When he left the University of Oklahoma to begin his climb through professional baseball, Glenn Sullivan didn’t know he wanted to be a high school coach. The three-sport standout in high school and two-sport player for the Sooners — Sullivan was also a backup quarterback at OU — had a degree in public affairs and administration. But after a minor league career that led him as far as Triple-A in the Cubs’ organization, Sullivan decided to give coaching a try, first in independent ball and then at Jenks. He coached the Trojans to a state title in 2000 before leaving coaching for a few years to spend more time with his family. Sullivan got back in as the head coach at Holland Hall several years ago and recently was named the head coach at Bixby, where he and his family have lived for about 13 years. Sullivan talked to The Oklahoman about his time in Norman, deciding to stay after the Sooners switched back to the wishbone and how he decided to go into coaching.
My dad, James Sullivan, made me an OU fan. I can remember the ’76 Orange Bowl when we got beat by Arkansas 31-6. We could’ve had a chance to be No. 1 in the nation. Just those times and watching those teams with Steve Davis and those guys going through. Steve’s son, Bo Davis, played for me when I was at Jenks. He was our second baseman on our state championship team at Jenks in 2000.
I always wanted to be a Sooner. My dad grew up in Wagoner and then Hulbert and we always watched them. When they decided they were going to throw the ball, that was something I could do. I definitely wasn’t a pure wishbone quarterback. They brought in David Vickers from Tulsa Hale and they brought in Kyle Irvin from Tulsa Union, the same type quarterbacks I was, and we were going to try to see who was going to throw it. Then halfway through that year, Marcus Dupree left and then in the spring they told us that they were going to go back to the straight wishbone. I knew that was going to be tough for me but I also knew coach (Barry) Switzer said I could play baseball. I was talking to the University of Florida because they had recruited me, but they wouldn’t let me play baseball so I just decided to stick it out there. I got a little bit of time at quarterback in mop-up duty. Obviously Jamelle Holieway was a great quarterback but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It was a great experience — a lot of wins, four Big Eight championships, a national championship ring. When Jamelle was there he was a great wishbone quarterback. Troy Aikman had been recruited that winter and he had signed with OU. They went back to the straight wishbone. I can remember talking to my dad saying, “You know, they go back to the wishbone, I’m going to be in trouble but if they decide to throw it again I’m going to be in trouble as well because this guy’s pretty good,” so baseball ended up being my thing.
It was really different because back in those days, most people didn’t talk about scholarships like they do now. I was sitting in my English class my junior year and my principal, Mr. Hines, gets me out of class and says there’s a coach from the University of Oklahoma that would like to see you. He can’t talk to you, because it was one of those times, but he’s in the cafeteria and he just wants to see you. So we’re walking down the hall and I go, “What does he want to see me for?” He said, “They might be interested in you playing some football for them and going to school there.” I was like “What? Really?” I walk in there like a piece of meat and walk around, turn around and walk out. I went home and told my parents and they said there will be opportunities that would be possible and they explained everything to me at that point. That was my first experience of possibly getting school paid for on a scholarship to play football, so that was pretty neat.
We had some really good baseball teams. In ’85, which was my first spring, we were ranked No. 1 in the nation for about half the season. Bobby Witt was on our team, who was the third pick overall in ’85 by the Rangers. It was a blast, great guys to play with and had a great experience. The complexes they have now aren’t quite what we had. When I got there, our indoor facility was under the east side of the football stadium and we called it Pneumonia Downs. It had barrels that we filled up with wood for heat in the winter. They also had an indoor track that went around there. We had one cage and right next to that cage they had some mounds and behind the mounds they had a storage area—a big wooden storage closet and that’s where the catcher sat. Bobby put so many holes in that wood with the 97 mph fastball. It would scare you to death when you were hitting in the cage.
When I got drafted, it was the 29th round and you always kind of doubt yourself a little bit. I hit .300 my first year in Geneva in the New York-Penn League and I realized that I could catch up to the fastball. I could do the things that needed to be done to have a chance to play, so even though I was a 29th-round pick, I was the first player out of our class in 1987 to get to Triple-A. Of course some passed me after that and made it to the big leagues, but one of the things that I prided myself on that helps me as a coach right now is I made sure I could do all the little things that needed to be done within a game to get noticed and progress through the minor leagues up to a higher levels. Obviously there were players with better talent than I that went on to the big leagues, but at least I gave myself a chance. I did that. I gave myself a chance. Do I think I could’ve played in the big leagues? Yeah. Do I think I would’ve stuck in the big leagues? No. But I think I was good enough that I probably could’ve hit .250-.260 in the big leagues, which isn’t quite enough to stick around very long.
As I got drafted and got into the minor leagues, just the teaching of the games and listening to guys talk about the strategy of baseball and that sort of thing got my interest going toward coaching. When I finished playing, I went to work for Marriott hotels for a little while and I worked for my father a little bit but in my heart I felt like I wanted to coach, so I went through the alternative placement program after coaching a couple years in the minor leagues and then I got the job at Jenks and was on my way.
My old manager for the Cubs, who managed me in Double-A and Triple-A, Jim Essian, who actually had a little bit of big league time with the Cubs as a manager, called me in ’95. That’s when I’d just moved to Oklahoma from Texas from working with my dad. I was in between jobs so I went to play with him that summer. I played about two weeks with him in Pueblo, Colo., and then that folded. Greg Minton, who pitched for San Francisco for a few years and was a closer, was in Lubbock and called me and wanted me to be a player/coach. I did that in ’95 there. And then in ’96 had the same role, didn’t play very much, was mainly the hitting instructor, then when Greg left in ’97-’98 I took over as the manager.
I’d lived that lifestyle. The pro ball lifestyle is tough if you’re going to have a family. I got married in ’96, and we had our first child in May of ’98 when I was managing in Lubbock. In the offseason that year I helped out with Jenks with the ninth grade team and got to know the administration pretty good. At the All-Star break of ’98, I flew back home and interviewed with Jenks. They offered me the job. I then resigned from managing the Lubbock team and that’s how I took over at Jenks.
It was Jim Essian really that got me interested in coaching. He was really a strategist. He really thought the game out as far as holding runners as a manager, your double steals, your pickoffs, trying to take advantage of every situation, showing you what the teams are trying to do to you in certain situations, was excellent at teaching hitting. That sort of piqued my interest, and then Greg Minton in Lubbock was also a student of the game. He taught me pitching and what guys were trying to do to you and that sort of thing, so that’s the fun part for me is trying to get kids to understand what teams are trying to do to you, how you can take advantage of what they’re doing, how you can keep them from doing things by saying certain things as a manager to give you an element of surprise. So that part of the strategy of baseball really interested me, and those two guys really got me going in that area, and I also love helping kids as well. I’ve always loved doing that. Combine those two and here I am where I am now.
Family is super important to me. My parents were always at every game or anything we ever did. I have three brothers and a sister and they were always with us every time they could be there so I always knew how important that was to me to look up in the stands and see them. They weren’t screamers and yellers, but just to know that I had their support. That’s what I wanted to be for my son and my daughter was to be there for them and the things that they experienced. God made that possible for me and I was able to do that and I was able to still provide for my family and still was able to do some of the things that I loved with baseball, so it worked out that way. My wife, Kristie, teaches at Bixby Public Schools and my kids go to school here, so it’s fun.