Sitting in what will soon be his former office at the University of New Mexico Tennis Complex, former UNM men’s tennis coach Alan Dils pauses, then begins to reflect on his time at the school — first as a player then as an assistant coach, then as the school’s winningest head coach in 18 years of coaching.
“It doesn’t seem like I ever ended my playing career,” Dils said with a chuckle. “I’ve been here 30 years straight. It doesn’t seem like that. The math adds up but it seems like just yesterday I was starting as a freshman.”
Dils, 48, retired from UNM in June, handing the reins of the program over to another former Lobo player, Bart Scott. Dils, who graduated from UNM with a degree in business administration in 1989, will not move far in his retirement, moving over into the school’s athletic administration, where he is taking a key role in fundraising for the completion of the school’s new McKinnon Family Tennis Center.
Dils’ retirement comes after nearly 30 years at the school, which saw him come to UNM after a stellar career at Belen High School, where he and his twin brother, Loren, won a pair of state doubles titles in Class 3A. His enjoyment of the game continued on to his college days.
“I played here and started coaching because it was fun,” he said. “I enjoyed it — enjoyed youth and energy associated with college athletics. But you get to the point where it’s time to move on. It’s sort of bittersweet.”
Along with his brother, Dils was part of the very first Belen High tennis squad, something he said was an experience for he and his brother, who were already going into Albuquerque regularly for tennis lessons.
“It was a great opportunity to get a tennis team,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to Gary and Regina Elkins for starting that and keeping things going in Belen. It’s obviously been huge for tennis down there that they’ve kept things going. My development and the community sport from Belen, they should be given a medal — a large one.”
The Dils brothers developed into the boys teams’ top players. The brothers might have gone to school elsewhere, but stayed in Belen to attend BHS, which Dils said helped form them as players and even as future coaches.
“The first couple years, there weren’t a lot of experienced players, so my brother and I actually helped coach the guys up and they ended up being some pretty good high school players,” he said.
Asked whether being on a team with more experienced players may have helped his and Loren’s own development, Dils thinks a bit before answering.
“What if we were on a team, as high school players and played good, established players every day? It’s arguable,” he said, recalling many a match in their freshman and sophomore years where they faced up against high school seniors.
“We were playing No. 1 and No. 2 from the moment we stepped on the court as ninth graders and playing seniors, so that added to our experience level,” he said. “I think it balances out.”
Now with his playing and coaching years behind him, Dils said he can focus on his immediate family — his wife of 14 years, Dawn, and their two daughters, Brenyn, 10, and Ayla, 8 — as well as helping older brother, Cliff, take care of their 81-year-old father, Tommy, and brother, Loren, who was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gherig’s Disease, six years ago.
“Ironically, the day we announced (my retirement) was our (wedding) anniversary,” Dils said with laugh. “But you know, in the spring, (Dawn) used to have a lot to do with the kids. She works herself at UNM, and she became a single parent at times. So now there will be time to help them with the doctors appointments, to spend time with them, to go take the girls to soccer practice and games.”
Alan said his brother, who has continued to be as active as possible despite his diagnosis with a degenerative disease known to be cruel to those who contract it, faced a scare last fall and had to undergo a procedure to put a trachea tube into his throat.
But Alan said his brother has since bounced back, gaining strength as the months have gone on.
“It’s great that he can still do what he does. I’m excited to be able to spend more time with him,” Alan Dils said. “At this point, he’s doing well and has built back his activity level to nearly the point where he was and gaining the confidence to do that and more. It’s exciting.
“Knowing that Loren is six years in and still at a high activity level, the energy level he has is remarkable,” he said. “You just want to feed off that. So I just want to support him and hope he continues on for years and years.”
For Alan Dils and his entire family, that hope extends to his life after competitive collegiate tennis.