Dan Hibson, the athletics supervisor for the city of San Mateo, may be better known as the former girls’ basketball coach at his alma mater of Hillsdale, when he took a team that was 3-79 in the seasons prior to his arrival and after four years, had compiled a record of 47-38 ending in 2012.
He returned to the Hillsdale athletic program after a five-year hiatus, joining as an assistant girls’ basketball coach in 2017 and with the Hillsdale boys’ basketball team this season. He is also a self-taught basketball shooting coach and has spent more time as a youth baseball and basketball coach as well.
So it was more than a little unusual to see Hibson named as the California Coaches Association 2019 boys’ water polo coach of the year. Even more strange is the fact Hibson served as the Knights’ head coach for one season — during the 2018 season.
Hibson only agreed to take over the team because it was in danger of being shuttered as no one else was willing to step into the breach. Having been a coach in various sports most of his life, he figured coaching philosophies don’t change. He just needed to learn about the game of water polo.
“Leadership and mentorship and empathy and compassion are more important, or equally as important, in comparison to skill development and X’s and O’s,” Hibson said. “If kids know you care and are a good leader, but at the same time have discipline and set expectations and have respect, things can be accomplished.”
But Hibson put himself on the radar during that one season with one gesture that resonated with the CCA. In the Knights’ Senior Day game against Menlo-Atherton, Ben Nordell, who has Down syndrome, got to play in the last home game of the season, the first appearance of his career, scoring a goal off an assist from his twin brother, Connor, in a 13-10 loss to the Bears.
A story in the Daily Journal and a video captured the moment and it reached a member of the CCA board — Hibson’s former Little League coach, Rob Grialou.
“I’m friends with [Grialou’s] son. He called me and said, ‘My dad wants to nominate you for coach of the year,’” Hibson said. “I legitimately thought it was a joke. I had no clue (there were coach of the year awards).”
Grialou, a South San Francisco native, saw the story in the newspaper and when Hibson sent him the video from the game, Grialou thought it lined up with what the CCA stands for.
Hibson said Grialou was a little upset he didn’t get the award after the 2018 season.
“He expressed some frustration because [the nomination] got shot down,” Hibson said. “Just being nominated, I was like, ‘Wow.’”
Fast forward a year. Hibson served as an assistant on the Knights’ Central Coast Section-winning boys’ basketball team. Water polo is the last thing on his mind.
“I was checking my email … and Coach Grialou sent me an email (with the recognition). I said, ‘What!?’” Hibson said. “Again, I didn’t believe it. He said (in the email), ‘They (the CCA) think it was really a great story and you should have won last year.’”
Like many longtime high school coaches, the recognition is nice, but Hibson doesn’t coach for the glory of wins. He’s all about teaching kids lessons they can use the rest of their lives.
“My passion is mentoring youth, both on the court and off the court, or pool. Sports, it should be fun, but kids have to learn to deal with failure and adversity. … To me, that’s the biggest lesson. Kids know that I care, therefore, they enjoy (the experience) and are willing to put forth their best effort,” Hibson said. “No one’s going to remember (we finished near the bottom of the standings in 2018). They’re going to remember Ben’s goal. We were having a phenomenal season before that. [The players] knew their coach cared for them.”
There is an awards ceremony tentatively scheduled for June 13 in Sacramento and if it does happen, Hibson plans to attend. He can bring one guest, but all others will have to pay $75 per ticket.
Hibson said he doesn’t know how many extra tickets he can afford.
“This is a group thing,” Hibson said. “A collective award that so many people contributed to.”