With his wife by his side, University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill announced his retirement Monday after serving at the helm of the athletics department for 31 years. Inside the Huntsman Center surrounded by his family, friends, university President Ruth Watkins, football coach Kyle Whittingham, gymnastics coaches Megan and Greg Marsden and media members, Hill reflected on his time at the U and gave his reasoning as to why he’s stepping down.
Hill has always had a penchant for listening to his heart, he said. When he married his wife, Kathy, he listened to his heart, and he did the same when they decided they wanted to have kids. When he hopped on I-80 to drive to Salt Lake City with no set job, it was because he listened to his heart. Back in January, his heart told him it was time to leave the U behind.
“My heart’s telling me it feels good,” Hill said. “I think the program is in pretty good shape and we got good things going. At the end of the day, it’s from [the] inside, and a wise person told me once that’s when you make your big decisions. Another person told me, ‘If you think it’s the right decision, then you make it the right decision, Chris.’”
Hill’s life has always revolved around sports — he played basketball at Rutgers University and held a variety of roles coaching basketball before accepting the athletic director position at the U. Through all of this, he said he discovered the importance of having friends who will not only put him in his place when he’s getting a little arrogant but friends who won’t quiz him about the Utes.
Good friends are valuable and hard to come by, as Hill put it, but what’s more important than good friends is his relationship with his family, because they’re never going to judge him. He will continue to rely on those relationships as he finishes his career and throughout the rest of his life.
“My family helped [as] advisors in so many ways, they really were a part of the job,” Hill said. “It’s a strange job being an AD, not a lot of people you can go to and talk to.”
He said he will forever be grateful for the role he served.
“To the president who hired me, he took an unbelievable risk, took me off the streets of Salt Lake City and gave me a job,” Hill said.
In a Utah Athletics press release, Watkins noted the “tremendous legacy” Hill is leaving behind. During his time at the U, Hill oversaw the university’s move to a Power Five conference as the Utes joined the PAC-12 in 2011, and according to Watkins, this was a transformational milestone for the U as a whole.
Before the U joined the Conference of Champions, Hill helped put Utah on the map when it busted the BCS in 2004 after Urban Meyer lead the Utes to a Fiesta Bowl win over Alabama. In 1998, Rick Majerus led the Runnin’ Utes to the NCAA Championship game, which can also be credited to Hill as he was the one who hired Majerus that year.
While all these successes are enough to hang his hat on, Hill hopes to accomplish one more thing before he leaves at the end of spring, which is to raise $20 million toward the Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion.
“Chris leaves us a vibrant, thriving athletics department that benefits student-athletes and our community,” Watkins said in the release. “He has set the foundation for our continued success.”
As the search for a new athletics director begins, Hill will aide Watkins in the process, though he said assistant athletic director Kyle Brennan might be a good fit.
The emotion Hill showed at his press conference was a clear reflection of what his time at the U meant to him and his family, but now that he’s retiring, he is happy he will have more time to dedicate to them. He might even try to make friends with his neighbors just to make his wife happy, Hill joked, but he will probably max out after five minutes of socializing. As most people often do when they retire, he might go golfing, but he’d still like to use the excuse that if only he practiced more he would be better, so he won’t frequent the green too often.
In the meantime, Hill will man his post for the next couple of months, and he will continue to reminisce the times that made him cry and the times that made him celebrate.
“I got a chance to spend my life in sports … and I can’t believe it, it’s just incredible,” Hill said.