A month of looking for the next Warren County High School boys basketball coach led the athletic department on several journeys, but in the end it was a man who saw McMinnville as his destination that ended the search.
John Dillard, who has over 20 years of coaching experience, was announced Thursday at a press conference held at the Central Office as the new leader of the Pioneers.
Dillard made the decision to move to Warren County from Lufkin, Texas, where he was currently working as an assistant coach at Angelina College. Dillard called the decision both “personal and professional” as he comes back to Middle Tennessee.
“Being a graduate of Macon County High School, this was a chance to come back home as well as a chance to run my own program,” said Dillard. “Warren County is a destination job for me. I’m finished moving around and getting new jobs every 3-4 years.”
Dillard began his coaching career in 1991 as an assistant coach with Blinn College in Texas after playing college basketball at Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky and receiving a degree in elementary education.
Dillard would go on to hold positions at Sam Houston State University, Connors State College and Bacone College over the next 14 years. In that span, Dillard was part of teams that captured conference championships and two top-five finishes in the NJCAA tournament. Dillard coached three NJCAA All-Americans and helped 39 athletes move on to Division-I schools.
Dillard spent five years away from coaching in 2004-09 when he served as the owner and co-editor of Southwest Hoops Report, a junior college recruiting service which worked with Division-I schools across the country.
Dillard’s long background in basketball and passion for the game immediately caught the eye of WCHS principal Anthony Cassel.
“John’s background in the game speaks for itself and his passion for the sport became evident in the meetings and phone conversations we had,” said Cassel. “I believe he will set high expectations and is looking to build on what we’ve accomplished recently.”
Dillard is no stranger to Middle Tennessee, having grown up in Macon County and earned a scholarship to Lindsey Wilson. Dillard also recalls playing AAU basketball for Kevin Bray, the coach of the Cookeville Cavaliers, and trying to defend the jump shot of White County coach Eric Mitchell, a former standout at Tennessee Tech. Dillard is also a longtime friend of Tennessee Tech basketball coach Steve Payne.
Dillard’s wife Sonja was with her husband at the meeting and is happy the couple is moving back closer to their family.
“We’re very excited,” said Sonja. “The first call I made was to our daughter, who plays softball in Kentucky. The second call was to my dad telling him his son-in-law would be back for family gatherings so make sure and cook plenty.”
John’s step-daughter Lacey Holt plays softball at Midway College in Kentucky. John and Sonja also have a 12-year-old daughter named Kylann.
Warren County High School athletic director Todd Willmore is happy to have Dillard taking control of the Pioneer program.
“John is a man of integrity who will hold his student-athletes accountable and help develop the culture at our school,” said Willmore. “We are eager for our players and fans to get to know John in the coming days and years. We believe he has the drive and commitment to make Warren County basketball consistently competitive within our region and district.”
Dillard hopes to hit the ground running when he makes his official move to Warren County next weekend. Dillard believes the Pioneers, who have made the regional tournament three of the last four years, can continue to be successful.
“We’d like to have a continuation and grow upon what’s been done,” said Dillard. “With my understanding of the talent, I think we can be very successful in Warren County.”
Dillard wants to work closely with the feeder programs in Warren County in an attempt to get younger players acclimated to what the Pioneers will be doing at the high-school level. Dillard predicates everything with a stifling man-to-man defense, which he hopes will be the calling card of his program.
“Everything is dictated by our defense, which I want to be one of the best man-to-man defenses in the Midstate,” said Dillard. “Offensively, we’ll play uptempo but it will be about defense for us.”
Dillard hasn’t set a tryout date yet, but has scheduled three camps for his team. The Pioneers will go through a two-week camp at Tennessee Tech and spend one week at Bethel College. The third camp wasn’t announced. Dillard is still searching for people to round out his coaching staff.
Dillard will work at Warren County High School and will be responsible for in-school suspension.