The Central Illinois Coaching Mafia

The Central Illinois Coaching Mafia

Most people would say basketball is just a game, but for this group of coaches it’s more than that. These guys being Bill Pool, eighth grade head basketball coach at Jacksonville Middle School; JR Dugan, assistant coach at Illinois College; Morgan Braught, assistant coach at Illinois College; Steve Dilley, head coach at Tri-City; Jeff Johnston, head coach at Athens; Dave Suits, head coach at South County; Jeff Abell, assistant coach for Routt girls and Shane Gray, former athletic director/ coach at Waverly. Dilley referred to this famous quote, “No man is a failure who has friends”, this group truly fits this idea as they have become successful because of their friendships.

And here is how it all happened. … More than 20 years ago when Dugan was coaching at Triopia he had met Abell when he was coaching at Bluffs. After Dugan left Triopia he went to Taylorville and hired Dilley as an assistant coach. After four years of coaching together and often referring to each other as long-lost brothers, they both would go their separate ways. Dugan would go to Jacksonville to be the head coach and Dilley would go to Buffalo Tri-City and become the head coach after a couple years of coaching middle school basketball. They remained in contact and their friendship continued to grow. At the same time in Waverly, Pool and Gray were becoming good friends through the game of basketball. Gray said, “Bill and I developed a friendship that was very much like brothers. Bill was a coach and teacher to all three of my children and they look at Mr. Pool as one of the biggest and most positive influences in their lives.” While Dilley was at Tri-City he would meet Johnston while scouting at a game.  The Edinburg tournament was where Dilley, Johnston, and Pool would all become friends. When Dugan arrived at Jacksonville he would meet Braucht. Braucht would be on Dugan’s coaching staff for a couple years before taking the head job at Triopia. Braucht met Dilley through Dugan and the group continued to grow. The bond continued to strengthen with this group as Suits would get the head coaching job at Franklin. While coaching in the same conference Pool and Dilley would take Suits under their wing. Suits said, “We started talking more and hanging out and that led to hanging out with Dugan and Braucht more also.” Through X’s and O’s this web began.

Basketball brought all of these friends together, but what keeps them together? Braucht said, “… as time goes by it has become much more than basketball. We genuinely care about each of the other guys and their families. The friendship with Coach Pool and his family has brought us all together. The idea that no one fights alone. We have each other’s back.” A common theme came up in all of these guys interviews, the theme of always having one another’s backs. Gray describes the friendship by saying, “These guys genuinely care about each other, endlessly cheer for each other, and have a bond like no other group of coaches I have ever seen.” Through the personal experience of being around these guys I can see the love each and everyone have for each other. The bonds they have formed are everlasting, and Dugan said it himself, “The bonds we have formed over the years keep us together, and we have shared good and bad experiences together. Whether it was in our family lives or basketball, the support is always there.” These guys love coaching, and along with coaching, as all coaches know, come struggles. Abell said he connects with these guys more than anyone, because of some of those tough times. Not everyone can fully understand some of those issues and these guys have been through it too.

Over two year ago a big part of the group, Pool, was diagnosed with cancer. This was a surprise to all of these guys, but it brought them even closer together. As Dilley stated, “I had no idea when I first bet Bill Pool at the Waverly Holiday Tournament seed meeting that God was blessing me. He blessed me with a friend that I’ve competed against, laughed with and built an unforgettable friendship with. Bill has been, and will forever be, a big part of my life.” The love that has been shared is unforgettable, the relationships that these guys have built are so much bigger than what words can express. Johnston would refer to these guys as his brothers. He said, “Anyone can be a friend, but true friends are there for each other no matter what their situation may be.” That fits in so many different ways, the fact that these guys show the love and support to not only Pool while he is fighting this cancer, but to the whole Pool family. Braucht sees Pool as just one of the guys, as he said, “He’s a father, husband, teacher, coach, friend… just like each of us. What he is fighting through could be any of us. No one is immune to it. He has shown everyone how to have strength and perseverance and not let life’s circumstances impact your attitude.”  Pool has not only made an impact on this group of guys, but he has made an impact on this community, with his positive attitude. The struggle of finding the correct words to describe the love each one of these guys have for Pool continues as Dugan would struggle to think of the correct words. He would say, “He has been a huge part of my life, I am just so fortunate to have someone like him in my life. Not only has Pool inspired me to take a positive outlook on everything, but he has also taught me to never give up and to continue and fight.”

Quickly these guys figured out everything isn’t about basketball, they developed a true friendship through the game. Johnston says the reason that they continue to stay together is because, “We’ve all had success, we’ve all had struggles and when things are going good or bad we’ve been there for each other.”  Through the group text they have, they talk every day. “As a group, they are always joking and poking fun at one another, but also some of the most positive people I have ever been around in my life, which is great as a coach, but also as a person” said Suits. Gray would describe the group message as, “An endless day at a comedy club.” While each and every one of these guys enjoys the countless laughs through text or the countless laughs while hanging out, usually at Buffalo Wild Wings, they understand there is a bigger purpose in life than the game of basketball. They have just used the game to connect themselves as best friends. Johnston said it best, “Without basketball I would not know any of my best friends right now and for that I’m truly thankful.”

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