be embarrassed about.
He has taken a nondescript program and transformed it into a national powerhouse that has helped put the small Bible college in the Grand Rapids area on the map both in terms of its athletic and academic profile.
In six seasons at the helm, he has led the Tigers to five National Christian College Athletic Association Midwest regional titles, two Elite Eight appearances in the NCCAA tournament and four national championships.
He joins the ranks of Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Jud Heathcote, Grand Valley State’s Ric Wesley and Tom Villemure, Calvin College’s Ed Douma and Cornerstone University’s Kim Elders as recipients of the BCAM honor following his third consecutive NCCAA national title and a 31-7 record last season.
Izzo is a three-time winner of the men’s college coach of the year award.
Calvin College’s John Ross, who led the Knights to a share of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association title last season, is being honored as women’s college basketball coach of the year in Michigan.
“I’m pretty humbled by it,” Bailey said of his honor. “It’s still hard to believe. I really didn’t know how big it was at the time. Because we’re so small, sometimes you don’t get noticed on a bigger scale like that.”
The enrollment at Grace Bible College is 230 traditional students seeking four-year undergraduate degrees. That figure rises to about 320 when including adult and online students, but the college, which recently underwent a $1.6 million makeover, is on a campaign to boost enrollment in the future.
The school, started in Milwaukee in 1939 and relocated in 1961 to its current campus at 1011 Aldon St. SW, in Wyoming, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in the West Michigan area this year. It has fewer than 2,000 alumni, but that figure has continued to trend upward with the parallel success of its men’s basketball team.
The success on the court has been achieved without the aid of a single dollar spent on athletic scholarships.
The amiable Bailey, originally from Wheelersburg, Ohio, played college basketball at Jordan College in Cedar Springs. So he understands all about the importance of servant leadership and small-school pride.
“It’s always been hard for me to get individual awards,” said Bailey, who has been honored as NCCAA national coach of the year each of the past two years. “So much goes into it. We preach team, team, team all the time. It’s just hard to be the only guy up there when so many other people were such a big part of it.”
He has been approached about taking on bigger challenges elsewhere.
He has resisted the temptation to leave Grace Bible College to coach at a bigger program at another school because he “just feels comfortable” being part of the fabric of a place where everybody knows his name.
“I get asked all the time, ‘You going to be there much longer?’ I don’t look at it like that,” Bailey explained. “I’ve been approached a few times about other opportunities, but it’s just comfortable here at Grace.
“I don’t feel like we’re the little dinky college that other schools schedule us for a tuneup game,” he added. “I know how people used to look at us. I don’t think people look at us that way any more.”
Now everyone looks at Grace Bible College with a deep sense of pride.