Utah honors former AD Chris Hill by hanging his name from the Huntsman Center rafters

(Josh Newman | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill was honored at halftime of Saturday's basketball game against Cal with a banner raised to the Huntsman Center rafters.

Highlighted by shepherding the University of Utah into the Pac-12 nearly a decade ago, Chris Hill presided over some of the biggest athletics-related moments in school history.

At halftime of Saturday night’s Utah-Cal men’s basketball game, the former Utes athletic director, who retired in 2018 after 31 years at the helm, was honored with a banner in his honor raised to the Huntsman Center rafters.

Pre-game, one of Hill’s five grandchildren had a question.

“‘Are you gonna cry again, Poppy?’ ” Hill said through a smile as he fielded questions from a handful of reporters. “I said, ‘I hope not.’ I really hope not.”

The good news at halftime Saturday night is that Hill did not shed a tear. The better news is that the Huntsman Center crowd rightfully gave a strong ovation to Hill multiple times during the ceremony. He was cheered when he was introduced, when his No. 31 banner was unveiled, and after he gave a heartfelt, lighthearted speech.

After all, Hill hired late, legendary men’s basketball head coach Rick Majerus, who took the Utes to a regional final in 1997 and a national championship game in 1998. Majerus, himself, has a banner in the Huntsman rafters, featuring his trademark white sweater.

Hill hired Urban Meyer to be his football coach in 2003 after firing Ron McBride. Meyer’s 2004 team was the original BCS Buster, going 12-0 and winning the Fiesta Bowl.

Hill had the presence of mind to promote defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham to head coach when Meyer resigned before that Fiesta Bowl. Whittingham is 131-64 overall and is likely to retire as the program’s head coach at some point.

“What I miss most is the interaction with the employees and the students,” Hill said. “In our business, you have the games on the weekend, then you come in Monday and you talk about it. I miss that, the excitement and the energy.

“There’s so many moments. There’s the athletics part of it, the big games. The Fiesta Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Final Four. All those things, and then the stories that happened behind the scenes. I just really worked with a lot of great people.”

Hill took a moment pregame to credit his successor Mark Harlan, while offering some tongue-in-cheek jealousy over the fact the football program has reached new heights since he retired. Since Harlan’s arrival in 2018, the Utes have been to back-to-back Pac-12 title games.

“I’ve tried to stay away and be as underground as I can, because I don’t want to be kind of a shadow and rule from the dead,” Hill said. “Things are going great. I’m doing new things and it’s exciting.

“Football season was spectacular. He came in and went to the championship game twice in a row. I wonder what he’s doing.”