In Memoriam of Greg Dillard
Gregory Lane “Greg” Dillard, age 68, passed away Wednesday morning January 27, 2021.
According to his students, Coach Greg Dillard was as good as it gets. He coached the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Table Tennis Club for over 30 years, starting back in 1986. Every week he would travel multiple times from his home to the SIUC Student Recreation Center, a 40-minute drive, to teach anyone who would be interested in learning to play. In fact, the many tournament-quality tables the club uses are actually his, and he would regularly give players his own blades to play with, though they may not always return. The entire time he was driven not by pay—he never accepted any—but by his love of the game and his players.
Greg started playing in 1975, honing his skills on a Sitco robot in his garage and frequently playing at SIUC from morning till midnight with his longtime friend, Ed Bilinski. After training in Evansville, IN, with Sam Shannon, Festus Mead and Greg Waldbieser, he quickly started playing in USTTA tournaments, and in the mid 1980s earned the title of the year’s second most improved player in the US. Shortly afterwards, Ed and Greg played at the St. Louis Club, where Greg beat everyone including Hall of Famer George Hendry (who smiled and told him, “You are too good!”). Always looking to improve, Greg once played with a Swedish player who had trained with Waldner; though he was totally outmatched and lost, he adjusted to the player’s game and made it close. His attention to every detail of his game, especially his faults, was extreme: he’d say, “I'd rather eat a worm than mis-hit my serve”. Ed says he doesn’t know exactly why Greg transitioned to coaching—Greg would sometimes say it was to save his marriage!—but it was clear that he was a natural teacher.
The success of his players testifies to this remarkable coaching skill. He had an uncanny ability to understand both the game and his students, for whom he was typically their first and only coach. He would teach both recreational and competitive players, routinely lifting beginners to 1800+ USTTA ratings. These players would sometimes progress to the highest level of the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association National Championship; one of his best players broke 2200 and made it to the final-eight of the 300-plus player national tournament. Outside of his family and his church, the game was his passion. He was known for reading table tennis magazines and watching professional matches to learn new techniques and playing styles that he would then pass on to his students. For new players still learning the fundamentals of the game, he would sometimes lend them a particularly aggressive blade to ensure they learned correct and controlled form.
Greg’s impact on his players cannot be understated. He would travel far and wide to coach them through competitive matches, both for representing SIUC and for personal achievement. Beyond the game of table tennis, he would help his students in any way possible, sometimes helping to buy or sell their first cars or first homes. Those who knew him could always count on his support.
Some of his students recounted their favorite quotes from Greg. “Physical, technique, tactical, and mental”, were the four dimensions of the game, he would say. “You must control yourself before you can control the table”, “90 mph shots in a 9 ft. distance; you better practice a lot”, “Move your feet, old frog!” are just a few of his sayings. One of his top players said about Greg, “Perhaps most importantly, Greg injected enthusiasm for table tennis into so many of his players—with endless encouragement, jokes and smiles.”
Ed says that Greg taught him not just how to play, but how to coach as well. Ed has since been coaching others for years, continuing the tradition. This is not unusual; another player has since posted online that while he did not know Greg personally, one of Greg’s players has been teaching him in a local club. Since the SIUC club’s members varied in all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, it is easy to say that Greg’s impact on the table tennis community has been world-wide and will continue through generations.
Those who knew him are lucky to have had him as a coach and as a friend. Greg’s reputation continues to be alive and well in the table tennis community and beyond.