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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Building champions on, off court

Coach+Blair+receiving+an+honorary+jersey+after+leading+the+Aggie+Womens+Basketball+team+to+their+800th+win+on+Dec.+15%2C+2019.
Photo by FILE

Coach Blair receiving an honorary jersey after leading the Aggie Women’s Basketball team to their 800th win on Dec. 15, 2019.

On the front of A&M women’s basketball head coach Gary Blair’s desk is a nameplate that reads, “Gary Blair: Building Champions.” Directly to the left is another desk filled with pictures of his family, including his wife and children.
Behind Blair’s chair on his extensive shelving unit, the coach is surrounded by elegantly framed photos of himself hugging former players. On the other side of his office, there is a photo of Blair surrounded by four of the former basketball players he coached during his first job at South Oak Cliff High School.
Blair wears his heart on his sleeve. The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member radiates a level of pride in the athletes he has helped achieve excellence. Blair also holds his memories with his family just as dearly and has implemented a level of familial bonding in his coaching style to assist him in building champions.
Early life
Blair was born in Dallas on Aug. 10, 1945. After graduating from Dallas Bryan Adams High School in 1963 — where he was an all-city baseball player — Blair went into the U.S. Marine Corps for a two-year tour in Okinawa, Japan.
“I got drafted in 1969, and that was back when a lot of people were trying to get out of the war,” Blair said. “I wasn’t trying to get out of the war at all. If one person screwed up, all of us had to reap the consequences. It taught you you’re only as good as your weakest link or your strongest link.”
After the conclusion of his tour and a brief stint running restaurants in Costa Mesa and Culver City, both subdivisions in Los Angeles, Blair utilized his G.I. Bill to attend Texas Tech University. As a Red Raider, he earned a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education, minoring in journalism. Additionally, Blair played one season of baseball as a center fielder at Texas Tech.
Blair, who completed his master’s degree in education at Tech in 1974, said it was there he learned to find his passion.
“All of [college] comes into focus,” Blair said. “And you put it all together and you have to experience failure, you have to learn from your situation. I had to learn that I wasn’t good enough in baseball when I got to college; I had to learn I was only going to be average in architecture, so I wanted to find something I wanted to be good at.”
South Oak Cliff High School
While pursuing his master’s, Blair initially had the job of being the boy’s P.E. teacher and, following his tenure as a high school and collegiate baseball player, sought the boy’s baseball coaching position at South Oak Cliff High School. The school was located in the south and east areas of the Oak Cliff neighborhood.
Instead, he received an offer to start up and coach the girl’s basketball and boy’s and girl’s golf teams. Without hesitation, Blair accepted. As the girl’s basketball coach, he led South Oak Cliff to a 239-18 record and five consecutive state tournament appearances. Under his tutelage, the Golden Bears won the 1977, 1978 and 1980 State Class 4A championships. After winning his first state championship in 1977, Blair was offered the head baseball coaching position he originally sought but declined it in favor of continuing with the girl’s basketball team.
Blair said he has no regrets about that decision.
“Girls back then, God, they just wanted information,” Blair said. “They wanted the opportunity to play. I was offered the job, I took it and I loved it.”
Blair concluded his time at South Oak Cliff in 1980 and was inducted into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame to commemorate his accomplishments.
While at South Oak Cliff, Blair coached his first All-American, Barbara Brown McCoy. McCoy wasn’t just Blair’s first All-American, though; she was also the first All-American to ever come from Dallas ISD, McCoy said.
“Even when I was doing good, he wanted me to do better,” McCoy said. “And then when I got better, he wanted me to do my best. He always pushed all of us to be our best.”
McCoy and Blair still maintain a close relationship, with the former defensive player being one of the four high school players in the photo that lies upon a coffee table in the film portion of his office.
McCoy said growing up, and now, Blair was, and is, like a dad to her, as well as all of his other players.
