Shortly after winning the 2000 NCAA championship, members of the Oklahoma softball team gathered for a photo near home plate at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. To the far right stood 9-year-old JT Gasso and younger brother DJ, both their faces painted crimson and cream. They are the sons of coach Patty Gasso, who had just led OU to the school’s first-ever national team championship in any women’s sport.
In 2013, JT again posed with the NCAA champion Sooners, this time as one of the team's graduate assistants. After leaving for two seasons to expand his coaching skills, JT has returned to the Sooners as a full-time assistant coach and will make his debut in Friday’s season opener against Minnesota at the Sportco Kick Off Classic in Las Vegas. His primary responsibilities focus on the outfielders and offense.
Gasso smiled as she recalled her sons being along for the ride to two national titles.
“I’ve caught myself a few times going, ‘Wow, no way. Is this really (true)?’” Gasso said of having JT join her staff. “Because when he was young, with his face painted, I was in a place where I felt guilty with what I was doing. I’m coaching a big-time softball program, yet my kids need their mom and how do I be both places? I had a regrettable feeling about that and doing that, but now to see him in full force and standing beside me is really like a full-circle, ‘this is awesome’ moment.”
JT Gasso (far right, crimson jersey) was on the field for the celebration after OU won the 2000 National Championship.
JT said he doesn’t remember much about the 2000 championship run.
“I remember more from the 2013 championship. I think that one was more special because I had more involvement in that one,” JT said. “I kind of got spoiled because we were in the national championship game my two years as a GA and then you almost expect that when you move on. It’s good to be back in a program that has those national standards.”
JT spent last season as an assistant at Michigan State in charge of infield defensive play and hitting and also was heavily involved in recruiting and overall player development. Under his direction, the Spartans' home run total grew by 90 percent, their on-base percentage increased 50 points, their batting average jumped 60 points and their slugging percentage rose 100 points. Prior to Michigan State, JT was part of a first-year coaching staff that helped guide Purdue to the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals in 2014.
Needless to say, landing a position on the OU coaching staff is heady stuff, particularly since JT had to impress his NFCA Hall of Fame mother to get the gig.
“It’s a dream job,” JT said. “Working at OU is the pinnacle for a lot of coaches, especially for me being from here. It’s just a place that you always dream of ending up. It was kind of tough leaving Michigan State, but it was a no-brainer coming here.”
In her 21 seasons with the Sooners, Gasso has amassed a record of 1,028-305-2 (.771), two NCAA championships and nine Women’s College World Series appearances. Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, Gasso’s teams have finished first or second 16 different times in those 20 years.
"It's a dream job. Working at OU is the pinnacle for a lot of coaches, especially for me being from here."
— JT Gasso
Gasso said she wasn’t even sure she would be able to lure her son away from Michigan State.
“He is a very loyal guy and that’s one thing I love about him,” Gasso said. “He got so locked into those players that when I knew this job was available, I didn’t know that he would leave Michigan State to come here because he was so into what he was doing with his new opportunity in the (MSU) program.
"I had to talk to him about advancing (his) career and knowing our program and having the opportunity to work with some really elite athletes.”
Getting her son to rejoin the Sooners “would be a dream come true, (but) with what could be nightmares working for your mother,” Gasso said with a chuckle. “I think he really had to absorb it. I don’t think he really knew that opportunity was going to come for him, certainly not this early in his career. He’s doing a really good job.
"I love his style and what he’s doing with the athletes. His presentations are really excellent and encouraging. He does his research. He comes in with new ideas and new drills, so he’s really putting 110 percent into everything that he’s doing and that’s all I can ask.”
JT has an extended family thanks to softball. Longtime OU assistant Melyssa Lombardi used to babysit JT and DJ. “She’s definitely like an aunt,” JT said.
After playing two seasons (1995-96) for the Sooners, Lombardi has spent the last 18 seasons as an OU assistant while leading pitchers and catchers to unfathomable success. She was named associate head coach in 2007.
JT Gasso (back row) was a graduate assisant for the Sooners in 2012 and 2013, culminating with a national title.
During his previous stint with the Sooners as a graduate assistant, JT would stand behind Lombardi throughout the game, observing and learning.
“He jelled really well with us,” Lombardi said. “I liked that he stood behind me. He was there if I needed something, or I would chat with him in between pitches. I liked that he was there. Even though he’s a young coach, he is well beyond his years. This is something that he’s been preparing for his whole life.”
JT’s wife, Andrea Harrison, was a national champion and two-time All-American at UCLA. She also spent last season at Michigan State and has joined the OU staff as a volunteer assistant coach. Harrison previously served one season as an assistant at Southmoore High School and one season as head coach at Norman High School. She was a special education teacher at both schools.
“It’s great because it’s another voice that knows exactly what I’m trying to get at,” JT said of working alongside his wife. “So if something I say doesn’t make sense, she can say, ‘Hey, you need to say that again.’ She’ll actually pick me up. … She’s the total package.”
Gasso described her son’s coaching style as “Very encouraging. He’s not a big ‘Let’s break this down one piece at a time.’ It’s more like ‘Let’s get aggressive. Let’s get attacking.’ It’s more that style, which you want from your hitter, yet they’re still very fundamental. He’s really encouraging and it’s a side that I didn’t see as much as I’d want to back when he was younger.”
JT’s personality carries over into recruiting, which figures to keep the Sooners well-stocked in talent.
"He's killing it in recruiting; he know's what we're looking for... JT has really connected very well to these athletes."
“He’s killing it in recruiting,” Gasso said. “He knows what we’re looking for. He can identify the athlete, but he has a really strong personality and connects with the travel ball coach, the high school coach and when kids come on campus he connects very well with them and their parents.
"It’s just kind of nice to bring in a young, fresh, relatable coach. As Coach Lombardi and I get older we still feel like we can relate somewhat, but JT has really connected very well to these athletes.”
JT breaks down recruiting into its simplest form. “We just go after the best players,” he said. “A lot of it is just putting in the time, going from sunrise to sunset. As long as your face is out there and they see your brand, they see kind of what you’re about.”
Although mom is the boss, JT respectfully refers to her as “Coach Gasso.” When it comes to spreading a common message to players, any chance Gasso and her son sound like Pete and Re-Pete?
“I don’t really catch myself (thinking) ‘Ooh, I sound like her,’” JT said. “I kind of just go and try to be on the same page as everyone else – Coach Lombardi, Coach Gasso and everyone.”
Whatever nervousness or hesitation JT might have felt upon arrival appears to have dissipated.
“I knew he could do it,” Gasso said. “He’s grown up in it, he’s seen it and he knows how to do it. I think he was intimidated maybe for about one second, then he just dove in and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get over this.’ And he has. He’s just so encouraging. I’m really, really proud of what he’s been doing, just the fact that I know him and can count on him. I’m just so proud of him, no matter what the situation. It’s really a good feeling.”
|About John Rohde|
|John Rohde is a respected name on the Oklahoma sports scene and will provide regular features for SoonerSports.com. Voted Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year five times, Rohde has covered OU football and basketball, the Oklahoma City Thunder, OKC/New Orleans Hornets, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, the Final Four, Masters and PGA Tour. He spent over 26 years for The Oklahoman, serving as a columnist and beat writer. He can be heard on 107.7 The Franchise, the flagship station for OU Athletics weekdays from 5:30-9 a.m.|