Wilbert Ellis

Grambling State

My Life-Long Coaching Journey

From the first time I picked up a bat in little league baseball, I knew I’d found my passion.

For most young kids, that early love for athletics means they want to play the game for the rest of their lives.

That was never my path.

Instead, I knew I wanted to be a coach. It all started in those little league teams when me and my friends would form a team ourselves and if we didn’t have an adult with us, I’d often be the coach.

From my nine-year-old self to now, I’ve never stopped coaching.

Getting my wish

I suppose that I’ve always had some element of leadership within my spirit.

Much of that credit should go to my parents because they showed me the importance of giving back and being involved members of our community.

With their lessons in mind, it was never difficult for me to lead my peers.

I remember being on my high school baseball team when our head coach had to miss a practice. We didn’t have any assistant coaches, so he asked me to take over the coaching duties until he could return.

It just thrilled me that he saw some leadership ability in me.

The next day he asked me how it went, and I told him with absolute certainty – “I want to be a coach one day.”

I got my wish a few years later.

First, my playing days had to come to an end at Grambling State. We were the only college in the whole country to have our president also coach a team, and of course, that was the legendary Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones.

To me, he was always “Dr. Jones” or “Prez” as many people called him.

Dr. Jones was one of the best men I’d ever met, and I knew I wanted to emulate him in my coaching journey. Thankfully for me, he extended a hand and asked me to be an assistant coach on his staff.

Not only did I learn from Dr. Jones, but also being in the presence of legendary football coach Eddie Robinson and basketball coach Fred Hobdy at Grambling State was truly thrilling.

I got to be around those legends for 17 years as an assistant coach, and when he retired, I truthfully didn’t know what I’d do next.

I was out on the road recruiting in Shreveport, Louisiana, when I stopped by the state fair to see a friend.

He asked if I’d seen the local newspaper, where an article said I’d been named the next head coach of Grambling State.

In the middle of that state fair, I got down on my knees and thanked my lord and savior Jesus Christ.

At that moment, I knew God had fulfilled my dream.

Even still, my journey was just beginning.

Making an impact

As a head coach, I had the incredible blessing of making a difference in the lives of so many young people.

In fact, my whole life has been about the youth. For me, it was never about the wins and losses – instead, I wanted to see what I could teach them about the game of life through the game of baseball.

Every year I’d attend the national coaches convention to learn different ways to make an impact in the kids’ lives, and those lessons have helped me make a difference here in Louisiana.

We now have youth camps in Grambling, Ruston, and Lincoln Parish where 200-300 kids come out for the sessions.

Not only does it teach baseball fundamentals, but we also have parent sessions where they hear from local police, school administrators, and mental health professionals so they can learn how to be a better parent and improve their community.

I’m very proud of what we accomplished at Grambling, such as helping over 40 players sign MLB contracts and even bringing the New York Yankees in for an exhibition game, but those accomplishments pale in comparison to the relationships I’ve developed.

I didn’t do it to be in the college hall of fame – I did it to learn how to be a better person and to extend that knowledge to others.

Sometimes I get very emotional because God has been so good to me. He delivered me all the way from my community to Omaha to New York and to every city I’ve ever been to.

In fact, I consider Omaha to be my second home.

For most young kids, that early love for athletics means they want to play the game for the rest of their lives. That was never my path. Instead, I knew I wanted to be a coach.

Omaha’s open arms

It’s not because I go down to Omaha to sit down and relax, it’s because I go there to try and make the College World Series a great place to be.

In particular, PACE has my heart and soul. It’s an organization where Omaha’s police officers organize free athletic camps for the city’s kids who want to play in a league and want to learn lessons from the trusted members of their city.

When I see all those little kids who come there for baseball camps, it’s like I’m home in Louisiana even though we’re hundreds of miles away.

I’m also grateful to all the different organizers and members of the College World Series committee for giving me the chance to make a difference in several ways.

I remember my first postseason where they sent me out to Stanford to oversee a regional tournament.

I was nervous as could be, but I knew they saw something in me, so I was determined not to let them down.

That same motivation drives me in our yearly YES clinics where we also give young kids baseball instructions and teach life lessons to them. We bring in coaches from across the country, and those relationships mean the world to me.

I’m like an open book, and so long as they talk to me, I think it won’t be long before we’re friends.

To this day, nothing warms my heart more than getting a call from a parent or former kid who I mentored and hearing that they’re doing well.

Every time I make it back to Omaha, I stop by the site of the old Rosenblatt Stadium.

When I reflect on my journey and ask for guidance of what I need to do in these next few years, God tells me I still have work to do.

There’s plenty of lives left to be changed.