BYU coordinator Jay Hill makes first hire as Cougars’ new defensive staff takes shape

Hill says he is ‘assessing’ players and certain coaching positions to see who will be around next year

(Joey Garrison | BYU) Jay Hill is introduced as BYU's defensive coordinator with head coach Kalani Sitake on Wednesday morning.

Jay Hill is getting straight to work.

Hours after the longtime Weber State head coach was named BYU’s new associate head coach and defensive coordinator this week, Hill announced he will retain cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford and bring aboard former BYU star Kelly Poppinga as his assistant defensive coach and special teams coordinator.

Gilford is viewed as a top recruiter on the defensive side of the ball for BYU. Poppinga has been Boise State’s edge rushing coach.

Hill’s staff is starting to come into place quickly as the transfer portal and high school recruiting are already open.

“It is important to get any many guys as we can out there recruiting,” head coach Kalani Sitake said of how fast everything needs to come together. “The fact that we have Jernaro, Kelly and Jay out there makes it easier for me.”

But those are just two of the many questions that will come up in the first weeks on the job. Hill must make a decision on whether to retain the rest of the staff, mainly linebackers coach Kevin Clune and safeties coach Preston Hadley.

Hadley coached for Hill at Weber State in 2016 as his secondary coach and recruiting coordinator, so there is history there. However, Sitake did not list Clune or Hadley as coaches on the road right now recruiting.

“That is a current consideration right now,” Hill said of whether he will keep them. “Everything is in consideration right now and just moving forward with exactly what that looks like.

“Looking past that, it will be Kalani and I evaluating the rest of the staff,” he continued. “Who is potentially out there and making sure we get the best fits for the program on the field and who is doing the best job recruiting.”

Then there are the players. Hill acknowledged he has a clear vision of what he wants the defense to look like. Without giving details, he said he wanted it to be aggressive, something BYU has struggled with for years.

Even without details, though, it is unclear which players will fit his style and which will be pushed out. Hill said he hasn’t begun his assessment of the current roster yet, but believes he will look at that before bringing others in.

“Obviously [current players] get the first right to anything that we are doing because they are here,” Hill said. “But just know this is a never-ending cycle in college football. Recruiting never stops with the transfer portal and everything that is going on. Kalani and I work tirelessly to have the best players on the field. The ones that fans can be super excited about. We made a name for ourselves when we were young coaches, by the way we recruited and everything we accomplished and the big-time guys we brought in. We are excited about that.”

Hill briefly said he thinks there is some talent on this roster even on a defense that ranked among the worst in the country this year. But he said recruiting will be his top priority for the next several weeks.

“I believe we have great players here that when put in the proper situations to be able to make plays and be successful, they will do exactly that,” Hill said.

Hill will be on the road in the next few days recruiting. That includes the transfer portal and high school kids. His main priority, he said, will be keeping Utah talent. But he also mentioned Texas, a Big 12 hotbed, as a place he has recruited before.

“First and foremost you have to put a stake in your home territory,” he said. “Then everything surrounding the state is critical. Nevada, California, the Pacific Northwest — those will be critical hotbeds that I feel comfortable recruiting. Then Texas as well I think has got to be a piece. Really this is Kalani’s vision on where to get guys. I know recruiting is a bit different at BYU with how national it is. You have to be able to recruit past that. I am extremely comfortable recruiting the state of Texas. It really goes for hotbeds out west, too.”