DE PERE, Wisc. (WBAY) St. Norbert College is approaching the end of the Connie Tilley era. Just the tail end of the 2018-2019 season stands between her and some quality rest and relaxation she hopes to find in retirement after spending 42 years with the Green Knights.
When you say 42 seasons out loud, it sure sounds like a long time, but just how quickly did the time pass for St. Norbert’s storied women's basketball coach?
“Oh boy. I would say the first 25 years went by really fast,” SNC women’s basketball Connie Tilley said. “Probably the last amount of years, I think it kind of went a little bit slower, but I look back to when I started and everything is so different."
Tilley was initially hired as the volleyball and women's basketball coach at SNC in 1977. She was brought on to build women’s athletics at the college from the ground up. She'd eventually add softball, men's, and women's golf to her coaching resume.
“They had a few games and they had a few seasons prior to me coming but it was kind of just getting started and kicked off, I was really happy to come,” Coach Tilley said. “I just never coached volleyball before, and that was the job, so when they asked if I could coach volleyball, of course I said ‘yes.' My real goal of starting a program in basketball that was what my passion was, and what I really wanted to do."
A young Connie Tilley knew all along what her calling was.
“I remember I was in the 4th grade, and we had a day where we had to say what we wanted to be when we grew up,” Tilley said. “I remember standing up and as proud as could be and saying I wanted to be a basketball coach and everyone laughed. I ran home and told my mom and I was crying because I was so proud of that moment because that's what I wanted to do. She said, ‘Connie you're going to be the best basketball coach there ever was.’"
Fast forward 42 years—Tilley is 7th all-time winningest coach in DIII women's basketball with 687 wins to date. She was also inducted in the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
“She definitely is a pioneer of the profession,” Former SNC basketball player and Green Knights assistant coach, Amy Proctor said. “I mean, I think even back in the mid-80s when I played here. I never really thought I could be a coach full time, and it's like, well she did it.”
Amy Proctor did go onto coach, serving as Lawrence University’s women's basketball coach for 19 years and now working as an assistant alongside Tilley.
“The college is losing someone, I mean she could have gone anywhere. She's had some really good programs and some really good seasons,” Coach Proctor said. “She could have gone anywhere, and she, I learned that from her too… that bigger isn't always better. You know, and it's commendable to stay, especially in athletics, to stay at one place for so long."
Proctor was a member of the ‘84-‘85 team that made a Final Four run, a memory Tilley ranks in the top three of her career, along with having St. Norbert's playing court named after her and being inducted into the Wisconsin hall of fame.
“I think that brings me to where I am today because I always wanted to get another team to a Final Four,” Coach Tilley said. “I probably won't ever do that, but it was that was just an exciting not just for the school but also for the players.”
The decision to retire is a bittersweet one for Tilley and one that took her plenty of time to make.
“This this hasn't been just a week or two that I’ve been thinking about this,” Coach Tilley said. “It's been kind of for a number of years, but have absolutely no regrets. I accomplished everything that I even thought about accomplishing all of my career and way above that.