ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Alan Dils showed up at the Lobo Tennis Club nearly 30 years ago, a fresh-faced kid with no idea of how his life was about to be shaped.
“Ironically, I thought I’d be done in a couple of days,” Dils said.
Dils, a high school tennis star from Belen, had decided to tryout for the UNM tennis team.
“I lost in the semifinals of the tryout tournament to one of Dave Geatz’s star recruits, and I thought I was done,” Dils said. “But Dave was nice enough to let me stick around.”
Dils could hardly figure then that he would one day follow in Geatz’s footsteps and become head tennis coach at UNM.
Now, after 18 years as head coach, Dils will retire from the men’s tennis program at the end of this month.
Dils first began to think about coaching as his playing days at UNM wound down (he was a WAC doubles champ with Steve Bickham in 1987 and WAC singles finalist in 1989).
Then-head coach Tim Cass (now chief operating officer of the school’s athletic department) brought him on as an assistant. When Cass left to coach Texas A&M, Dils took over. That was in 1996.
Now it’s time to move on from coaching.
“A lot of factors went into it, not the least my family,” Dils said.
Dils’ brother, Loren, a former UNM coach and player, has ALS.
“It’s been over six years, which is phenomenal,” Alan said. “I just got back from an ALS golf tournament at Tanoan and he was there, up and around.
“I’d like to spend a lot more time with him and my dad, who needs a little more help now. I won’t have to travel as much. It gives me some freedom.”
Dils, who graduated from UNM with a degree in business administration in 1989, will remain with school’s athletic administration and will have a key role in fundraising for the completion of the McKinnon Family Tennis Center.
“Paul (Krebs, UNM athletic director) and Tim were very understanding,” Dils said.
Dils led the Lobos to conference championships in 2000, ’03, ’04, ’08 and ’09.
Now he will hand the reins over to his assistant and another former Lobo, Bart Scott.
“Bart Scott is so ready to be a head coach,” Dils said. “He’s very, very good. It eases my mind to know he’s there.”
Dils leaves the Lobos with a record of 260-169 and five MWC coach of the year awards. He had five all-Americans during his tenure as head coach. In 1998, the Lobos doubles team of Pepe Caballero and Jeff Williams won three straight matches at the NCAA Championships for the first time in school history. Under Dils, the Lobos appeared in a school-record seven consecutive NCAA singles, doubles or team tournament appearances.
“This is an emotional and exciting time for Alan, all wrapped up in one,” Cass said in a statement. “Alan has had a tremendous amount of success in all phases; as a student-athlete, as an assistant, and as the head coach. What is really special is the respect that the program and Alan have gotten nationally from coaches across the country for the class manner in which he has run it.”
Dils, whose Lobos last season posted a 3.52 grade point average, says he treasures the relationships he has made over the years. Several of his players have gone on to become coaches. He was flooded with Facebook messages on Monday as word of his retirement leaked.
“It’s so much fun coaching them,” Dils said. “Youth is fun – seeing the energy they have. Watching them come in as 18-year-olds, leave as 22-, 23-year-olds, and see the amazing transformation they go through. That’s probably the piece I will miss most. I’ll lose the ability to make new connections.”