A 14-year coaching career that included more than 200 victories and eight league titles concluded Friday afternoon when La Cañada High girls’ basketball coach Tamar Hill announced to her team that she is stepping away from a program she built into an area power.
“It’s emotional because you have to look into the eyes of your team and tell them you’re not coming back,” Hill said. “But, honestly, I just need a break.
“This was a great season to end my career as far as accomplishments go. There’s really a great nucleus of girls coming back. I would have felt bad if I had left and there was nobody coming back, but that’s not the case.”
Hill took over for Dennis Ballard before the 2000-01 season and compiled a 264-131 record (67% winning percentage), won eight Rio Hondo League titles and advanced to the postseason every year throughout her tenure.
“She had a great run in the playoffs and she’s not leaving the cupboard empty,” La Cañada High Athletic Director Craig Franzen said. “It’s a long haul from spring until the end of the season. Then you go through spring ball and then you have to decide if you play fall ball or not.
“It’s a long grind for any basketball coach and lot of tough decisions between spending time with your team or family. I’m happy for Tamar because she feels good about her decision and left at a good time.”
This past season was potentially the best during the Hill era.
La Cañada finished 24-7, which tied the 2009-10 squad for most victories during her run (24-4), while the Spartans claimed a league title and advanced to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, where the they fell March 1 to eventual Division III-A champion Santa Margarita, 69-57.
Hill’s squad rebounded from the defeat and recorded a victory in the CIF State Division III Tournament, handing Eagle Rock its lone home defeat of the season, 52-49, in the first round March 12.
The Spartans’ season and Hill’s career ended March 15 in a 55-43 second-round defeat at Santa Barbara.
“For me, there really hasn’t been a break,” Hill said. “I played at Occidental College for four years and then I was a graduate assistant there and then I came to La Cañada. It’s been a long run and I’m looking forward to spending summers away from hot, sweaty gyms and am actually looking forward to having a summer break, a Thanksgiving break and a Christmas break. When you coach basketball, you don’t really get those.”
Hill confirmed she would remain at La Cañada as a biology and life sciences instructor and “won’t just be sitting around doing nothing.”
In the meanwhile, Franzen said the position would be flown in-house and then potentially outside the school district should no qualified candidates apply.
“We’re just going to follow the normal procedures as laid out by the school district,” Franzen said. “The program is going in the right direction and I don’t want to take a step backward.”
Hill noted that she would make a recommendation to Franzen for a successor soon.
“Being a competitive person, it’s hard to hand off a program, but I feel like I have a responsibility to do so,” Hill said. “Ever since I was young, I was taught to always leave the house cleaner and better than it was received.
“I believed in that principle when I was the [Associated Student Body] director, athletic director, coach and even back as a babysitter and that’s what I’m doing now.”
As for Friday, at least one player was thankful for Hill’s presence.
“Coach Hill had a pretty big impact on my career,” said Spartans senior guard Courtney Chen, the league’s co-most valuable player. “She really just let me play how I played and allowed me to grow as a player. She really understood how I functioned as a person and I couldn’t have asked for a better coach.”
When asked if she would consider a return to La Cañada after time off, Hill didn’t think that would be a possibility.
“I plan on supporting the girls next year and I expect them to continue to win games and league, but I don’t expect to come back,” Hill said. “I’m going to support whoever takes over and hopefully that person will be here 14 years or longer.”
Reporters Jeff Tully and Charles Rich contributed to this report.
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.