Coaches reflect on successful careers
The decision to retire from coaching was tough for both Tim Hill and Greg Bradley
The paths were different, but ultimately, in the end, they led to the same place for Greg Bradley and Tim Hill.
That place, or perhaps more aptly, that decision, was to retire at the end of this spring season from coaching at Pacific University, where both men had cultivated long and successful careers, Hill as the Boxers softball coach and Bradley as the baseball coach.
Their teams played their final games about two weeks apart in late April and early May, closing the door on not one but two eras head coaching careers at the university that lasted a combined 31 years.
Both men knew going in that those games were their final ones. So did their players, families and the Pacific community, as the retirements had already been announced. The decision to retire was not taken lightly by either coach, though Bradley came by way of his much sooner than did Hill.
The topic was one the two old-timers, who occupied adjoining offices in the Stoller Center, had tossed around for some time. In fact, Bradley said, he and Hill talked about it once or twice a year.
He made his choice well in advance of this spring. The announcement came in May of last year, actually. Bradley, 61, was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease which causes degeneration of the central nervous system about six years ago, so he had been balancing the management of the disease with not only his coaching duties, but also his job as the schools athletic facilities manager.
All of that required a lot of energy and Bradley is plenty energetic but tasks do take him longer than they used to, among other effects of the Parkinsons.
Some days its not too bad. Some days, its pretty tough, so I get a lot of help, to be honest with you, noted Bradley, who is staying on in his facilities management role. People here have been fantastic. With any disease, you always try to keep a positive outlook on it, and so Im expecting a cure anytime. In the meantime, you do the best you can.
As Hill describes it, his decision was much more spur of the moment, although it was considerably less whimsical than that description makes it sound.
In December I had a birthday, and when I went from 69 to 70, I felt old, he said. At 69, I did not, but that one day ... I suddenly realized that maybe its time.
Still, entering this season he had no plans to retire. But by late winter, he made up his mind to call it quits and informed athletic director Ken Schumann.
Hills plan at that point was that he would not inform his team until the season concluded not wanting that to be an influence but Schumann told him that was not possible because the school would need to begin its search and hiring process.
One downside was telling his players then. Hill gathered them in a classroom in late March midway through the season and told him he was retiring. He had thought a handful of them would be upset, so perhaps he was unprepared for their reaction. Of about 20 players in the room, three-quarters were in tears.
I thought, Oh crap. I should have waited, he said.
About 20 minutes later, Rachel Roberts in the midst of an All-American season and another player found Hill in his office and sobbed, saying Hill had previously told them he would stay their four years.
So there were disadvantages, Hill recalled. The kids just got so emotional about it, but I think the advantage was it spurred them on. So it had pluses. Im glad it worked out the way it did. Im glad I didnt do it when the season was over. Im glad I did it at the time.
In fact, the announcement seemed to galvanize his team, which dropped six consecutive games in mid-March before going on a 14-4 run to close out a 26-12 year.
After all of those retirement discussions, for his part, Bradley was a bit perturbed, too albeit good-naturedly.
Im still upset that I hear from somebody else: (Tims) made an announcement and hes retiring, Bradley said. And I said, God dammit, he didnt even talk to me about that.
Somewhat recent circumstances also helped Hill arrive at his decision, primarily the arrival last year of the coach who would turn out to be his successor. Hill knew Liz Yandall before Yandall was hired at Pacific as Hills full-time assistant, as she coached at Willamette and on several occasions lunched with Hill to talk shop.
In Yandall, Hill found a knowledgeable and enthusiastic assistant who shared his philosophies and who was ready to be a head coach. She was exactly what Hill felt the program needed.
And just by chance, she comes along, and she is that young, dynamic female (coach). Its an easy transition, and it makes me feel real good, because Ive put 12 years in, Hill said. I want to see the program continue to move in a positive direction, and it will with her. It will definitely move in a positive direction.
Bradley also knew the coach who would follow in his footsteps though he knew him more from afar, from the opposing dugout rather than his own. Brian Billings coached for 12 years at Puget Sound, and he played against Bradleys Boxers as a Logger before that.
Given his experience, Billings has an understanding of the Northwest Conference, Bradley thought. He also felt Billings understood what Bradley and his staff attempted to build at Pacific and that he would continue that work, adding in his own wrinkles.
I think hes a very good hire, Bradley said. Same feeling as Tim, you invest so much in the program, you spend so much time, so much effort, so much sacrifice of things family-wise ... and you want to have that program continue in the direction that you think it should go.
Bradley will get the chance to do see how that unfolds from fairly close proximity. After all, he retired from coaching, not from working for Pacific. And his son Donnie will be a senior on the team next year.
As for Hill, who has long been retired from Willamette Industries, he is unsure what the future holds.
Who knows? he said. Ive had a couple people talk to me already (about coaching), but I just want to get away and try to figure out where the heck Im heading before I do anything like that. But I could see possibly down the road being involved in some manner or another.
Thats something Hill will get to decide after reaching the end of his Pacific coaching path.
Now, he and Bradley both get to walk new ones.
Editors note: This is the second part of a two-part series.