GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Since returning to the University of Florida in January, Aubrey Hill has spent most of his nights at a local hotel. His best meals have been ones served in the office by caterers on recruiting weekends or during other team functions.
And you won’t hear Hill blurt out a single complaint.
“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity without a doubt,’’ Hill says of his return to UF.
When Will Muschamp was hired in mid-December to replace Urban Meyer as Florida’s head football coach, Hill wasn’t necessarily on Muschamp’s radar as he contemplated his inaugural Gators coaching staff. Hill had just finished his third season at Miami and was one of three coaches retained by new Hurricanes coach Al Golden.
Hill, who played for the Gators from 1991-94 and started his coaching career at UF as a graduate assistant in 1996, made sure Muschamp knew he was interested in returning to his alma mater.
“When he got the job, I sought him out,’’ Hill said.
Hill made a few phone calls, eventually tracking down Muschamp’s cell number and giving him a call. At first, he had to leave a message. Finally, the two talked.
“There was a short conversation and later on it started heating up,’’ said Hill, who had met Muschamp during a previous interview but didn’t know him well. “I’m just very thankful for the opportunity to be able to come back home to your alma mater and to be able to give back to the players, give back to the community, and give back to this wonderful Gator Nation.”
A Miami native, Hill first arrived on UF’s campus in the summer of 1990 as part of Steve Spurrier’s initial recruiting class. He redshirted his first year, but over the next four seasons, Hill was part of three SEC championships teams, including the 1991 team that won Florida’s first conference title.
Hill developed a reputation as a team leader and clutch receiver. Forty of his first 53 receptions gave the Gators a first down. He ended his career with 86 career receptions and 18 touchdowns, the 4.78 reception/touchdown ratio still the fourth-best in school history behind only Wes Chandler (4.18), Ike Hilliard (4.34) and Riley Cooper (4.50).
“That period included some the best days of my life,’’ Hill said. “The college experience, going to school, playing great football in the SEC, winning championships, just memories of a lifetime.’’
That’s why Hill wanted so badly to return to UF and hopefully add another chapter. Not only did he cherish his time in Gainesville, Hill had watched from afar as Muschamp’s career took off. Hill and Muschamp played against each other in college – Muschamp a Georgia safety during Hill’s days as a Florida receiver.
While the two didn’t know each other well, Hill knew enough about Muschamp from their brief chats over the years to know that Muschamp was the kind of head coach he would like to work for one day.
Hill said Muschamp’s “energy and how bright he is’’ first caught his attention. Muschamp’s personality also impressed Hill.
“He is just a down-to-earth person,’’ he said. “When you meet Will Muschamp, you know what you are getting.’’
Whatever was said in those initial phone conversations paid off for Hill when Muschamp hired him as receivers coach soon after the bowl season ended. Hill added recruiting coordinator – a position he held at Miami last season – when Stan Drayton left to join Ohio State’s staff.
“I think having someone on the coaching staff who attended the University of Florida is really important when dealing with the players,’’ Muschamp said. “Aubrey has walked in their footsteps. He has been on their practice field, was in their classrooms and knows the culture of the Gator Nation.
“He’s accomplished what a lot of these players want to accomplish – he has been part of championship teams.”
In some ways, Hill says he feels the same way as when he first got into coaching as a graduate assistant on Spurrier’s staff in 1996. While he had played for Spurrier and was familiar with UF, everything felt new.
He had new assignments, faced new challenges and took on a new role.
But he had prepared well for the next phase of his career.
As a player, Hill earned enough respect from his teammates and coaches to be named a team captain his senior season. He was also a regular host during recruiting visits, showing players like Fred Taylor and Reidel Anthony around campus and town on their official visits.
That’s around the time Hill first starting to seriously think about a future in coaching.
“I thought some of the coaches were really instrumental and planting good seeds in me,’’ Hill said. “My idea was just to go back to Miami and coach some high school football. Then I came back here in a different role with all the great memories I had here.
“I was fortunate enough that after my GA was up, I got a college coaching job.”
In a bit of good timing, Florida assistant coach Carl Franks took over at Duke in 1999 and brought Hill along as receivers coach. Hill spent five seasons at Duke, one at Elon, and three at Pittsburgh and three at Miami before finally returning to UF.
When news broke that Hill was once again a Gator, the calls, emails and text messages started pouring in from former teammates and coaches. Terry Dean and Chris Doering called. Travis Taylor stopped by the office to congratulate him. Others messaged him on Facebook.
All those nights away from his wife and daughter in Miami the first couple of months on the job seem a small price to pay for the opportunity to once again call The Swamp home.
