He entered in 1985 as the new Harvard school basketball coach from Oregon, taking over a team that went 1-23 a year earlier. With 603 wins, 9 CIF titles, two State Championships and one season to go, he will exit in 2015 as the winningest coach in Harvard-Westlake history. Boys’ basketball head coach Greg Hilliard will retire following the 2014-2015 season, the athletic department announced in a press release Tuesday.
“With a tinge of sadness and lots of gratitude, I would like to announce that the 2014-15 basketball season will be my last,” Hilliard said in a statement. “It will be my fortieth year as a varsity head coach and my thirtieth at Harvard-Westlake. It has been an honor and a pleasure to represent this community in a small way for so many years. The players, parents, coaches, support staff, opponents, and administrators have gone out of their way to bless my coaching experience. I couldn’t have done any of it without them and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
After stepping off the court for the final time in 2015, Hilliard will stay on board with the athletic department as Director of Alumni Athletics, the press release stated.
Hilliard cited multiple reasons for declaring next year his final run, but felt it was overall the proper moment to bow out.
“There are a lot of reasons [I am retiring], obviously, and I’ve thought about it a lot,” Hilliard told the Chronicle. “It’s year number 40 overall, and year number 30 at Harvard-Westlake – nice round numbers. That’s not an important reason but that’s something I’ve thought about. The administration has asked me for a while now how I would like to go out and how I’d want to do it. One of the things I wanted to do was have a year where I knew it was going to be my last year. It’s kind of like if somebody told you ‘You’re going to die here and you have this much time. What do you want to do with it?’ So there are things I want to do this year that’ll make it a lot of fun for me and hopefully for the kids.”
He added that the change in coaching culture played a small role in the timing of his decision.
“The last part [of my decision] is the new way of coaching in basketball involves a lot of obligation to coaching club teams,” he said. “Of course, when I came in that wasn’t the case. I kind of assumed my whole career would be that [not affiliating with club teams], but now, not only is it being done by every coach down here, but our school would like all of our guys to do that. It’s not something that I am comfortable with philosophically, and it’s not something I envisioned doing in my last years coaching. That might have sped it up a little bit, to be honest. But in all honesty, it is time.”
Through three decades at Harvard-Westlake, Hilliard still savors his first of back-to-back State Championships in 1996 and 1997, noting the first as one of the highlights of his career.
“The first [highlight] was a major moment and it happened with the [Collins] twins,” Hilliard said. “The first time you experience going all the way and finishing it with a win. It was 1996 when we won the state title the first time. That’s an incredible feeling.”
However, the longtime high school basketball coach takes pride most in constructing a basketball contender at a school more renowned for its academics.
“The last and best thing was that I got to do it for so many years at a school like this with the kind of kids who everyone looks at as a disadvantage in basketball,” Hilliard said. “I was quick to discover and benefit from the fact that it’s actually an advantage. I’ve got the smartest kids and the hardest working kids. They’re used to being successful. With what they do in the classroom after a day of school here, basketball is nothing. I’ve always gotten so much out of these kids that that’s been the third and probably most important part of this whole run.”
Having molded Wolverine athletes such as Jason Collins ’97, Jarron Collins ’97, Bryce Taylor ’04, Erik Swoope ’10 and more, Hilliard remains grateful for the opportunity to mentor thirty teams worth of players at Harvard-Westlake and unconcerned about what his legacy in Wolverine history will be.
“Legacy is something that other people decide, and the only thing that I’d want other people to know is that I loved every minute of this,” Hilliard said. “I never worked a day in my life, and I hope every person gets to pursue his or her passion the way I did. Whatever’s left over as far as a legacy, I’ll leave that to other folks, but the legacy Harvard-Westlake has left me has been incredible.”
In the press release announcing Hilliard’s retirement, Head of Athletics Terry Barnum and the athletic department stated that they would start to look for a new coach to follow in his footsteps, but that they did not want to distract from Hilliard’s 30th and final season at the helm.
“The 2014-15 basketball season will be a celebration of Greg Hilliard and all that he has done for our school,” Barnum said in the press release. “While we anticipate there will be significant interest in the position, we do not want anything to take away from our team and our effort to have a terrific season. When the time is right, we will hire a basketball coach that is committed to maintaining the excellence in academics and athletics that has become our standard at Harvard-Westlake.”