Bissell chosen as new GVSU men's golf coach
In 1999, Grand Valley State University was in need of a coach for its men’s and women’s cross country and track and field teams. The search took GVSU to Butler University where a recent alum named Jerry Baltes was quickly making a name for himself.
Although he was just a year removed from earning his degree at Butler, GVSU decided to take a shot with Baltes – a young prospect with no head coaching experience.
Fifteen years later, GVSU Athletics can look back on the hire as one of the best decisions in the history of Laker sports. During his time at the helm of the men’s and women’s cross country and track and field squads, Baltes has amassed more than 50 GLIAC Coach of the Year awards while leading his teams to 68 GLIAC titles.
GVSU found a diamond in the rough with Baltes, and, in 2014, a new hire in a different sport has Laker Nation daring to dream once again.
After 20-year head coach Don Underwood stepped down following a disappointing finish in the 2013 campaign, GVSU men’s golf was in unfamiliar territory. Underwood was the only coach the program had ever known.
“It was a bit of a shock to the team when we first heard Don was going to retire,” senior Jack Rider said. “We’re all pretty welcoming to the change and looking forward to starting a new era. Everyone is taking this in stride.”
For this hire, GVSU didn’t leave the state. Rather, it selected a man who knew the area and the conference quite well. The choice was Gary Bissell, a 2012 graduate of Ferris State University and a five-year member of the Bulldog golf team.
The old adage “blink and you just might miss it” couldn’t be more true for Bissell.
Shortly after graduating at FSU, he landed a job teaching private lessons at the Rick Smith and Jason Guss Golf Academy at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich. – a nationally recognized top-25 golfing academy. His playing days not far behind him, Bissell competed on the Florida Professional Golf Tour during the winter of 2013-2014.
His short-term plans didn’t include coaching collegiate golf, but he resolved to make a run at the GVSU job if it ever opened. The vacancy popped up, and Bissell made his move. Now, just two years removed from golfing in the GLIAC, the rookie coach leads a Laker program in “win now” mode.
Conveniently, Bissell is ready to do just that.
“I want to elevate the play we’re at to a slightly higher level,” he said. “I want to compete for a national championship rather than just be happy to be there. Additionally, I want to teach these student-athletes to focus on the process of life – knowing that outcomes aren’t under your control – knowing that you only have influence on the process, both in golf and in life.”
Despite falling short of a Division II National Championship appearance in 2013, the Lakers boast a roster chock full of title-worthy talent. Returners Austin Eccleton, Chris Beltzer and Rider headline the GVSU roster.
Despite Bissell’s young age and lack of collegiate coaching experience, GVSU Director of Athletics Tim Selgo cites Bissell’s age and experience as two of the factors that drew GVSU to the young coach.
“Gary has, at a pretty young age, garnered experience teaching the game of golf,” Selgo said. “When we’re looking for coaches, a prime characteristic is their ability to teach. It’s the number one ingredient to being a successful coach.
“Gary has had excellent experience and has made a name for himself. He has played in our league and knows what it takes to be successful in DII.”
In 15 years, GVSU may have gone in another direction. Or, it may look back on another legendary hire. Only time will tell.