Son of ex-Bulldogs coach leads Hoover football program
Mike Hill will look you in the eye and insist he’s at peace with this.
He’ll tell you he doesn’t consider it family misfortune that he’s launching his career as a head football coach at Hoover High while his father, Pat, is now 2,300 miles away as an Atlanta Falcons assistant — this as opposed to extending a 15-year career as Fresno State’s football CEO a half-mile east of Hoover on Barstow Avenue.
Dad fired in December. Son hired in March.
But it’s OK.
“I think it’s a blessing,” the oldest of three Hill brothers says. “I think Dad’s happy now. Knowing what Dad’s all about, knowing he’s a guy who bottles everything inside, I think this is great as far as a health issue. He looked like he aged 10 to 15 years in the last two. But I just saw him in July and it was like seeing my real dad again.”
Pat Hill often warned Mike, Matt and Zak: “Don’t ever get into the job I got into.”
He expressed some remorse to his sons about the time coaching took away from family.
But, actually, Mike says, “My mom (Cathy) always found time for us to be around Dad. And Dad found a way, so I don’t regret anything.”
Clearly, the bitter experience for his father in the end at Fresno State didn’t discourage Mike Hill from taking a leap himself.
And, let there be no doubt, the Hoover job’s a quantum leap.
“When I printed out the eligibility sheet in March for all the football players in the program,” he says, “62 of the 83 were either on (academic) probation or were ineligible. Hoover’s a predominantly inner-city school where a lot of kids don’t have dads or father figures. And that’s something I really want to reach out to.”
An emphasis in after-school study hall reduced the 62 figure to 23, Hill says. But the challenges promise to be endless for the 2002 Clovis West graduate, who benefited from a stark contrast in resources, facilities and general support as a Golden Eagle.
This issue isn’t limited to Fresno Unified vs. Clovis Unified; often, it’s Fresno Unified vs. Fresno Unified.
Consider: The field on which Hill is conducting practice this week is part unmowed green grass, dead grass, crabgrass and lumpy.
Yet, only two miles to the west, the practice field at fellow Fresno Unified member Bullard is found to be manicured Bermuda, as fine as a 100-yard golf green.
“Bullard has more community financial backing,” says former 24-year Hoover football coach Pat Plummer. “It’s a fight, and I fought it my whole career.”
Mike Hill, much like pops did at Fresno State, has chosen this fight of an underdog.
“It could have been easy,” says Hill, 28, a Hoover varsity assistant for the past four years. “I had been approached by Clovis schools to be an assistant and I turned them all down. It was just something special here about the culture and the kids. I see it more of a challenge to do something difficult.”
That is part of Mike Hill’s game, on the field and in the classroom.
He’s a special-education teacher at Hoover, working with orthopedically impaired students bound to wheelchairs.
“He has great qualities with kids,” Plummer says. “He’s outstanding with young people and is dedicated to his job. He’s just a great, compassionate guy.”
A new state-bowl format this season that will include semifinals has led to early-season openers — many Aug. 24.
Among top Central Section teams, those will include Edison at Clovis, Bullard at Paso Robles, Hanford at Central, Clovis West hosting Merced at Buchanan, and Tulare tangling with El Diamante at Golden West.
Hoover will open Aug. 31 against Sanger at Sunnyside.
Playoff officiating switched
In an unprecedented move, the section will use mixed officiating crews in playoffs for semifinals and finals.
That means a combination of north, central and south association officials will form five-man crews for all those games in six divisions. This follows the lead of basketball, which has deployed with success mixed three-person crews for semifinals and finals for several years.
Previously, home-area crews called football playoffs in the first three rounds, and neutral crews for finals. That created a particular problem last year when Division I, II, III and IV championships matched teams from the north and south, meaning the central association was tapped deeply to call all four of the games.
“Without being disrespectful, that meant the 20th-best official from the central area was working a game while top officials from the north and south were staying home,” says Bob Kayajanian, president of the San Joaquin Valley Officials Association in the north area.
He says the new format was also driven in part because of a few controversial calls by a south association crew that figured prominently in Bakersfield’s homefield 31-14 Division I semifinal win last year over Clovis.
The restructuring ran the gamut of section-level approvals — from the football advisory committee to the board of directors to the board of managers.
“And, in the meantime,” says Kayajanian, “there were ongoing discussions between the three areas of officials so the leadership of those areas were comfortable with what was going on. And I can truthfully say everyone is comfortable and on the same page.”
The plan calls for each of the three associations to submit a pool of officials early in the season to Randy Wright, supervisor of SJVOA football.
Wright, in turn, will select two former officials from the north, central and south areas to evaluate the pool of officials during the season. They will report their findings to Wright, who will then choose 10 officials from each area — 30 total — to call the semis and finals.
By Andy Boogaard