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Breaking down Jaime Hill

Prolific and passionate, Y. secondary coach leads players by example

Jaime Hill is an intriguing football coach, a man who does not waste words or time; a private personality who can be engagingly direct and precise, yet keeps himself at a safe distance. Kind of like his boss, BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Hill is BYU's secondary coach. He works with 18 corners and safeties, as big of a group as you'll have on a football team. Speaking to Hill, you get the feeling he's got everything tied down. A psychology major, you sense he's got life ink-blot tested, categorized in a folder and interpreted like a character in one of those thriller movies.

Jaime Hill is a lot of things to BYU football these days, but he's anything but an actor. He's a doer. Hill is the Band-Aid fix to that 2005 nightmare in South Bend, when Brady Quinn had a career day feasting on the Cougar secondary.

The Tulsa game aside, Hill's defenders have rarely been caught looking clueless with the ball in the air. Or turned around in an awkward position. Or frozen to a hash mark. Or caught taking a stupid angle ...

To his players, Hill is smart, consistent and a credible, hard-working leader. To Mendenhall, he's a flotation device at the end of a rescue rope, a piece of the puzzle that's given the third-year head coach room to breathe.

While at New Mexico, as one of the youngest defensive coordinators in Division I football, Mendenhall learned firsthand the energy it takes to live in a dark film room for hours, studying plays, breaking down tendencies, formulating game plans, adjusting schemes and then sharing that knowledge with others.

But when Mendenhall took the BYU head coaching job in December 2005, he thought he could do all that coordinator stuff and be the Cougar head coach.

He was wrong. The job pulled at him from all directions mentally and physically. Being BYU's head football coach is part mission president, part seminary teacher and part cultural politician before football even enters into the picture.

In 2006, when cornerback coach Brian Mitchell left BYU for Texas Tech, Mendenhall looked for relief. He wasn't ready to give up his D-coordinator responsibility, but he needed a Mendenhall-like mind and passion to shadow him. He found his man in Hill, a man, like many football coaches, who would eat, sleep and drink the game

Somebody like him.

"When I leave a defensive meeting, I turn the (film) clicker to coach Hill," said Mendenhall. "When I'm not in the room, he transitions. When I walk back in the room, we don't miss a beat and he hands it right back and (we) keep going. It has allowed me to handle the necessities of the day.

"I think you can see his contribution in the way our secondary has played the past two seasons. He's been a real strength in moving the team forward."

Hill played at Grossmont Community College near his home in San Diego, a school recruited by longtime BYU assistant Lance Reynolds. But Reynolds didn't know Hill.

Hill also coached at San Francisco State College with current Philadelphia Eagle coach Andy Reid. He coached with the San Francisco 49ers around the time current BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe was on the staff.

But none of these connections led Hill to BYU.

It was former BYU cornerbacks coach Dwayne Walker, now defensive coordinator at UCLA, who gave BYU Hill's most weighty recommendation.

Said Holmoe: "When I asked Bronco who some of his candidates for the job were, he mentioned Hill as one of them. I was surprised that somehow Bronco had dug down and found him. I hadn't mentioned Hill to him, and I told Bronco then, from what I remembered of him with the 49ers, he was a good fit, a great coach, a real cerebral guy."

Mendenhall did check out Hill. When he interviewed him on campus, Mendenhall was even more impressed. He'd found a soulmate of sorts, a coach with an appetite and passion for football; a man who lived in the film room; a coach familiar with the fundamentals, schemes and zone coverage concepts Mendenhall hoped to adopt heading into the 2006 season.

It made sense for Mendenhall to have one secondary coach — Hill — be one voice to the players as he controls the back seven (coordinating coverages with linebackers). Hill could make adjustments, allowing Mendenhall to focus on the big picture of a game as head coach and then, as defensive coordinator, focus on concepts and schemes.

It worked. In 2006, BYU defenders cut opponent scoring in half.

While Mendenhall, Hill and the other defensive coaches, Barry Lamb and Paul Tidwell, don't always agree on everything, Mendenhall says, "Every decision we make can be made with a pretty comprehensive, well-rounded analysis, which is very helpful to me."

The most satisfying part of his job at BYU, said Hill, is seeing pieces come together, things he and Mendenhall shared the vision of during the first interview.

"It's been a growing experience for me," said Hill. "I like the family atmosphere on staff. Making progress with the players has meant the most to me, to see how hard they've worked to understand concepts of what we're teaching, how far they've traveled and to compete at the highest level they can compete at — getting the most out of what they do."

