On April 20, Director of Athletics, Fitness and Recreation Jill McCartney announced that Steve Phillips will be taking over the mantle of men’s basketball head coach. A first-time head coach, Phillips will fill the vacancy left by the the departure of Dan Priest. Phillips will come to Kenyon after serving as an assistant coach at Williams College (Mass.), Washington and Lee University (Va.) and Mount St. Mary College (N.Y.), where he also played for four seasons before graduating in 2014.
According to McCartney, Phillips’s hiring concluded a month-long search. A hiring committee, chaired by Associate Athletics Director Justin Newell, narrowed down an initial list of 189 applicants to five final candidates. After a round of on-campus interviews, Phillips emerged as the Owls’ new head coach.
McCartney believes Phillips is the perfect fit for the program. “He’s a learner and a listener,” she said. “He’s invested in the student-athlete experience, and I think really understands that [experience]. He will be someone that our student-athletes and the program will grow along with.” Phillips highlighted the people in and around the men’s basketball team as a key reason he chose to come to Kenyon. “[The Athletics Department] made it really welcoming and supportive and expressed how much they’re willing to do to help along the way,” he said. “The guys on the team just seem really connected. They seem really eager to learn, improve and help each other out.”
Since 2018, Phillips has worked under Head Coach Kevin App at Williams, where the Ephs went 78-29 (.729) overall and 24-14 (.632) in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), including three NCAA tournament berths. Though App is sad to see Phillips leave the Ephs, he believes that Kenyon will be the beneficiary of Williams’ loss. “I take great pride in making sure we consistently add the right people to our program. Steve Phillips was the right person when we hired him five years ago,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “He has grown as a coach, been an appreciated member of our community and helped make an impact in the lives of our student-athletes. He’ll be missed, but I have no doubt he’s now the right person for Kenyon.”
Phillips comes to the Hill as a first-time head coach, and he acknowledged that he may face some difficulties associated with the transition from being an assistant coach. “There’s a lot of challenges that I don’t even know will arise, and that’s a challenge in itself of being able to adjust on the fly and do it with the thoughts and emotions of the guys in mind to do whatever’s best for them,” he said. Despite those obstacles, McCartney highlighted potential for growth for both Phillips and the players. “He will be a great model for how to grow and that there are mistakes that come along the way and how to own those mistakes,” she said.
At Kenyon, Phillips will look to build on his past experiences to help the Owls soar. “I can’t express enough how important [the head coaches at Williams, Washington and Lee and Mount St. Mary have] been to me, and, bringing that to Kenyon, I’m going to bring a little bit of everything and then add my own flavor to it,” he said. “It’s going to be centered around working hard, buying into the philosophy and doing everything in your power for the other people in the program so that we can be successful as a team.” Phillips also emphasized building connections with alumni of the program to help support players throughout the season and beyond their time on the team.
For Drew Valentino ’24, one of three rising seniors on the roster, the chance to play under Phillips is an exciting prospect. “Coach Phillips is extremely eager to win and very energetic. Coming from Williams, he will bring a lot to the table that can help us get some quality wins,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. “One thing that has definitely stood out to me is how personable he is. Coach Phillips really cares and has all of the players’ best interests in mind.” Valentino believes that Phillips will bring a new philosophy and level of determination that will help the team succeed. “We want to play fast this year, and we need that consistent energy in order to do that successfully,” he said. “From the beginning of the season onward, we will need that every day, and Coach Phillips is definitely a great example of someone who has that necessary energy and positivity.”
In the coming seasons, Phillips and the men’s basketball team will look to leave Kenyon’s recent struggles in the past. “Our team is extremely talented with a great group who is ready to get some wins next year,” Valentino said. “I hope that with Coach Phillips we can pick up some wins while growing together as a team and having a great time. We are all willing to work as hard as possible to win, and I believe that this season can spark a bunch of wins to come in the future.”
Phillips believes that success will come through continued growth. “Our expectations are to grow every single day,” he said. “I think that [success] will come through the day-to-day work where we’re committed, we’re bought into what we’re doing, we’re holding each other accountable and we’re working as hard as we possibly can on a daily basis. If we’re able to implement that type of culture, then I think we’ll be happy with the results, which ideally down the line will be competing for a conference championship and beyond.”