Tom Gillman, a former head tennis coach at Red Wing from 1991-2001, recently wrote about his experience coaching the Wingers. During his tenure in Red Wing, he led the team to eight Missota Conference championships and to four state tournaments, including runner-up finishes in 1998 and in 2000.
His book, “Wingers: A Story of Triumph and Redemption,” was released this week. A book signing is also in the works at Fair Trade Books in Red Wing from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 24. The book can be purchased at Gillman’s website, tomgillman.com, or at Fair Trade Books.
The Republican Eagle recently spoke with Gillman about the book. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What brought you to Red Wing and how did you get into coaching?
My wife brought me to Red Wing. At the beginning of the book it actually depicts that the beginning of my career was not going well. I wasn’t doing something that I had a passion for. I always enjoyed tennis and I even got a chance to teach in the summers in different places, so that bug was in me. For whatever reason, I didn’t follow it and I was given an opportunity to say “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and a coach, why don’t I just do that.”
So I went back to school and that’s where that started — as an assistant at River Falls.
How did the idea of writing the book come to you?
I’ve been doing some writing over the years, I’ve written poetry and one screenplay and I did expect to write a coaching book at some point. Writing a story about the Wingers was on my mind because, aside from how I feel personally about them, I really do think it’s a very worthy story.
I think the fact that it’s a small town brings kind of a romantic notion to it. You know we all like those small guy rises up to compete with the big boys. And we had some tragedy befall our program that we had to overcome, so I really did think it would be something that would spur some interest.
What was the process of writing the book like for you?
I’m very internal so I think about the book for a long time. I decided to leave the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. which I had coached 17 years last December. Then COVID hit and I’m scratching my head thinking, “Boy, this would be a good time to write.: I think I sat down in May with intentions of doing it.
I started sketching out some chapters and then sitting down and writing them — then you’re kind of making adjustments on the fly once you start. One thing I really learned is you got to really want to do it. Because if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, it’s a big investment of time.
When you started writing were there any memories that popped into your head that you had forgotten about?
Thank God I sat down to write it now because if I waited too long, I probably wouldn’t have remembered anything. But yeah, sometimes you’re midstream and then you remember, “Oh, I should write that.” I think I was about halfway through the book and I started thinking with a critical eye.
I think within the next 24-48 hours I came up with ideas for three new chapters and I’m like halfway through the book. And those three chapters stuck, they were useful.
The funny thing is that I handed the book to the publisher and I realized this isn’t the book I started out writing. I thought it was just going to be the inspirational story of the Wingers, which is the thread that runs through it but it’s also a coaching book.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and coaches?
The thing that I think is super exciting, is that if you want to get a book out there it’s probably easier than ever. That doesn’t mean the whole process is easy, but editors and all that are available to you. I’ll be the first one to say that I’m not a polished writer, so there’s no reason that a person should feel they can’t do it.
And to draw a parallel between the two, if you’re willing to work hard, you can be successful whether it’s writing or coaching. I would take a coach with enthusiasm and persistence above a coach that has a good background but just isn’t into it. Because you’re going to have problems, obstacles like this book, but you’re going to be more willing to fight through them if you have persistence working for you.
Could you ever see yourself coaching again in Red Wing?
You never know!