Note: This story first appeared in the Winter 2023-2024 edition of Legacy: A Magazine for Alumni and Friends.
As a student athlete, Grant Gaylor earned his place in IU Kokomo history.
Part of the first track and field throwing team in 2021, he won the campus’s first NAIA championship in shot put.
After he graduated with his nursing degree, he returned first as a volunteer throwing coach, and now is an assistant coach, enjoying the opportunity to help students become better people.
“It’s really rewarding to see people improve, and to see them maturing and growing up,” he said. “Athletics is about learning life lessons, not just how to be a better thrower or better athlete.“I feel like the most important thing about college athletics is not whether you’re an all-time leading scorer in basketball, or have the most recognition,” he said. “It’s about being a champion in your own right. It’s about doing what you need to do every day consistently to become better. That’s something a lot of people miss and don’t apply to life. If you give what you have and do what you need to do, at the end of it you will know and understand you are a champion in your own right.”
Gaylor, BSN ’21, is in good company as a Cougar alumnus returning to coach.
Brandi Jones, BS ’21, MBA ’23, is in her first season as head women’s golf coach. Other alumni coaches include assistant coaches Andrea Saylor, BS ’23, tennis; Tre’Quan Spivey, BS ’21, basketball; , Jordan Fivecoate, BS ’19, track and cross country; Erinn Adam, BS ’21, volleyball; and Justin Reed, BS ’21, MBA ’23, baseball (pitching).
Gaylor’s senior year was the first year that the team included throwing, and as the most experienced athlete in that area, he’d already been informally coaching his teammates.
“Naturally, I wanted to help the other athletes,” he said. “I’d give them pointers and cues as we were practicing. It was something I wanted to continue doing after I was done competing.”
He enjoys coaching because it gives him an opportunity to help students become better people.
“A natural transition”
When Andrea Saylor joined IU Kokomo’s tennis team, she immediately found a mentor in Coach Kristine Miller.
“I always had a leadership role, even from my first year on the team,” said Saylor. “I felt like becoming a coach was a natural transition, especially because I already had a few experiences when she allowed me to step in and coach when I was injured.”
She had worried about making the transition from player to coach, but having a young tennis team helped. Now, she thinks her recent experience makes her relatable to her athletes.
“The only girls I spent significant time with were two of our current 10,” she said. “It would be more challenging if they were older, and I’d spent a lot of time with them as a teammate. It’s been easier to take this role and run with it. They see me and know I was in their position just a few years ago. Sometimes when you’re going through the stress of school and balancing the rest of your life and athletics, you need someone who understands. They know I was in their shoes not even a year or two ago.”
Saylor said the possibility of coaching has always been on the horizon for her, growing up as the daughter of Mike Saylor, a well-known basketball coach in Terre Haute.
“Because of his influence, I’ve had a natural coaching instinct,” she said. “My freshman year roommate also was a coach’s daughter. We had a lot of conversations about how we thought our fathers’ coaching influenced us and how we showed up on the court. We both had a seriousness about us, and a knowing of what we needed to do. Coaching has always been in the background, but I never knew if there would be an opportunity. I’m glad there has been one here.”
As an IU Kokomo basketball player, Tre’Quan Spivey first considered trying to play pro ball, or managing an athletic facility. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he found himself training younger teammates, and discovered a love of coaching.
Now, he’s learning on the job, returning to the Cougar bench as an assistant to Coach Eric Echelbarger — an opportunity he couldn’t let pass.
“When I considered coaching, I didn’t think it would be where I graduated,” said Spivey, from Indianapolis. “I thought I’d have to go to a middle school or high school and work my way up. This puts me in a faster framework on learning.”
He found the leap from teammate to coach easier than he thought it might be.
“It was a smoother transition than I expected,” he said. “I tell people I was a little hesitant due to how recently I had played with these guys. Running with you and making you run are two different things. I think the guys took in my coaching style pretty well.”
He’s learned that while playing basketball is a physical challenge, coaching is more of a mental challenge, handling recruitment, budgets for travel, managing the right balance of players on a roster, and being able to discuss tuition and financial aid with athletes.
Spivey’s goal is to coach someplace like Butler University, or a Big 10 or SEC school, and feels like IU Kokomo is a good place to start, noting that the last assistant coach is now at University of Evansville, a Division 1 school.
“I see myself coaching for the long haul,” he said. “I’m learning from an outstanding example.”