Conway’s newest head coach is no stranger to winning.
Last week, the Laclede County R-1 district announced the hire of Dylan Curtis, who will take charge of Bears varsity boys basketball and also teach physical education.
He called the last few days a whirlwind, but was able to meet his new players on April 28.
“I was able to introduce myself to them and sell myself a little bit on what we’re going to do this summer, so that was good,” said Curtis.
Curtis spent the last year with Hartville, his alma mater, who enjoyed a banner undefeated year that ended with the Eagles crowned as Class 3 state champs.
“Everyone knew they’d be really special, but the fact that we were able to go undefeated with the schedule we played, it was a heckuva ride with a special group of boys,” Curtis said. “They bought into the mission and didn’t feel like anyone was good enough to beat them. Whether that was true or not, they believed in it enough and executed the game plan on a daily basis.”
Also, at the Lebanon R-3 School Board meeting on April 13, the hiring of outgoing Conway coach Ryan Toombs was announced.
In two years in charge of the Bears, Toombs led the program to a 17-33 record. This past season, one of his players, Trey Earls, became the program's first ever Academic All-State honoree.
“I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to serve Conway Bears basketball,” said Toombs, once an assistant at Lebanon. “This is a special place with great people, and the support has been tremendous. Coach Curtis will do a great job.”
Before taking the head job at Conway, Toombs led the Halfway Cardinals to a pair of 20-win seasons, including the school's first conference title in almost two decades.
Laclede R-1 Superintendent Mark Hedger said that Toombs notified him that he planned to interview for the same position at Lebanon, and once that process moved forward, a plan of their own was put into action promptly.
“We knew being at this point in the school year, it was late enough that we wanted to start the interviews as quickly as possible to find the right person before some school maybe beat us to someone. We posted it and I think had a total of seven applicants; a strong pool overall. We interviewed three finalists [before we made] that final decision.”
The fact that Curtis had previously been a head coach –– three years at Hurley (beginning in 2014-15), two more in Aurora –– was appealing, according to Hedger.
“He had [that experience] in the past, and he’s obviously coming from a very strong program,” Hedger said. “He was only [at Hartville] for a year, but with the success they had, we certainly felt like he contributed to that, and I’m sure learned quite a bit from it as well.”
Curtis and his wife own a farm in Hartville, and he said he'd felt a calling to get back there to raise the family. A year in Marshfield where he served as assistant coach under Adam Carpenter provided an opportunity to move back to the farm and make an easier commute. Following one season with the Blue Jays, the Hartville post opened and was naturally a great fit.
"I got the Hartville job the same day our son was born," Curtis said. "I'm a hometown boy, so that was good, and when I got there, in the back of my mind, I had no intentions of leaving."
Ultimately, Curtis said the success Hartville experienced this season helped manifest a hunger to see what he could do as a head coach, but added, "I didn't want to move the family, and Conway is not a bad drive. When I was in school, Conway had a good basketball program. I think it's a place where kids want to be coached, and the community likes athletics, so they'll support you. I felt like it was a good spot to get my foot wet and back into the game [as a head coach]."
Curtis credits his time under Reed and Carpenter, something that also stood out to Hedger.
Curtis calls Reed one of the best in-game coaches he's been around, while complimenting Carpenter's knack for finding player's strengths and ability to drive skill development. He’s also become less black and white on his coaching philosophies over the past few seasons.
"I've learned you've got to do what at this level gives your kids the best opportunity to be successful," said Curtis, emphasizing the importance of an open mind on aspects like types of defenses.
“I don’t know our personnel well enough to say ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ but I know we’ll play extremely hard. We’ll get after it no matter what we’re doing, take good shots, take care of the ball. I know that’s cliché coaching talk, but if you do those things you’re going to have an opportunity to be successful.”