When a valued member of the University of Utah’s football staff landed an in-state head coaching position and headed north, The Tribune published a big photo of Jay Hill.
That was five years ago, when the accompanying story was about Gary Andersen’s move to Utah State.
Easy mistake, because of their resemblance. And it was prescient. Hill also was going places in the profession, becoming Weber State’s coach last December.
So here he is in Ogden, applying the blueprint that Andersen took to USU and then to Wisconsin, believing the Utah model will work with the Wildcats. That’s what he knows, having played or coached under Ron McBride, Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham and worked with Andersen.
“You try to take the best from all of them,” Hill said on a recent afternoon in his Stewart Stadium office, once occupied by McBride. “And then you’ve got to put your own flavor on it too. I’ve got to start separating myself from those guys and put my own style into it.”
Lance Hunsaker, a former Utah staff member who coaches Weber’s secondary, sometimes kids Hill for sounding exactly like Whittingham. Six of Hill’s nine assistants have Ute playing or coaching backgrounds, and that’s not counting a brother of Utah’s defensive coordinator.
The twist is that the Wildcats also will be influenced by Big Sky Conference rival Southern Utah’s program. Hill hired SUU’s offensive and defensive coordinators, Steve Clark and Justin Ena, and will play to the Wildcats’ personnel strengths with a two-back, run-oriented offense and a defensive scheme with mostly zone coverage.
The program’s structure resembles Utah’s, certainly. “He’s brought the Utah model here,” said running backs coach Quinton Ganther. “Everything’s the same.”
It worked for Andersen in Logan, although the breakthrough of a winning season came only in his third year. Hill is taking over a team that won just two games in each of the past two seasons, while dealing with coaching turnover. McBride retired after the 2011 season, then John L. Smith coached the Wildcats through spring practice before Jody Sears took over. Sears was fired last November.
So when Hill was hired, “I wasn’t too happy,” said running back Bo Bolen. “I was kind of fed up with the fact we had another coach.”
And now? “He’s absolutely changed my mind,” Bolen said. “I absolutely love every single thing coach Hill is doing.”
That includes a more demanding approach to football and academics, such as the players being required to attend every class and sit in the first three rows.
“They have discipline, they have structure now,” Ganther said. “Last year, they pretty much got to do whatever they wanted. Now, that’s not going to happen. They like that accountability.”
Hill’s experience is uniquely well-rounded. In nine years as a full-time Ute assistant, he worked on offense and defense for two stints each, while always coordinating the special teams. And just about everything he learned is documented.
When he’s asked about Hill’s traits, Whittingham says, “Very organized.”
That’s mostly true. Behind Hill’s desk, a shelf is filled with labeled binders. He can quickly locate the day-to-day plan for Utah’s 2008 Sugar Bowl season, for instance.
A couple of dozen legal pads stacked on another shelf include more rich material, with detailed notes that Hill took. Randomly turning to a page, Hill shows how Whittingham once diagrammed the “Eagle 2” defensive scheme, with key coaching points.
None of that stuff is catalogued, but it’s all there, from McBride to Meyer to Whittingham. And now, it’s Hill’s turn to put it in play.
“He has a little bit of ‘em all in him,” Ganther said. “But he’s his own man.”
Shades of red and purple
Seven of Weber State coach Jay Hill’s nine staff members have University of Utah ties:
Steve Clark, OC • Football ops, 2002; defensive assistant, ‘04
Brent Myers, OL • OL, 2003
Quinton Ganther, RB• Player, 2004-05; student assistant, 2012
Jason Kaufusi, DE • Player, 2000-02; admin. assistant
Kite Afeaki, DT • Player, 2004-05
Lance Hunsaker, ST/DB • Grad asst., 2003-06; academics 2012-13
Fesi Sitake, WR • Brother of Ute DC Kalani Sitake