191 AND COUNTING : There’s More to Dick Hill’s Career Than Winning Games
You know him as the football coach who might quote the Bible on third-and-long. Or as the high school business teacher with a stern expression and steel-blue eyes. Or maybe as the grandfather of eight who enjoys puttering around the back yard, shopping with his wife and eating a daily bowl of raisin bran (with sliced bananas).
But however you classify Dick Hill, Santa Ana High School’s football coach, know this: Had this 63-year-old in double-knit slacks not spent 25-plus seasons becoming Orange County’s winningest prep football coach, he probably could have made a fortune in the tire business.
That’s right, tires. Once upon a time, long before the first steel-belted radials screeched to a stop, Hill was offered a managerial position with a soon-to-be-major tire manufacturer. The starting salary alone--$5,000 a year, with incentives--was sparkling for a young man right out of college in the mid-1950s.
But Hill turned it down and turned to coaching instead. Thirty-five years later, he is a wealthy man, perhaps not in dollars, but certainly in victories, both statistical and personal.
Going into tonight’s game against Hawthorne, Hill’s record is 191-82-3. One more victory and he will surpass the county record set two years ago by Herb Hill, who retired from Loara with a record of 191-114-11.
The record indicates plenty--longevity, determination, fortitude, patience, etc.--but it doesn’t seem to mean a whole lot to Dick Hill. Of course, he says, he’d be lying if he said it meant nothing, but he didn’t stick it out all these years just to see his name at the top of some list.
“The record is a by-product of a good life,” says Hill, who coached at Santa Ana Valley for 18 years before taking over the Santa Ana program in 1984.
“I wanted to be a coach ever since I was a kid,” he says. “I was blessed to become one, and any by-product of that is a blessing.”
Hill has never been shy about counting his blessings. Although occasionally criticized for bringing his religious beliefs to his teams--Santa Ana prays before every game, as did his Santa Ana Valley teams--Hill says he never pushes those beliefs on the players. He says the Santa Ana Unified School District knew what he stood for when he was hired in 1957, and it knows he has no plans to change.
“I have always been a Christian coach,” he says. “I believe all those who criticize people for trying to help kids are doing a great injustice to society. We need morality today.”
Coaching, Hill says, is his calling. He speaks often in cliches, of “shaping these young boys into men” and “showing the players that the game of football is just like the game of life.” And he believes every word. Apparently, so do most of his players.
Hill was born April 24, 1928 in Hitchcock, Tex., a tiny dot on the map between Galveston and Houston. A small farm and his father’s work in the railroad business kept the family of five dressed and fed through the Depression years. In the early ‘40s, the family moved to Vallejo, Calif., where Hill’s father worked as a pipe-fitter at a naval yard. At Vallejo High, Hill played virtually every sport.
“I was a good football player, not great,” Hill says. “I played quarterback, but it was a quarterback of the past. You were more of a blocking back. Every once in a while, they’d let me carry the ball, but not much.”
When he was young, Hill competed without much support from his father, who worked for many years in what is now Saudi Arabia. “My dad wasn’t very close to me,” Hill says.
That, perhaps more than anything else, explains why it is so important for Hill to see his athletes develop in more areas than football.
After high school, Hill went to Santa Clara to play college football under Coach Moon Mullins. But Mullins resigned after a year, so Hill enlisted in the Army, spending 18 months boxing and playing football. His next stop was Compton Junior College, where he played guard for Compton’s 1948 Junior Rose Bowl championship team.
In those days, Compton’s junior college and high school shared a campus, and Hill couldn’t help but notice the pretty high school flag-twirler on the sidelines during football games; her name was Jackie. One night after a basketball game, Hill and a friend pulled up to a bus stop where Jackie and her friends were waiting for the bus to Lynwood. They offered the girls a ride home.
For Jackie and Dick, the trip turned into a stop at the local drive-in, then miniature golf, then Curries for ice cream. The next week, it was a dance at a country club. Then came bowling after school, and drives to the beach.
They became engaged--much to the dismay of Jackie’s wealthy aunt and uncle, who tried to persuade their bright, talented niece to go to college in Kansas. They offered a new convertible, a fur coat, an unlimited bank account, a trip to South America . . . all on the condition that she pass on an early marriage and choose college.
But Jackie turned them down and married Dick, and the two of them moved into an old Army barracks that had been converted into student housing at Pepperdine. Dick went to business school and worked for a local parks and recreation department.