“I’m really excited about Coach Muschamp and his direction,’’ Hill said. “With Coach Muschamp, the great players we have here, and this program that has been built in the last 20 years to where it is now … I never would have imagined the route I’m taking right now as a player or as a coach.
“The one thing we all know is that you have to keep working hard and it all starts with performance.’’
AUBREY HILL Q&A
Q: What is the biggest difference in UF today compared to 21 years ago when you first came here?
A: The University of Florida now is not just looked at as a state school. It’s a national school. When you come on campus, you see the growth.
Q: Who influenced you the most here?
A: To put it on one coach or person would be an understatement. There are so many people. You go from all the academic advisers to the lady in the cafeteria. Some of your friends you had in college.
Q: Why did you want to return here so badly?
A: There are just so many memories and great friends that I have here – to bridge the gap from when I was a player and graduate assistant to now, with the new memories as an assistant coach.
Q: You are also the recruiting coordinator. How do you approach recruiting?
A: I really, really enjoy recruiting. Why do I enjoy recruiting? I look back when I was recruited and how important it was in picking a school. As an assistant coach, we have to give them all the information that can help them make a decision. They can pick it for several reasons: football, academics, proximity to home. What we try to do as coaches is try to tie them all in. There is no way I can do my job without the head coach. Sometimes I can’t do my job without the area coach. We all collectively work on getting a kid here. Recruiting is just selling what you believe in, and it’s an easy sell when you are talking about the University of Florida.
Q: You grew up in Miami, considered one of the country’s recruiting hotbeds? Why is that area a must-visit destination when searching for players?
A: It first starts with the numbers, and then the weather is conducive to be able to do year-round sports. It just breeds great competition for young kids. For all the pros, there are cons. Sometimes you can’t find certain positions down there, but you can find very athletic kids. And then what happens sometimes, it’s a little over-recruited in that you are fighting everybody in order to get a kid. But at the University of Florida, we’ve always had a strong relationship down in South Florida with a lot of different schools and we’re looking forward to building relationships with any new schools and new coaches. It’s just a concentrated area that has a strong amount of good players.
Q: Is it safe to say that’s the most intense recruiting area in the country?
A: Yes, potentially, and for several different factors. One, it’s a place you can fly in to. When you are talking about recruiting, how easy is it to get to? Miami is a little easier to get to than Frostproof. We’ll go anywhere to get a player, but it’s a little easier there. And then there are just so many players there at all different positions.
Q: What’s a perfect vacation?
A: On the beach with my wife and family. It’s always such full-speed ahead with football, so vacation for me is somewhere near the water on the beach. And on that vacation, being able to go out and have a nice dinner and have some fun with my wife, whether it’s dancing or whatever. But definitely give me a sunrise and a sunset near a beach and I’m perfect.
Q: What’s a perfect meal?
A: I’m a seafood guy. I’m all over seafood.
Q: Who had the biggest influence on your ability to lead?
A: My mom’s work ethic and then my high school coach and then the coaches here. And teammates like Huey Richardson, Will White and Shane Matthews.
Q: What is your favorite sports memory?
A: Winning the SEC championship in 1991 when we hadn’t won it before, that was huge. And then, being able to get my degree from the University of Florida, and then being able to come back and coach here.
Q: Do you see any similarities in Coach Spurrier and Coach Muschamp?
A: Both guys just have their unique style. When Coach Spurrier got the job, he was a young and innovative offensive mind. And I see the same in Will, a young and innovative defensive mind. He has worked for some of the great defensive minds in the business. I think they both started here young, up-and-coming coaches.
Q: What’s an ideal receiver in your view?
A: Jerry Rice is where you have to start and stop. You talk about a class act on and off the field. Even today, in my presentations with receivers, I sometimes reference the best, and he was the best. And the thing about him, he was talented, but his work ethic allowed him to be so great. His work ethic really set him apart from everybody else. He’s the guy who sets the bar.
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: Our favorite movie as coaches is coming in here on Sunday after a win and watching tape of the game and eating popcorn. That’s our movie.
Q: What’s your favorite music?
A: I’m an iPod guy. I’ve got a shuffle of diverse music. There are different styles. I have all type of genres on my iPod. I have the hype-me-up music and then the mellow jazz on there. I like a lot of different music.
Q: If you weren’t a coach today, what do you think you would be doing?
A: Something that is still serving young people and giving back. I don’t feel like I can only coach. I do think I would really want to work with young people and be able to give back.
As part of GatorZone.com's coverage of spring football, senior writer Scott Carter will profile each member of the Gators' coaching staff leading up to the Orange and Blue Debut on April 9.