Hill Busts Another Big Move

FAYETTEVILLE -The knock on the apartment door came on a Sunday night several months back.

Opening it revealed Madre Hill, who in 1995 had 1,387 rushing yards, almost 200 more than the second-leading rusher in Arkansas history (Dickey Morton had 1,188 in 1972).

Smiling, Hill held the leash of Sergeant, a little, senile mutt I inherited when my dad died two years back.

"This is your dog, isn't it?"

Sergeant had scampered loose earlier that day. Hill and Sergeant were welcome sights.

What a nice guy.

Should've known.

But it took a while to put Hill's face with his name. I'd covered him when he ran wild against Hope as a manchild at Malvern and watched him play for the Hogs before and after the knee injury suffered in the 1995 Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

Heck, I'd even quoted the fun-loving guy when The Tampa Tribune wanted a centerpiece on the Hogs when they were 8-0 and ranked 10th in 1998, coach Houston Nutt's first season.

But on that Sunday night (and many times since), Hill, 28 and with a shaved head, looked more the part of a serious man.

A man on a mission.

Hill has lived in the unit just above me in the complex, a temporary move for him, wife Jennifer, and their young son, Madre Jr., he said, as he constructed a home here.

Friday, that plan became obsolete as new South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier offered Hill a job as his running backs coach on the spot during an interview.

Hill said "yes," and he's been off and running since.

The move to South Carolina full-time assistant took most of us by surprise. This is a major move, particularly for a guy with such little coaching experience.

Hill had been working as a graduate assistant in the Hogs' weight room, but even though junior running back De'Arrius Howard largely credited Hill for his turnaround season, Hill's role was extremely limited here.

We talked to Nutt about Hill's future in coaching a couple of months back. Nutt had hoped somehow to retain Hill, who came here after a call to Athletic Director Frank Broyles and a conversation with Nutt, but didn't love his chances.

"He wanted to get back to Fayetteville and wants to get into coaching - bad," Nutt said. "I think he's going to be an excellent coach.

"The problem is, in today's world, you can only have two graduate assistants. I hope it works out because I think he could be so good.

"We've got him in the weight room right now and he's been working excellent with Don Decker. He's been hanging around our guys, getting to know them, giving out little tidbits to running backs up there. He's played on every level (Hill was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 1999, played the next two seasons in NFL Europe and was signed by the Oakland Raiders in 2002 before retiring in 2003), so they listen.

"He can't coach, but he can go out on the field (during stretches and warm-ups).

"Now you can't have volunteers or part-timers, you can only have two graduate assistants. So that makes it awfully tough to get into the profession.

"But he's so committed, so dedicated, he's willing to wait."

Turned out, Hill didn't really have to.

And it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Hey, but is he too nice to be a hard-nosed, Southeastern Conference coach?

"I tell you what, I think he'll fool you on that one," Nutt said. "I really do. I think he'll fool you. He's a nice guy, he comes across that way, but I think he can be very demanding.

"No question he'll be a good coach."

Is there a chance Hill might come full-circle back to Arkansas?

Nutt's brother, Danny, has done a great job with the running backs and certainly wouldn't be replaced. But perhaps room could be made for Hill here in some way, some day.

With Hill literally scampering to make the move (sounds like he's running sweeps upstairs), we haven't bothered him. And Nutt's on the recruiting trail.

But Nutt talked about later back then.

"I hope so," Nutt said. "Somehow, hopefully, down the line, he'll be here."

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