Otter football coach steps down, cites family reasons
PITTSFORD — When Jim Hill was eight years old, he watched the 1984 Rutland High School football team win the Division I State Championship — and that’s when he knew.
“I saw the excitement after the game,” Hill remembered, “when everybody poured out of the stands and onto the field and they were mobbing the players, and I said to myself, ‘Wow, this is amazing, and I can’t wait to be part of this.’”
Now 40, Hill is shifting his priorities from football to family, resigning last week from his job as varsity head coach of the Otter Valley Union High School football team after 16 years with the program.
Hill helped lead the OV football team to its first state championship in 2005 as an assistant coach, the first year the school participated in 11-man football, and again in 2015 as head coach. He was hired as the junior varsity football coach in 2001 by then-head coach Geoff Lawrence, now one of OV’s principals.
But now Hill also has a four-year-old daughter named Macie, a foster son named Paul, who is a sophomore at OV, and is a shared living provider with Rutland Mental Health, something he did years ago before he took a job working third-shift at Omya.
“I did shared living for six years, and I had the opportunity to get the young man I had back living with me,” Hill said.
Anyone who knows Hill knows he is passionate about football and has devoted thousands of hours to coaching the Otters. But now, Macie is starting to take dance classes and gymnastics, and Hill said he had to make a choice.
“I want to be a part of my daughter’s activities,” he said in an interview. “But when I thought about the time and effort I put into varsity football, I would miss a lot. I didn’t want to be half the coach, and I didn’t want to be half the parent.”
While Hill’s love affair with football began as a little boy, it grew as he did. The youngest of four boys, Hill watched two of his brothers play for Rutland High School before he got the chance. He had a successful high school career playing guard and linebacker, and was part of the 1991 team that won the state championship again.
“In my family, football was a huge part of our lives,” he said. “My mom and grandfather are huge Giants fans. Two of my older brothers played for Rutland. It was in our blood.”
In 1993, Hill was a Rutland team captain and the Raiders played for the championship yet again. They lost to Middlebury in a triple overtime thriller in the rain and the mud.
“It was like a movie,” Hill said. “So, I had this great high school experience, and I knew I wanted to coach.”
Hill was 24 years old when he was hired as the OV junior varsity football coach. That was another watershed moment, and not just because of the job.
“I thought it was a stepping stone,” he said. “I didn’t realize I would fall in love with OV and the community. Sixteen years later, here I am.”
In 2005, Dennis Perry came to OV from Fair Haven to take the varsity head coaching position, and Hill became an assistant varsity coach. Perry brought Brian Grady with him from Fair Haven to assist as well. The arrival of Perry and Grady signaled a key turning point in Hill’s coaching education.
“When they came to OV, they changed the culture, and they changed me,” Hill said. “Working with those men shaped me as a coach and changed who I became.”
Hill can’t say enough about Perry, who he said had the innate ability to read kids and know how to deal with each player, one-on-one.
“He had a great ability to know which kids you can rip and which ones you have to coddle,” Hill said. “That’s one thing I learned, not only how to coach football, but how to coach kids. I can’t thank him enough for what he has taught me.”
Hill credits Grady for teaching him strategic and creativity on the field.
“There isn’t a more brilliant football coach than Brian Grady,” Hill said. “He just loves the game of football and he loves to teach football.”
HEAD COACH JIM Hill celebrates after his Otter Valley Football Team won the 2015 Division III State Championship.
File photo by Lee Kahrs
Hill recounted going on scouting trips with Grady and learning how to spot weaknesses on opposing teams and how to exploit them.
“To see what he sees was invaluable,” Hill said. “A lot of coaches just stick to what they do. I’ve never been that kind of coach, and that’s because of Brian Grady.”
THE TWELFTH MAN
Hill clearly has a love of OV. Hill came there in 2001 and stayed. He settled in Pittsford. His foster son Paul attends OV.
In much of America, football has a way of bringing a community together, and that was clear during the 2015 season as the Otters marched to their first state championship in 10 years. The crowds at Markowski Field grew with every win, and the excitement and utter thrill of the championship game will be remembered for years to come.
Hill said not only was that season not possible without the support of the community, the entire football program at OV would not have grown the way it did over the last 16 years either without broader support beyond the school walls.
“I really feel like this is a special community,” Hill said. “There are some great, great people here. It was a great run and I’m very proud of what we did. It was a lot of hard work by a lot of people that built football at OV.”
Hill said he will likely return to coaching someday, but right now his priority is his kids.
“It’s just a different chapter in my life,” he said. “For me, now it’s just focusing on my kids and be the best Dad I can be.”
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