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WCSA coaching search Hot Board: Girls soccer

I must admit, I’ve been teasing Todd Willmore for years about his impending retirement from girls soccer, but I never figured he would actually do it. After assembling a well-oiled machine that seemingly could roll out 10-15 wins a season and always be a contender for a district title, Willmore seemed destined to go on for at least two decades.

I was stunned when I got the news that he wouldn’t be back for Year 15 today. While Willmore more than deserves to ride off into the sunset however and whenever he sees fit (he’ll definitely be in the sun - I’m sure he’ll have more time for the lake now that he’s not at summer soccer camps), selfishly I would’ve liked for him to keep coaching until I was ready to retire from writing. He’s one of my favorite people to talk to about local sports – he’s passionate about the game, compassionate with his players and seemed to have the secret for success in Warren County.

Whoever steps into his shoes won’t have it easy. It’s never fun to follow a legend and make no mistake, Willmore has earned that lofty status in the Lady Pioneer soccer program. I can’t say for certain that he has the most wins ever, but 152 victories must rank way up there. He also won four district titles and took the program to substate twice (2012 and 2013).

Todd Willmore was a great leader of the Lady Pioneers.

In my time covering sports (2010 until now), Willmore has been the only girls soccer coach. He’s the only coach of a team sport to hold that distinction at WCHS (JW Holt has also been with golf for a long time, but I think of it as an individual sport). I could always count on him to give prompt responses and tremendous insight in a moment’s notice, whether I came up with my recorder after the biggest of blowout wins or truly heartbreaking losses.

It's rare in this profession to meet somebody who can be so calm and collected at all times. I know plenty of people who love to talk after a win, but go MIA after loss (strangely, there's also been a few coaches who liked talking more after defeats). Willmore isn't that way - he may need 4-5 minutes to collect his thoughts after talking to his girls, but he'll be pinpoint with his words after that.

Honestly, I can't imagine walking up to the field and not seeing Willmore - or “The ToddFather” as some like to call him as the dean of WC coaching. It was already going to be a shock to my system when they announced the roster and didn't say, "No. 1 - Katie Toney." It's going to be even weirder hearing, "and your Lady Pioneers are coached by...." and it not be Todd Willmore.

Fortunately, it's not goodbye for good since he'll still be AD, but he deserves plenty of praise on his departure from coaching. He's one of the best I've seen.

While it’s crude to be speculating this soon on Willmore’s replacement (seriously, maybe we can all convince him to stay!), my brain always starts churning when a Warren County High School job comes open. Part of being the WCSA is that I’m always on the job 24/7, 365 days a year, so I started brainstorming candidates when I got the news.

It’s a big question: who gets the chance to replace Willmore? I think this will be one where a local, probably somebody who already has ties to the program, gets the nod. While Willmore has made the Lady Pioneers so successful that some out-of-area coaches may want to come to Warren County, traditionally jobs outside of football and basketball have drawn limited applicants.

WCHS has also been on a recent kick of hiring alumnus, so it wouldn’t surprise me if one of Willmore’s former players takes over the program. I can say, with 100 percent certainty, that we won’t see a promotion from WCMS to WCHS this time. Last year’s WCMS girls coach, August Palombo, is already at the high school as the boys coach and I don’t think he’ll be looking to pull double duty again.

Now that I’ve ruled out at least one name, let’s take a look at a ‘Select Seven’ I believe could pop up in the search for Willmore’s replacement:

DISCLAIMER: I'm not reporting these people have applied for the job. I'm only giving a list of people I believe would be a potential fit.

1. Kimberly Smith

A former player on the Lady Pioneers who was part of the program’s first substate appearance under Willmore, Kimberly Smith has been with WCHS as an assistant the last three years. Smith (formerly Kimberly Warden, a district defensive MVP) has been alongside Willmore for many wins recently and nobody will have better insight on the roster makeup than her going into the 2022 season.

Would Smith want her first head coaching job be following Willmore? That would be a tough debut, though she should have the full support of the team.

2. Matt Jackson

Anytime a soccer job is open in Warren County and Matt Jackson isn’t coaching, I just assume he’s going to be consulted. It seems like he’s coached every local team already, so why not take one more shot at leading WCHS?

Jackson is just 11 months removed from stepping away from the boys program, but he may be swayed by the opportunity to lead a talented Lady Pioneer program. If he applied and got the job, he would also get the chance to coach his daughter, Bekah, after he just finished coaching his three oldest sons on the Pioneers in the last five years.

While Jackson’s focus seemed to turn to tennis and swimming recently, I would never rule out soccer calling him back to the sidelines.

3. Robert Garibaldi

Here’s a name that always gets soccer fans buzzing in Warren County. Garibaldi, an all-state performer for the Pioneers when the team went to the state tournament in 2001, has been around the game for years locally, including coaching teams at Pistole Park over the years. He would certainly bring some first-hand knowledge of winning in Warren County to the sidelines.

It was rumored Garibaldi was in the running for the boys job last summer (if not the favorite to replace Jackson after his resignation). With young daughters already in the Warren County soccer pipeline (his oldest, Jayla, is set to be a freshman this fall and Myka won’t be far behind), Garibaldi may jump at the chance to take over the Lady Pioneers.

4. Alan Brownyard

It wouldn’t shock me if Brownyard made a return to a program he helped guide to a district championship in the 2000s. He’s never really left local soccer scene even after leaving as a WCHS head coach – he’s developed an impressive travel club and even served as a broadcaster for games over the years.

When I saw Brownyard back on the sidelines last fall, I figured the coaching bug was starting to really bite him again. However, he may enjoy playing a small part instead of calling all the shots.

5. Shea Panter

This may seem out of place for casual readers who only know Shea from basketball, but she’s been with the soccer program with Todd the last few years. Primarily, Panter has worked with the team’s keepers since joining the coaching staff.

I don’t know if Panter would jump at the chance to take over soccer since she already has two basketball jobs (she’s been coaching Hickory Creek and the WCHS freshman boys team the last two years) to prepare for, including the Hawks getting cranked up pretty early each year. She also has a young child, one of the reasons she stepped away from coaching basketball at WCHS a few years ago.

Willmore has already hired Panter once though and there’s probably few people he trusts more than the longtime girls coach.

6. Lyndi Pack

Pack left the WCMS girls program after the 2020 season, but maybe she’d get back into coaching if she had a chance to lead her alma mater. Pack was also on the 2012 team that won a district title and made it to substate, so she has the cache of being a successful former player (her name is on a soccer board at the field honoring the great squad).

Perhaps Ansley Mullican Murphree could be the coach being interviewed this fall.

7. Ansley Mullican Murphree

I’m not just throwing Ansley out there as a wild card to help get the WC Sports Authority the inside scoop. I bring up Ansley because I know she’s been pursued as a potential coach in the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised if WCHS reached out and took her temperature on returning to the sport.

She already teaches at WCHS and knows many of the players, so Ansley wouldn’t have to go in cold this fall. Ultimately though, I don’t know if she’s ready to give up football Friday nights locally or some trips to see her LSU Tigers or Tennessee Titans play because she would be in practices or tournaments at the same time.

I almost wanted to make it a top 10 and list Sally Willmore, Molly Willmore and Annie Willmore in the hopes we could just keep a Willmore on the sideline, but I don't think any of the daughters are jumping at the job (two of them, I believe, are married as well, so I guess they aren't going by Willmore either).

There can always be a few more people come out of left field, but I’d be willing to bet right now that Willmore’s replacement is on this list.

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