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Nick Chadbourne | | May 26, 2014

SMU's Gregory molds potential and talent into champions

  Josh Gregory coached Augusta to back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011.

HUTCHINSON, Kan. -- Before Josh Gregory became a two time GCAA National Coach of the Year and guided Augusta State to a national championship, SMU's current head coach was a professional golfer. He was a touring professional on various circuits with limited success. It was his failure as a player that eventually led him to a successful coaching career. He's not proud of how he handled the adversity that comes with a pro golf career.

After a rough nine holes at an event near Atlanta, he decided to walk off and call it a career. He had missed eleven consecutive cuts prior, he turned in his scorecard and left. Gregory said he couldn't continue anymore.

"It was my moment where I realized 'I have to find something else to do,' because I'm miserable and not enjoying this," he said. "For one, I'm going broke. For two, I'm miserable and not having fun."

The realization that he wasn't playing professionally anymore began to sink in, but he wasn't sure where to turn next. Up to that point, all he'd known in life was his love for golf.

So, he did what many of us would've done when we need life advice: call mom.

"I remember calling my mom, crying and saying: 'What the heck am I going to do with my life?' and she asked 'Well, what do you want to do?'" he said.

He instantly knew that he wanted to start coaching.

"It was the only thing I knew I wanted to do," he said.

He just wasn't sure where to start. Gregory began canvassing the nation for an assistant coaching role. He called every coach he knew and pleaded for a job.

North Carolina State hired him as an assistant in 2000. It proved a good decision, where he displayed a knack for recruiting.

He helped bring in the top ranked women's recruiting class in 2001. The next year, the men's team recorded its best finish in program history. Off to a hot start in his coaching career, Augusta State University (renamed GRU Augusta in 2012) came calling in 2002. They wanted the 26-year-old Gregory to lead its golf program.

"They took a risk hiring a 26-year-old who thought he knew it all, but it worked out for them the end," he said with a smile.

Gregory brought unparalleled success to the school. He won back-to-back national titles in 2010 and 2011, the first time since Houston doubled up in 1984 and 1985. Additionally, he brought the program to five NCAA championships and won four conference championships. He won with players that weren't the most talented, but had a chip on their shoulder and were as passionate about golf as him.

When his alma mater, SMU, came calling for his services in 2011, he knew he couldn't say no.

"You get that chance once in a lifetime," he said of returning to his alma mater. "It was a dream come true."

He wasted no time kick-starting a program that hadn't made the NCAA championships since 2005. His first recruiting class was considered tops in the nation. It included five of the top 75 ranked golfers that year. He beat out traditional powers Texas and Texas A&M to swipe the state's top ranked player, David Lee.

He doesn't have a secret to his success in recruiting and coaching, other than just being himself. His passion for the game and his players is infectious. It's what he credits for his ability to recruit talent at programs without the golfing legacy and history of other elite universities.

"I'm just a high energy, high passion guy. We love the kids and they'll fight hard for you," he said. "They know I've got their back at all times."

And, of course, his past success plays a role.

"Those national championships don't hurt when you're going out to recruit," he said.

Gregory said he still likes recruiting golfers who have a chip on their shoulder. At Augusta State, he wanted the California kid passed on by Stanford, the Georgia kid passed on by the Bulldogs, he said. At SMU, still bringing those players in -- he's signed two unranked golfers in the last two years -- but now his roster is a mix of hunger and elite talent.

It is interesting to think of what Gregory can do with that combination. He won back-to-back titles with players that weren't considered as talented as the elite programs they beat at the NCAA's. Now, he's getting attention from the most talented players in the nation and has a stranglehold on Texas' top amateurs. He's already signed the best player from Texas in two of the next three years, he said.

"I love giving them opportunities that maybe i didn't have. I can teach them the game, but most importantly I can relate to the kids," he said.

The results have paid dividends: SMU is playing in its first NCAA championships since 2005. They were assigned the 28th seed out of 30. They're the youngest team here, featuring three freshmen and two sophomores. And they earned their spot here by playing one of the most difficult schedules in division one.

"Maybe I could've played a schedule that allowed us win a little bit more, but that's not way i want to do things. I want to win against the best," he said. "Winning is nice, but if its not against the best teams, does that win really matter?"

They enter round three tied with Oklahoma for sixth place in stroke-play, positioning them to enter the match-play portion of the tournament. SMU is the only school seeded 20th or higher to advance past stroke-play. Their seed and inexperience didn't temper Gregory's expectations for his team this week.

"We've beat every team here except for five or six," he said. "If you come in here playing 'just happy to be here' that's not the right way."

"So why not us?"

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