Tuesday inside the Hancock Stadium Club, Kristen Gillespie was named the eighth head coach of the Illinois State women's basketball program.
“I am beyond excited and extremely humbled to be named the next head coach at Illinois State,” Gillespie said. “I have a full understanding of the rich tradition that surrounds Redbird basketball and the Missouri Valley Conference. From day one, it will be our focus to surround every action with championship-level effort.”
The challenge for Gillespie lies in bringing a once-glorious program back into the limelight and making it relevant again.
“I am excited to lead this program back to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference, and we will compete for championships. We will make runs in the postseason. That is my promise to Redbird nation,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie is coming from DII Lewis University where she compiled a 51-12 record through two seasons at the helm.
“To me, hiring is timing and fit — the right person at the right time. In the end, there was no doubt in my mind she was the right person at the right time,” Director of Athletics Larry Lyons said.
That timing happened to take place during the same time as the Women's Final Four, which Gillespie was in attendance for.
“It gave me a couple extra days. I had another final conversation with President Dietz and she was emerging as the leader,” Lyons said.
When Gillespie got the call from Lyons, she “said a little prayer” and answered the phone.
“I haven't come down from cloud nine since he offered me the job. I don't even know if he even got it all the way out before I said ‘yes,’” Gillespie said.
Illinois State's new coach knows two things are key to success here and that they need to happen ASAP.
“Our first priority is to make the 12 young women in our program comfortable and get to know me and start building that relationship. Relationships are really important to me and building that trust,” Gillespie said. “Then we're gonna hit the recruiting trail hard. I think that we're a little bit behind with the 2018 class and I guess, maybe, that will be a challenge, but an opportunity for this staff we put together to show their fire and get to work and find some great, young talent.”
Gillespie credits her childhood for getting her to this point in her career.
“I had the greatest childhood. I grew up around the sport I loved, and with my grandfather, Gordy, and my father, Mike, I had two of the greatest coaching role models before I even knew what a role model was,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie acknowledged the foundation that Jill Hutchison laid here and what an honor being named coach at ISU means.
She also said that when asked “why Illinois State” she thought it was the easiest question throughout the interview.
“I really believe this will be the best job in the state of Illinois,” Gillespie said. “Great players, great coaches, have worn the red and black.”
Lyons said the search for a new coach drew national attention that included a “very good and diverse” pool of candidates.
“Our goal was to find the best person to lead our women's basketball program back to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference and to compete for postseason opportunities,” Lyons said.
Gillespie is taking over a program that is in its worst stretch in program history, following four straight-losing seasons, totaling a record of 28-93 during that time.
Gillespie said that one-on-one meetings with players will take place Wednesday so she can get to know them, and the search for a coaching staff will begin immediately.