ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: CHRIS HILL ’68
February 11, 2016
This week, we spoke with Dr. Chris Hill ’68, the Director of Athletics at the University of Utah.
From the moment he set foot on the CBA campus, Chris Hill’s life revolved around athletics. After all, basketball was a large part of what had attracted him to attend the Academy.
“I originally went to public school, and basketball was a big influence to go to CBA,” Hill said about coming to the Academy. “Vinnie Cox, my varsity basketball coach, was just great. He actually lived down the street from my family and I bonded closely with him. Coach Cox had a real positive impact on my life during my high school years.” (Photo: Hall is flanked by Coach Cox and Br. Stephen McCabe, FSC, CBA principal 1965-72.)
“Rutgers prepared me very well,” Hill said. “The diversity and competitive nature of the school made me realize that I might have left high school thinking I’m one of the best in the world, but then I go to a bigger college and it helped me become a bit more humble. I was then one of many.” But even as “one of many,” Hill was a stand-out in Rutgers basketball, and was named captain of the 1971-72 team.
Academically, his interests lay in math, and with the thought that teaching might be in his future, he chose to study math education, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1972.
When Hill left CBA in 1968, he said he was “naive enough” to think that with a little hard work, he could do anything.
“My parents wanted me to go into dental school eventually,” he said with a chuckle. “I didn’t have a lot of aspirations when I left CBA. When I left CBA, there was a zero– I mean zero– percent chance I would ever live in Utah. Whatever I was thinking then, I sure don’t remember because that’s certainly not where I am now.”
Hill’s introduction to the University of Utah came via his former Rutgers basketball coach, Bill Foster, who had left the Scarlet Knights for Utah before Hill’s senior season.
“About a year or two later, Foster called me and asked if I would like to come out to Utah and become a graduate assistant coach for the team,” Hill said. “I loved it out here, built my life out here, decided to stay. It has worked out pretty well.”
The New Jersey transplant earned his master’s degree in education, and soon a Ph.D. in educational administration, all while working as a graduate assistant and later a full-time assistant coach for the Utah basketball team. He became a special education professor at Utah in 1983, soon returning to athletics to head the Crimson Club, the fundraising arm of Utah Athletics.
Directing the Utes
In 1987, at just 37 years of age, Hill was appointed Director of Athletics, beginning a 27-plus year career of advancing Utah Athletics into Division I hierarchy.
Under Hill’s leadership, the University of Utah has led successful charges both on and off the field. Before Hill took over the athletics program, the football team had not played in a bowl game in 23 years. Under Hill’s watch, the Utes have set a standard for excellence with an 11-4 record in bowl games. Moreover, the men’s basketball team has reached the NCAA tournament 13 times, including five Sweet 16 appearances.
The University joined the “power-five” Pac-12 Conference in 2010 because of the growing national prominence of the football and men’s basketball teams. Overall, Utah has won nine NCAA championships and finished as runner-up an additional 15 times during Hill’s tenure as AD.
To align his university’s facilities with their increasing national recognition, Hill has helped develop a series of new buildings for his program, enabling his program to attract top recruits in all 17 sports. A tennis center, baseball, softball & soccer fields, a gymnastics center and a track & field complex are among the nearly 20 new athletic facilities constructed during his time as athletics director.
“The first thing we always think of when we spend money or invest in something is how it will help our student-athletes,” Hill said. “That’s always been my mindset and my staff has never shied away from high expectations. It’s important for us — we aren’t the biggest-budgeted school in our league — not to be scared, not to step back from a ‘shoot for the stars’ mentality.”
What He Misses the Most
With basketball such a big part of his high school years, it’s no surprise that Hill specifically misses his bond with his CBA teammates.
“Getting to be around my teammates everyday was just a lot of fun,” he remembered. “We would play our games and have practice, go to study hall together and then on Friday nights we would all go out for pizza. There were just so many great relationships that we had within our team.”
It wasn’t all fun and games for Hill, however. He vividly remembered the nervousness before his first day of freshman year- something most CBA students could probably relate to.
“I didn’t know one single person in the entire school when I got there on the first day,” Hill said. “I will never forget standing out in the front parking lot on Day One, lining up with the other students and looking around not knowing anyone. Luckily, I knew how to open a lock on a locker, so that was my key to breaking the ice and being friendly.”
How the Academy Prepared Him
Hill notes that the Academy, while primarily focusing on education, is all about a well-rounded experience, an emphasis that he believes helps CBA students get ahead.
“The whole experience was really fun,” he said. “Yes, there was a lot of studying, but I think everyone really enjoyed the place and it always felt like a very family-like atmosphere. The combination of playing basketball and balancing it with academics was key for me. That’s something we now like to call ‘time management.'”
He strongly believes that CBA was the ideal springboard for his future, something many alums can attest to.
“The school made such a difference in my formative years because the experience was so different from public school,” Hill said. “CBA was the perfect bouncing-off point for my college and professional careers. I went to CBA knowing no one and with no idea what to expect, I left CBA with great memories and strong relationships that I’ll never forget.”
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