You don’t have to talk to Rob Bills for any length of time to determine that he loves his job. He has loved what he does from the day he accepted the position in 2005. Bills was a natural fit, even though his path to the position was somewhat unconventional.
Bills is a Cambridge City guy. He participated in sports at Lincoln High School, he began his coaching career at Lincoln, and Cambridge City remains his home.
Bills sat down recently to talk to Western Wayne News about his path to the job he has held for 18 years and the highlights of his time there. Bills reported to Lincoln High School as the new athletic director on November 30, 2005.
Bills explained how that came about. “Garry Laymon, our current girls basketball coach, held the position before I took over,” Bills said. “Laymon left to take a job in the private sector in early October of 2005, so the AD job came open during the school year. I was attracted to the job because I went to school here and I started my coaching career here with middle school basketball and as a volunteer assistant in high school in 1982 under Howard Renner. I also worked with Rick Coleman, who is my cousin. I continued to coach here, I volunteered my time a lot to help where I could, my wife worked here, and I knew everyone in the system. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to have a positive impact on the high school athletic program that I had a deep-rooted interest in. I also applied for the position in 1999 but did not get the job then. In 2005 I had more experience and it just seemed to be a perfect fit for me.”
“Rick Coleman is a basketball junkie and he reached out to me in the fall of 1982 to get me involved in coaching,” Bills said. “Rick was always a mentor to me. I was in private business at the time, and I could not think of anything that would be more fun. I worked on the chain gang at football games, and I was the public address announcer for boys basketball when Chip Mehaffey coached here. When John Lewellen took over the girls basketball program, he asked me to join his staff. From 1987 to 2005 I was his JV coach, so everyone in the community and the school knew me.”
Bills explained the difference he sees between coaching girls and boys. ”Girls are more open to listening. They are more open to accepting what you say. Boys watch basketball at the college and professional level, and they try to mimic those players, whereas girls will try to do what you ask them to do. My original plan was to help Coach Lewellen get things off the ground and leave after one year because I was not sure that I would enjoy coaching girls basketball, but I quickly changed my mind. We had good, hard-working players, and it seemed like I could have an impact to help them succeed. It was an eye-opener. My preconceived notions were wrong. I loved it. Girls are more team-oriented, and it is fun to be around that.”
“Before I took the AD job, I knew there was a lot involved, but as it turned out it was a lot more than I realized,” Bills said. “I used to joke with Garry Laymon that athletic directors must sit around reading Sports Illustrated all day. I don’t joke about that anymore.”
“During my tenure one of the things that has really changed is technology,” Bills said. “With technology there is a lot more responsibility. Now coaches must take online courses to remain certified to coach. I must monitor that. Social media is much more prevalent. That can be good and bad. The sheer volume of red tape has grown immensely. That is not to imply that red tape is always bad, but the requirements placed to conform with school and IHSAA rules have grown for everyone. I am much more involved with the training of coaches now than I was initially.”
“Over my tenure I also picked up other responsibilities outside of athletics,” Bills said. “I picked up the title of transportation director in 2019. So, I oversee the bus fleet, not as it pertains to the athletic department, but as it pertains to the school corporation. We have great route drivers and Jeff Riggle does a great job with maintenance. Most of my time is spent letting the drivers know about new students and the route changes that may create and dealing with parental concerns. There are also quarterly drug testing requirements for drivers that require my follow-up and there is a significant amount of record keeping for the DOT. It was not like the addition of another 40 hours per week job, but frequently it seems that things that pop up were at the worst possible time. It can complicate things in early August, because at a time when we are working to get fall athletics going is also a time when we are having meetings with the drivers. I also have 90 minutes of lunchroom duty each day.”
Bills is a positive person, and he went on to talk about the many highlights of his time as the AD at Lincoln and what made him decide that now was the time to step away.
“There are several reasons why I chose to leave the job and job dissatisfaction is not one of them,” Bills said. “I still love my job; I love what I do. But there are other things I would like to do, and the time demands of this job make that difficult. I have two grandchildren I want to be around more to support them and their school activities. I may continue to work somewhere but I would like to get back to a more normal work week. Every season is different, but they all are time consuming.”
“I enjoy talking to my coaches, other ADs and media and I will miss that,” Bills said. “But I am getting older, and it is harder for me than it used to be. I am not a great delegator and I tend to stress over everything. That is nobody’s fault except mine. But it will be nice not to worry so much.”
“One of the highlights for me, not only as the AD, but as a head coach, was winning the girls basketball sectional in the 2015-16 season,” Bills said. “I had been an assistant coach for a long time and to have the thrill of winning as the head coach was special. I thought we would be better the next year, but we could not repeat. It is hard to win a sectional and it is something you never forget,” he said.
“The success of our softball program, including the semi-state trip in 2019 and the success of our volleyball program are also great memories. I have pride and satisfaction in knowing that our coaches do things the right way. Elizabeth Wonsetler was a shining example, one of many. They always had student athletes and teams that the community could be proud of.”
“I am proud of our continuing relationship with the Dairy Bar at the state fair. It has been a huge part of our fundraising efforts here for a long time, involving a lot of people. Our kids are great and have a lot of volunteer help. Rodney Klein goes out there every day to run the operation,” he said.
Lowlights for Bills is a very short list. “Sometimes parents came to me to talk to me because they didn’t understand that coaches may do things based on what they see as being in the best interest of the team and the student athlete, and it may not parallel what the parents see as best,” Bills said. “Part of my job has also been to be sure that our athletes remain eligible academically. Sometimes that can involve some difficult conversations with parents as well.”
“I always tried to remember in those meetings that parents love their children. They may be upset with a coach or with me, but they are just doing what they do or say out of love for their child. Winning and losing is not the most important part of high school athletics. Winning enhances the experience, but the life lessons that come from athletics are far more important and kids quickly get to the core. They know if you care about them.”
“I have coaching experience, so I tried to approach this job looking through a coach’s eyes. I tried to plow the road ahead of them and take care of the details so they could just concentrate on coaching,” Bills said.
“I knew last December that it was time to go,” Bills said. “I shared with the administration that this would be my last year at that time, but I held off until February putting it in writing to be sure and I have had no second thoughts. I live here, I have lived here every day of my life except when I was at IU, and I intend to continue to live here, and I will support this school and community anyway I can. When I walk out of here on June 30, I will have the satisfaction of knowing that the man who will replace me, Rodney Klein, is one of the best people I know. We are blessed to have him. I do not think they could have hired a better person. People will still see me at school events, but I won’t be tied down to a demanding schedule. Eighteen years as an athletic director is not the norm currently. How I came here in the first place is not the norm. But I have loved every minute and I have always considered having this job to be my honor and privilege.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 28 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.