Tim Hill and Greg Bradley retired this year following lengthy coaching careers at Pacific

 - Pacific University softball coach Tim Hill (right) and baseball coach Greg Bradley are both retiring this year. Bradley coached the Boxers for 19 seasons and Hill coached for 12.When you’ve been around as long as Tim Hill and Greg Bradley, the decision about when to walk away usually is not an easy one.

The timing, not just of the retirement, but also of telling others about it. The letting go of something dear and important. The sense of impending change.

Drawn together by circumstance, it is perhaps fitting that these two just-retired Pacific University coaches stepped down from their posts at the conclusion of the same season.

After all, they have become good friends over the years, bonded by proximity — their offices were located next to each other’s — and the willingness to lend their time, to act as sounding boards, one coach to another.

“Most of the time it wasn’t exactly strategy,” said Bradley, who led the Boxers baseball program for 19 years. “It was kind of: How do you deal with this? What would be your plan to have this occur? What are the steps you go through to do that?”

They have walked many of those final steps together.

For well more than a decade, the two men have been prominent influences in their respective sports, not just in Forest Grove but in Washington County and beyond. Bradley had his 19 years at Pacific, and Hill added 12 more as its softball coach. Cumulatively, they possess about 70 years’ worth of experience in coaching kids and young adults — ranging from Little League teams to quality NCAA Division III programs.

At the end of all of that, late last month, the two men gathered for an interview. During it, they reminisced about their beginnings as coaches, what their work meant to them, and how they reached their own decisions to retire.

Congenial in general and collegial with each other, the two men laughed recalling memorable moments that stand out over the course of their careers, and they turned thoughtful in sharing their hopes for the futures of the programs they so recently guided.

With so much experience, their perspectives are indeed vast.

The beginning

It would be perhaps safe to say that both men did not get into coaching with the thought that it would turn into a career path. And yet, last month, both men sat on a couch in the university’s Stoller Center thinking back to beginnings that took place decades ago.

In fact, Hill, now 70, did say that coaching was not necessarily his intention. Like more than a few other coaches, he turned to it after his own playing days. He had been active in the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation district leagues, playing some 70 games in the summers.

But he decided that demanding schedule was not fair to his wife — who spent those seasons chasing around the couple’s children — so he opted to start coaching a recreational kids team with a much smaller game footprint, just two or three tournaments per summer.

Given Hill’s competitive nature and his desire to help the kids improve, that scaled-back schedule did not last.

“I started recruiting, and within two or three years, we were playing 60, 70 games in the summer, and I was right back to where I started,” he noted a bit wryly.

That led to a successful 25-year coaching career in Amateur Softball Association of America ball with locally based Sun Supply. Among the highlights, in 2002 Hill’s 16-and-under team won a national title, and over his ASA career, he picked up more than 1,000 wins.

After retiring from Willamette Industries in the early 2000s, Hill made the jump to the college level when a parent convinced him to apply for the softball opening at George Fox, a Pacific conference rival. He stayed there two seasons and then moved to Pacific, which offered a full- rather than part-time position close to home, as well as, he felt, the chance to have a better program.

“I’m really glad that happened. I’m really glad,” he said. “I can’t imagine what I would have done the last 12 years, and I can’t imagine not having had this experience. I’m just thrilled that I was able to do this. I learned a lot from it.”

Bradley served on Hill’s hiring committee at Pacific.

At that point, he had already spent more than a half-dozen years at the school and was well into his own lengthy coaching career, one that started when he was still a teenager with a Little League team.

“I probably got the itch big-time, because I knew right when I started to do it, it was like, ‘I like this,’” Bradley said.

A man who enjoys strategizing, planning and teamwork, Bradley found his niche and he kept coaching, some football, some basketball — and of course, baseball. He led Sunset High school to the state quarterfinals in 1985.

When Pacific came calling, he did not hesitate.

The Pacific years

Both men experienced their fair share of success after arriving in Forest Grove. One of Bradley’s career highlights came in 2012, when his Boxers earned a share of the Northwest Conference title, the program’s first since the 1970s.

But he was hardly a one-hit wonder. Bradley posted seasons of 20 wins or more six times — including a high of 25 in 2002 — and more than four dozen of his players collected all-conference honors.

Like Bradley, Hill took over a program that had endured some rough goings prior to his tenure and turned it into a contender. Over his dozen years, he has turned the Boxers into a practically perennial 20-win per season ball club — an impressive feat considering that Northwest Conference foes Linfield and Pacific Lutheran have combined for multiple national championships during that span.

Hill’s Boxers picked up an eye-popping 31 wins in 2008 and another 28 in 2009, but in some ways, his best season was his last one. Though Pacific sported a youthful roster and lacked depth in the pitching department, the team went 26-12, finished a program-best second place in the NWC Tournament, and received its first All-American honor, as sophomore star Rachel Roberts was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association second team.

And yet, when Hill and Bradley talked about what mattered most to them over their coaching careers, it wasn’t the wins — even though they are both competitive — or honors or awards. For them, coaching was most about building relationships, developing character and imparting life lessons.

Players wrote letters to Hill for his retirement. What they told him about what mattered most still resonates — and could probably equally apply to Bradley.

“I don’t know how that happened, because I want to go out and coach and I want to win, and we’re teaching the fundamentals, but at least they recognized that somewhere along the line, maybe I’ve done something that has impacted their life,” Hill said. “And that really makes me feel good ... that I’ve had a positive impact on their life.

“I think that’s probably the biggest compliment you can get as a coach.”

Part one of a two-part series. Next week: The decision to retire and going forward

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