“He’s a family man in that he was a father figure in my life,” McCoy said. “And not for just me, for all of the players that played for him. He was a very stern disciplinarian, and he cared about us off the court as well as on the court. He expected and demanded the best for us, as players and as people.”
Family Life
After a divorce between Blair and his wife of 30-plus years, Blair married Kyla Gay in 2020. He is a stepfather to her two children, Callie and James, and is also a father to Paige and Matt Blair from his previous marriage with Nan Smith. He also has four grandchildren: Logan, Lola, Landry and Reagan.
Paige Blair owns a high-end children’s boutique in Fayetteville, Ark. and took a page from her father’s playbook when choosing whom to marry. Paige is married to Beau Thompson, who is the head boy’s basketball coach at Farmington High School in Farmington, Ark.
Matt is married to Alli Nielsen. Together, they own a furniture, gift and antique shop in Fayetteville. Matt also followed Blair’s lead with athleticism and was a collegiate soccer player at a Division III school.
More recent national champion turned coach Sydney Carter said she sees Blair’s family life influence him on the court daily.
“[His family] helps him to properly deal with a team full of women, but it also allows him to be sort of an extension of father to a lot of our kids,” Carter said.
Blair takes it upon himself to maintain daily and weekly contact with his children and grandchildren, Blair said.
Blair has found additional support with his career through his wife of two years, Kyla. This has also been a great help to Blair as of late, learning from Kyla’s own work ethic has easily translated into Blair’s coaching methods, he said.
“[Kyla’s] support, her knowledge of me and also how hard she’s worked to put her kids through college at A&M and how her kids worked at A&M doing other jobs,” Blair said. “She came from a hardworking family, and she’s just been very supportive because she’s a sports person just like me.”
Despite Blair having a private wedding ceremony with Kyla, he ensured to have someone from the Texas A&M women’s basketball family in attendance at the reception. Carter was in attendance, and said the only reason more A&M women’s basketball players weren’t also at the reception was due to the strict bubble enforced on A&M athletes at the time due to COVID-19.
Building the Aggies with a “family” motto
In between his time at South Oak Cliff and Texas A&M, Blair held three other coaching positions.
From 1980 to 1985, Blair served as an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, where he helped lead the team to a 159-10 record. After, Blair took his first college head coaching position at Stephen F. Austin University, where he worked from 1985 to 1993 with a 210-43 record. His final coaching job before becoming an Aggie was from 1993 to 2003 with Arkansas, who he led to a 198-120 record, Blair’s lowest winning percentage of his career.
This could not be more opposite of his legendary contributions to A&M’s statsheet, notably coaching the Aggies to an NCAA National Championship in 2011.
According to Carter, Blair’s implementation of the program’s motto to simply be “family” has also contributed to the great success of the former National Championships. There is no doubt that this is a result of his time at South Oak Cliff and his ties with his own family, Carter said.
“A lot of people don’t get to see how much of an actual family man he is,” Carter said. “I think people see the coaching side of him, but the fact that our motto is family, he really is a family man in his own right.”
With the Aggies, Blair has served as head coach from 2003 until present, leading the Aggies to a current 343-188 record and a .776 winning percentage. As a result of this and his overall career, Blair has been inducted into seven Hall of Fames — the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack Hall of Fame in 2008, the Southland Conference Hall of Honor in 2009, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013, the state of Arkansas sports Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Dallas ISD Hall of Fame in 2019.
McCoy said, as is the case with nearly all of Blair’s players, she holds a great deal of love and respect for Blair, the man who built her into a champion.
“I love that man, as a person, as a coach and everything he has done for me,” McCoy said. “Nothing will ever change that. He will always be that father figure to me.”
A&M women’s basketball is coming off of a Sweet 16 finish in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Blair led the Aggies to a 25-3 overall recording during the 2020-21 season. A&M’s 2021-22 season starts on Nov. 3 in an exhibition match against Oklahoma Baptist.

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