Son Marc (now 38 and the girls’ basketball coach at Esperanza) came first. Then Cheryl (37) and Lisa (34). In his final year of college, Hill was working for a small company called Firestone, molding tires. It was horrible work, but the pay was enough to support his family and a $13,950 mortgage for their new house. Firestone offered Hill entry into its managerial program. It was a lucrative opportunity, but Hill turned it down.
Instead, he became a teacher and assistant coach at Downey High, and in 1956, he took over the football program. He led the team to a CIF co-championship, tying Clare Van Hoorebeke’s Anaheim team, and followed that with two 8-1-1 seasons at Santa Ana College. He started the football program at newly opened Santa Ana Valley High in 1959.
Hill did whatever he could to prepare his teams. Weight programs were unheard of in those days--and most parents were against them--so Hill constructed weights out of cement blocks and iron bars. He had his athletes climb ropes, run 50-yard sprints (the 40 hadn’t been invented yet) and do countless chin-ups, sit-ups and push-ups. Game films were taken to Hollywood to be developed and processed.
Most of the time, it paid off nicely. Valley went 4-5 in its first year, but 12-0 two years later to win the 1961 CIF title with a 14-12 victory over Culver City. In 1967, Hill quit coaching to go into administration and counseling and to watch his son play football at Savanna, where he helped coach defense.
He returned to Valley in 1970, and his team went 0-9. The next year, citing discipline problems, Hill suspended six players who would have been returning starters. The Times’ Earl Gustkey observed one of Hill’s practices that year and wrote:
“He wears a stopwatch and frequently times plays. He chews gum and sometimes will remain poignantly silent, staring at the ground when a mistake is made for which no comment is necessary. There is no hysteria, no fear of retribution. Nor is it a picnic.”
For the rest of the ‘70s, Valley was one of the county’s top teams, especially in 1974, when running back Myron White powered the Falcons past Colton, 47-14, in the CIF title game.
Hill resigned in 1980 and became an assistant coach to Tom Meiss at Santa Ana. The two forged a lifetime friendship, often debating coaching philosophies far into the night. Eventually, Meiss says, they came to agree on almost everything. Meiss says he has always been most impressed by Hill’s resiliency.
“If Dick were an animal, he would be a turtle,” Meiss said. “Have you ever skinned a turtle? The heart just lays there, beating on for hours by itself. Dick is that way. You can pull at him, you can tug at him, but he just fights on.”
Hill took over as head coach at Santa Ana in 1984 and the next year won the Southern Conference title, beating Mission Viejo, 32-21. Since then, Hill hadn’t had a losing season until last year, when the Saints finished 3-7.
Now 0-1 and nearing the age when most start thinking about pension plans and daily golf games, Hill said he thinks about retirement from time to time but he is usually disgusted by the thought.
“It is here as a part of your life at this age,” Hill says. “But what do you do when you retire? I’ve seen people do that, and they become so useless. I want to be productive. I want to do something worthwhile.
“But I’ll make that decision just as I always do--at the end of every season. I take all of that into consideration with my Jackie.”
Jackie, who might hold the record for the best attendance of any coach’s spouse--she has missed only three games over Hill’s career--says she thinks her husband of 40 years might never quit.
“I always tell him,” she says, “I think he’ll go on coaching forever.”
Dick Hill’s Record in Orange County
Year School W-L-T 1959 Santa Ana Valley 4-5-0 1960 Santa Ana Valley 9-3-0 1961 Santa Ana Valley 12-0-0 1962 Santa Ana Valley 8-1-0 1963 Santa Ana Valley 8-3-1 1964 Santa Ana Valley 9-2-0 1965 Santa Ana Valley 7-3-0 1966 Santa Ana Valley 5-4-0 1970 Santa Ana Valley 0-9-0 1971 Santa Ana Valley 5-4-0 1972 Santa Ana Valley 8-2-0 1973 Santa Ana Valley 9-1-0 1974 Santa Ana Valley 11-1-2 1975 Santa Ana Valley 11-1-0 1976 Santa Ana Valley 8-3-0 1977 Santa Ana Valley 10-1-0 1978 Santa Ana Valley 6-5-0 1979 Santa Ana Valley 5-5-0 1984 Santa Ana 3-7-0 1985 Santa Ana 10-4-0 1986 Santa Ana 12-2-0 1987 Santa Ana 11-2-0 1988 Santa Ana 8-4-0 1989 Santa Ana 9-3-0 1990 Santa Ana 3-7-0 1991 Santa Ana 0-1-0 Totals 26 seasons 191-82-3