When Florida Gulf Coast University baseball coach Dave Tollett won his 600th career game in a 2-0 victory over Kent State at Swanson Stadium on Feb. 21, the milestone victory added yet another clutch hit to his personal stat line.
Besides the overall wins, the man known affectionately as “To” (pronounced “toe”) inside and outside the FGCU family was on pace for his 200th ASUN Conference win this spring before the season was suspended, to go along with six league titles, five ASUN Coach of the Year plaques, almost 20 wins over nationally ranked teams and a roster of more than 40 players drafted by Major League Baseball clubs.
That’s a darn impressive composite box score for a collegiate coaching career now in its 18th season. Coming to FGCU after 10 years and almost 200 wins as Charlotte High School baseball coach, Tollett is one of four program-founding coaches – and the only one of a men’s team – still on staff, joining Karl Smesko in women’s basketball, David Deiros in softball and Jim Blankenship in women’s soccer as Eagle sports pioneers still bleeding green and blue.
But even for Tollett, the night his Eagles presented him with win No. 600 was “special.”
“My kids were here, my friends and former members of my staff were here, and we had some former players back, including Chris Sale,” Tollett said. “I remember when we started this program and we didn’t even have baseballs. But we knew we could build something special here. Now, having had the players that I’ve had and the seasons that I’ve had … it just feels surreal.”
Those players include five who ascended to the pinnacle of the sport, four of whom were still in major-league camps entering spring training (Sale with the Boston Red Sox, Richard Bleier with the Baltimore Orioles, Jacob Barnes with the Los Angeles Angels and Jake Noll with the Washington Nationals). But while those guys are the diamond studs on the coach’s resume – especially seven-time All-Star and potential Hall of Famer Sale, who along with his FGCU alumna wife Brianne (’16, Communication) recently presented a $1 million gift to FGCU Athletics (see related story, page 58) – the Tollett tree of successful former student-athletes branches into all walks of life.
That’s why when Tollett is trying to sell a baseball recruit’s parents on why the student-athlete should attend FGCU, he’s proud that he can “look them in the eye and tell them that I can promise them that the son will graduate, and that he has a chance to develop both as a player and a person,” he told FGCU 360 for a previous story.
“We have had the National Player of the Year (Sale in 2010) and the National Freshman of the Year (Noll in 2014) and four All-Americans, but we also talk about our alumni from the academic side,” Tollett said. “We have produced doctors, engineers, MBAs, sports agents and many other successful young men.”
That kind of dedicated interest by Tollett in his student-athletes as people first isn’t lost on the young men who proudly play for him. “He’s more than a coach to us … he’s such a great person,” said Richie Garcia, a senior infielder from Davie, at a postgame press conference after win No. 600.
“He cares more about us developing as great men. We (the senior class) were with him for his 500th win, and to be here for his 600th is really special.”