Why make a coaching change? And why now?
Hill guided Conant to 2 state titles and was D-III Coach of the Year
It’s not every day that a reigning coach of the year is shown the door.
But that is exactly what happened to Nick Hill last week.
On Thursday, Hill was fired Conant girls basketball coach. After eight years on the job and a pair of state championships, Hill will not return to the sidelines this year, Conant Athletic Director Rick Simoneau confirmed on Sunday evening.
“I decided we needed to make a change to reenergize the program,” said Simoneau, who took over as athletic director in July.
Simoneau could not go into specifics, citing personnel policies, but did say there were some concerns about the state of the program.
“The numbers have been going down in the program and that was a concern,” said Simoneau.
There were just eight girls in the program last year and no junior varsity team, and while that can be looked at as a negative, what Hill did with the low numbers was impressive. And from what Hill said, 2013-14 looked like a bounce back year in terms of the numbers.
“Maybe the numbers are down, but it’s just a matter of circumstances,” said Hill. “I had a good feeling about our numbers this year. It was the best turnout this summer I had in years.”
For Hill, the change came as a complete shock. He thought it was going to be like any other year when he met with the athletic director during the fall in preparation for the upcoming season.
Hill didn’t want to get into specifics about the meeting, but did say he has received quite a bit of support from parents, people around town and former players since the news came out.
I will tell you that I never saw this coming. I can only imagine how Hill felt as he sat in Simoneau’s office.
Sure I wasn’t there every day, so I can’t say I know everything. But from what I did see, Hill was a coach who enjoyed being in the gym, cared about his players and had a lot of success over the years.
Dave Springfield had two daughters play for Hill. Brooke won two state championships and three player of the year awards under Hill and last year, Springfield’s youngest daughter, Madison, played for Conant.
Hill also took over for Springfield after he took the ConVal boys job in 2005-06.
“His success speaks for itself,” said Springfield. “ He’s leaving a legacy for Conant girls basketball.”
Springfield also had difficulties with numbers at Conant.
“I coached varsity girls basketball for four years and the numbers were always down,” said Springfield, who added he did not know the reasons for Hill’s dismissal.
Hill made the playoffs in each of his eight years, including a trip to the Division III semifinals last season as the top seed in the tournament. He was also voted D-III Coach of the Year by his peers. Conant was 17-1 in the regular season and 19-2 overall. The Orioles also won their second Keene State holiday title with Hill at the helm.
Not exactly the kind of year you would expect to be dismissed after.
In his first season, Conant earned the 16th seed after losing just about everybody to graduation after winning the state title. The Orioles got back to .500 in his second season and finished 11th in Class M.
Then things really took off for the young coach, who also spent three years as the Conant boys freshman coach and two years as the boys varsity assistant. In his third season, Hill guided Conant to its second state championship in four years with two freshmen and three seniors in the starting lineup.
“From a coaching standpoint, I couldn’t be more blessed with the girls I had,” said Hill.
The Orioles made a return trip to the semifinals in 2009 and then once again hoisted the Class M championship plaque the following year for the fifth state championship in school history.
“We kept getting better every year,” said Hill.
Conant made its third trip to the finals in four years in 2011, but came up just short of another championship. And despite the loss of four starters and the team’s first player off the bench, Hill got the Orioles back to postseason play in 2011. Last year, Conant made a trip to the Final Four as the No. 1 seed.
“There’s a lot of things that happened over the years that I’m proud of,” said Hill.
In the end, all of that wasn’t enough for Hill to keep his job.
Simoneau said he appreciated all Hill’s success, but added, “we decided we needed to move forward in a different direction.”
It’s hard to imagine the Orioles without Hill leading the way. His accomplishments speak for themselves. He was 114-49 overall, owns two of Conant’s five girls basketball state championships and brought the program to new heights.
“I wanted to build a program up where it was successful year in and year out and that’s what I believe I did,” said Hill.
With about two months to go until basketball preseason begins, the timing of the decision seems at best odd — especially since Hill coached the team in a summer league in Massachusetts, took them to the Franklin Pierce camp in July and had the team signed up for a fall league at Rivier College.
Simoneau said he wants to get a new coach in place as soon as possible.
Hopefully it is not determined that the right coach for the job was the one who already had it.