OSU football: How Sean Gleeson's granddad helped prepare him for this season
STILLWATER — Bill Gleeson looked down at the projectile that landed in his lap.
A piece of toast.
Gleeson was sitting in the stands at Franklin Field, home of Penn football where fans have a tradition of throwing toast onto the field before the fourth quarter. It’s toast they’ve been carrying in their coats. Or their bags. Or their pockets.
Who knows where the piece in Gleeson’s lap had been, but he didn’t hesitate.
He took a bite of it.
His grandson smiled as he recounted the tale.
“Just a great man,” Sean Gleeson said.
Bill Gleeson helped raise Sean, now the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Grandfather passed a passion for sports and a love of learning on to grandson. But during a season in which the Cowboys had some valleys — major injuries and tough losses, prime among them — Sean Gleeson had his own low.
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Bill died Nov. 21.
That made Sean lean even more on the lessons his granddad taught, lessons that resonated throughout their entire family — see every moment as an opportunity to learn and grow.
It has helped make Sean a rising star in the coaching ranks. Even though this OSU offense hasn’t been as dynamic as those of the recent past, he’s been rumored as a candidate for a couple offensive coordinator jobs.
But right now, he’s focused on the Texas Bowl and this opportunity.
Sean Gleeson was born when his dad was only 24 years old.
His dad was working as a chef at the Holiday Inn, a job he did for 20 years, but he was also going to school. Add a baby, and there might never been enough hours in the day.
Bill and Sally Gleeson stepped in.
“My grandparents took a huge role in my upbringing,” Sean said, adding that his entire and sizable extended family was part of his village, too. “My grandparents were a big part of my life.”
Sally Gleeson was an immigrant from Ireland, and she raised their five children. As they got older, she went to work at a credit union. But when Sean was born, she quit her job and watched kids at her home.
“I was one of those lucky few that got to hang around her,” Sean said.
That meant he also got hang around his granddad.
Bill Gleeson was an English professor. He taught at small colleges near the family’s home in New Jersey. St. Peter’s College in Jersey City. Felician College in Lodi. Montclair State in Montclair. William Paterson University in Wayne.
He was well-educated — his master’s thesis on American poet Amiri Baraka drew acclaim — and he was well-read. He never went anywhere without a classic novel in hand. He loved talking about literature, too, and as Sean got older, Bill would help with his papers.
One about 16th-century French peasant Martin Guerre still stands out in Sean’s mind.
But Bill was more than a book worm. He enjoyed going out to eat. He loved the Brooklyn Dodgers; the 1951 team was a particular fascination. He collected vinyl records of all stripes. Jazz. Classical. Irish traditional. Even spoken word poetry.
What Bill loved as much as anything, though, was going to sporting events, especially those played by his grandkids. He became a fixture at the fields, gyms and rinks around town.
Grandson Sean was why Bill was in the stands at Penn the day that toast landed in his lap. Sean was coaching at Princeton, Penn’s opponent.
Sean’s work at Princeton caught Mike Gundy’s eye a year ago, and now, Gleeson is following in the footsteps of Dana Holgorsen, Todd Monken and Mike Yurcich. Gleeson is coaching against college football bluebloods Oklahoma and Texas and soon will go against Texas A&M, OSU’s opponent in the Texas Bowl.
It’s a far cry from Delbarton School, a Catholic prep school in New Jersey where Gleeson got his first job out of college teaching and coaching football, baseball and bowling.
But whether he was coaching high school bowling or the Cowboy offense, Gleeson has always taken the same approach.
First, you have to work hard.
“That’s the way that I was raised,” he said. “That’s the way that you approach your daily chores and responsibilities.”
But then, you have to see everything as a learning opportunity.
That approach has been invaluable this year.
Think of everything Sean Gleeson has been through since being hired in January.
After moving across the country — Gleeson never lived outside the eastern seaboard — he had to learn the OSU offense. No bringing his offense and teaching it. He was the one who had to figure out all the plays and terms and calls and intricacies.
Then just as the Cowboys seemed to be gaining some mid-season momentum, superstar receiver Tylan Wallace tore his knee and was done for the season.
A few weeks later as the offensive line returned to full health and strength, starting quarterback Spencer Sanders injured his hand and needed surgery.
This has not been an easy first season as a major-college offensive coordinator.
But Gleeson’s players say he never wavered.
“One thing that stayed consistent was just his passion,” Cowboy quarterback Dru Brown said. “You need that. That’s a driving force. It’s really easy in a season to become dull because it’s long and it’s a lot of hard work. But he’s done a really good job of just keeping the energy level up and staying passionate about what he does.
“He loves every second of it.”
Offensive lineman Teven Jenkins said, “He’s a very intense man. He’s very … strong.”
Sean Gleeson says his approach to coaching and teaching and frankly, living came from his entire family, what he calls “an army of people” who raised him. Parents. Grandparents. Aunts. Uncles. Cousins.
But none taught Gleeson better than his granddad Bill.
When something unexpected happens, you take it in stride.
You take a bite.
“The thing that’s been fun for me … is those bumps in the road that I think our guys have handled really well,” Gleeson said. “That’s always the measure of a good team — how you handle adversity.
“I just try to be a good example for the players.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.