Senior Kayle Buchanan said Hill's defensive philosophy enables him to paint a clear picture to players, and he likes Hill's consistency in imparting it.

"You have to know what the defense is trying to do so when you are on the field, if you see something different in a game, you can adjust to it," Buchanan said. "That's now what we always do. Players will mess up, but he gives us the tools and that is important to have this philosophy."

Having the corners and safeties in the same room with one coach was not the model BYU has used in past years.

Buchanan said having the safeties and corners in the same meetings looking at film is big because players can work out conflicts there before getting on the field. It also enables the players to see just how much ammo Hill has gleaned from his film research, a time-consuming exercise that likely, as with most coaches, brings Hill's compensation down to about $1.50 an hour.

"He works his tail off," said Buchanan. "He breaks down film. He watches it and passes the information to us. Seeing him work so hard inspires us to work hard. He puts in the extra time, and that makes a difference for us."

Hill pushes but balances it with humor. He isn't into personal attacks, said Buchanan.

"He's professional first and foremost," Buchanan said.

Hill and Mendenhall like the idea that they've been able to replace their always visible and highly scrutinized corners with players who haven't missed a beat yet. It happened with starter Ben Criddle in the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl when Cole Miyahira stepped in. Again, it happened with Criddle last week at New Mexico when Andre Saulsberry replaced him.

"That's what our defense is designed to do," said Hill. "These players are interchangeable. It doesn't matter who goes in. My biggest job is to train the players to teach each other."

Saulsberry said Hill's knowledge is impressive.

"I've learned a lot from him," Saulsberry said. "He's fun. He can be serious at times, but he jokes when it's time to joke. He's a great teacher and doesn't move forward until everyone understands. He studies film, watches everybody on the field every play. He can tell you what everybody does on every play. I'm very impressed."

Graduate assistant Micah Alba said Hill's love for football is evident in how he works.

"He has great respect for the game," Alba said. "He works hard to make sure his guys work hard and also love the game."

Getting inside Hill's personal side is a tough move.

Favorite books, movies, hobbies for Hill? They're likely there, but they are overshadowed by his love for football. Aside from his family, that is his great passion in life, according to Mendenhall. Hill admits he is taking up golf and he loves playing puzzle- or adventure-related video games (Splinter Cell, Halo and Madden). He also likes lifting weights. The most recent books Hill has read are Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," and Sun Tzu's 2,400-year-old "The Art of War."

"If you were to define him," said Mendenhall, "he is extremely professional and passionate about football. It is his life. He loves his family, but he is absolutely passionate about football. He watches every film he can get his hands on. He uses his contacts, and the network of coaches he knows is remarkable. He is a football coach, which is what we were looking for. You might not find extensive hobbies and interests because this is what he loves to do."

Mendenhall tells his coaches he wants them home as much as possible, but they have their agency when it comes to office work and breaking down film.

So, if Hill is living in a film room, Mendenhall says that's Hill's choice. He doesn't know for sure.

"I'm not ready to declare who spends the most time here. I'm not here all the time."

But if there is one on the staff who is guilty of going against his advice?

"He'd be the likely choice," said Mendenhall.

"One thing Bronco has done," said Holmoe, "is surround himself with coaches who fit together. He needed an X and O guy and got one in coach Hill. He needed a coach like himself and he found one in Hill, a guy who always seems to have his game face on."

Jaime Hill profile

Years At BYU: Two (2006, 2007)

Years coaching: 19

Prior To BYU: 2004-05, Ottawa Renegades (CFL) co-defensive coordinator; 2003, Calgary Stampeders secondary coach; 2002, Humboldt State University defensive coordinator; 2001, San Francisco Demons (XFL) defensive coordinator; 1997-98, San Francisco 49ers defensive assistant and secondary coach; 1993-96, Portland State University defensive coordinator; 1992, University of Chicago defensive coordinator; 1990-91, Sonoma State secondary coach; 1989, Northern Arizona receivers and tight ends; 1988, UTEP graduate assistant; 1987, San Francisco State student assistant wide receivers coach.

Playing career: Academic all-American and first-team all-league performer, Grossmont Junior College; first-team all-conference wide receiver in 1984 and 1985, San Francisco State University.

Big games coached: 2 (Independence and Las Vegas); three D-II national playoff games; 2 NFL Divisional Championship Games; 1 XFL Championship Game.

Education: Santana High School, San Diego, Calif.; San Francisco State University (1986, B.A. in psychology); Grossmont Junior College (1983, A.A.).

Family: Wife (LaShanda), two daughters and one son