At age 24, Byron Gettis was a major league baseball player with the Kansas City Royals.
At 26 he was playing Division I football at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and five years later, he was still playing college football at McKendree University.
Now 35, the Cahokia High graduate is ready to tackle his next opportunity after being named interim head football coach at Lindenwood University-Belleville on Thursday.
Former Lindenwood head coach Jeff Fisher was dismissed Thursday after compiling a 10-21 record in three seasons.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
“This will be our first big senior class coming through,” said Gettis, an assistant coach at Cahokia High, O’Fallon High and McKendree University before being hired on Fisher’s staff when the Lindenwood program began in 2012. “This is a big year, it’s important. These guys have been through the beginning when a bulldozer was out there on the other side of the football field.
“They were the first ones to see the turf and actually were the first ones to believe before the turf was even laid. To send those guys off the right way, that’s what coaching is about. These are the reasons why you go into the coaching profession.”
Gettis said he was just as surprised as everyone else when Fisher was dismissed.
“No doubt about it, it was definitely surprising and unexpected,” Gettis said. “The main thing is we’ve got people and kids and the community believing. We set a precedent about trying to do something special.
“There wasn’t a university here, then the university came. There wasn’t a football program here, then the football program came. Coach Fisher put them into position and made them believe and it’s been special being a part of that, and now, being able to carry that on.”
A former all-state football and baseball player at Cahokia High, Gettis reached the pinnacle in both sports by playing in the major leagues and on a Division I playoff team at SIUC.
“People feel like you have done so much and I feel like I’ve done so little,” Gettis said. “I feel blessed to be in a position to have people that believe in me. I always tell people I may not have been the most talented, but my best attribute is my hard work. I love learning and I love competition, that’s been the driving force of my career.”
At Lindenwood, located on the former campus of Belleville West High School, Gettis has served as a wide receivers coach, passing game coordinator and defensive line coach.
“We are very confident he is ready to step in and handle the interim duties,” Lindenwood-Belleville Director of Athletics Scott Spinner said. “He has great personal relationships with the players and is one of the most beloved coaches on campus, which are just a few of the reasons we selected him for this position.”
Gettis said preseason camp opens in mid-August with the season opener set for Sept. 5 against Siena Heights.
“We had a plan in place,” Gettis said when asked about a head coaching change so close to the start of a new season. “We have a good staff here. We believe in each other and have been through the growing pains and have gradually grown as a family. We have the right people to have success and move forward.
“I always tell kids when I’m recruiting (that) 20 years down the road you’re going to be forever remembered at Lindenwood because everything is a first.”
Gettis calls himself “a sponge” when it comes to soaking up football knowledge. Among his many coaching mentors over the years were Rob Eden and Antwyne Golliday at Cahokia, former SIU coach Jerry Kill, former McKendree coach Carl Poelker and current McKendree assistant Mike Harrison.
One of Gettis’ best friends from his baseball days is New York Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson, who like Gettis also grew up in Illinois. Gettis also counts current major leaguers like Ryan Howard, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke and others as friends since they came up through the professional ranks at roughly the same time.
Gettis realizes the word “interim” is in front of his new head coaching title, but he plans on making the best of this opportunity no matter what happens.
“This is the area I grew up in and I take pride in that,” he said. “I had opportunities to go to different spots and coach, but what better way to help than to stay in the area you grew up in and let people know you can be successful. It’s not always being a professional athlete, it’s being a part of a university.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to get the experience and most of all to lead some young men. That’s what my goal is and that’s one of the reasons I took this job. Coach Fisher told me we had an opportunity to build something and it was going to take more than one person.”