By TODD WILLS / Special To The Corsicana Daily Sun –
Whoa Dill, a Corsicana native who guided the Navarro Bulldogs to the 2011 Junior College World Series title, is stepping down as head baseball coach.
Dill will turn in his letter of resignation on Thursday or Friday. His contract with the college runs through the end of June. He has accepted a position with Edward Jones Investments.
“I’m going to miss the competition for sure, the players and the association with the players,” Dill said on Wednesday. “I’ve been wearing a uniform every year since I was 6 years old. As a college coach, you’re gone all the time and I’ve missed my kids’ games. I’m going to go out and coach my kids.”
The success of the Navarro baseball program reached a crescendo under Dill.
He was an assistant coach under Skip Johnson, now the pitching coach at the University of Texas, for five seasons from 2002-06. The Bulldogs won three conference championships during that time, but missed out on reaching the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. Navarro had standout players such as the Baltimore Orioles All-Star Chris Davis, who won the American League home-run title last season.
Dill took over for Johnson in 2007 at the age of 30 and helped the Bulldogs reach another level. Navarro won four conference championships and two Region XIV titles under Dill, making it to Grand Junction in 2011 and ’13.
The high point came in the ’11 season when Navarro won the junior college national title on a magical Colorado night with catcher J.T. Files belting a walk-off, two-run home run in the 10th inning for a 6-4 victory.
“Whoa has done a great job in carrying on the tradition of the program,” said Johnson, who is in Houston as Texas prepares for the NCAA Tournament and a monumental game against rival Texas A&M. “His legacy will never be forgotten with the lives he has changed along the way. Navarro has lost a good coach and an even better person.”
Dill had a record of 307-157 in eight seasons, averaging 38.4 wins per season. He was the regional coach of the year twice and was the National Coach of the Year in 2011.
The Major Leagues is littered with former Navarro players from reliever James Russell of the Chicago Cubs to infielder Brock Holt of the Boston Red Sox.
“(Whoa) and Skip are two of the greatest coaches I have ever had the pleasure of playing for and even better people off the field,” said Russell, in San Francisco for the Cubs’ game against the Giants. “Whoa has so much knowledge about the game and keeps it fun. He is one of the biggest reasons Navarro baseball program is where it is.”
Former shortstop Brett Doe spent the last two seasons at Baylor.
“I wouldn’t have still been playing baseball if it weren’t for Whoa,” Doe said. “I left Howard (College) and he let me come to Navarro in the fall. Besides my dad, I’ve never had a coach who cared for me like Whoa did. If I didn’t have to leave Navarro after two years, I’d still be playing for them.”
Doe reminisced about the national title season, too.
“It’s hard to put into words what the national title meant,” Doe said. “I still think about it almost every day. It was such an emotional experience knowing how much it meant to (Whoa) and to us. He told us all season that we were good enough to win it all.”
Nevertheless, Dill said his biggest moments at Navarro were seeing his players go on to top Division I baseball programs.
“When you have 15 guys sign in one year, that’s a big achievement,” Dill said. “To win a national title, I didn’t think I could do it in four or five years after how much this program had won before I came here. Everyone is going to say it’s the national championship game, but having all those players sign is the biggest deal for me.”
It will be tough to leave baseball, Dill said, but he wants to spend more time with his children, Kendal and Maddux.
“I love Navarro,” Dill said. “I love that place. I’m glad I got to come back to my hometown and coach for a school I played for. I want to see it keep succeeding. Skip did a great job. We did a great job. It’s time for me to be a father.”
Dill was an All-State pitcher and first baseman for Corsicana High School in 1995, then went on to play for Navarro for two seasons, where the Bulldogs won conference championships in ’96 and ’97. From there it was on to UT-Arlington for two seasons.
Dill gave professional baseball a chance, but an elbow injury took him on a detour to coaching. Now he will go to work in the business world.
“He’s competitive. He’s a natural leader. In my opinion, and I know I’m biased, he would be successful in any field,” his father Randy said.
Baseball has been very much a family affair for the entire Dill family, from Whoa’s parents, Randy and Joy, to his sisters, Leah Blackard and Lauren Hammett, to his children and extended family.
Randy has been the Bulldogs’ official scorekeeper, and has rarely missed a game Whoa coached or played in.
“I’ll miss following it,” Randy said. “There’s no telling how many games I went to.”
Whoa has been pondering this decision for months. It hit him, like it does many fathers and mothers, when he had to miss one of Kendal’s volleyball games this season.
“I truly love what I do,” Whoa said. “It’s time for me to make my family more stable, instead of missing every game. This year really got me on a Friday, Kendal said, ’You’re going to miss my volleyball tournament again?’ That did it for me.”