Longtime JCHS assistant John Hill dies
Jefferson County assistant coach John Hill
DANDRIDGE — A constant presence on the Jefferson County High School basketball sidelines passed away late Saturday night, sending a shockwave of grief through the JCHS community.
John Hill, a longtime assistant coach for both programs at Jefferson County after coaching at the former Maury High School as well, died in his sleep late Saturday night. The cause of death was not immediately known. He was 69.
Hill was described by those closest to him Sunday as a mentor, teacher, great coach, asset and most importantly a friend. From teachers, administrators and fellow coaches at Jefferson County to rival coaches, they all had nothing but great things to say about the departed stalwart of Patriot athletics.
Lady Patriots head coach Rick Sinard, who has spent many years coaching with Hill at the school, said John’s impact on the program at Jefferson County was immeasurable.
“Coach Hill was one of the people who was synonymous with Jefferson County basketball,” Sinard said. “He was such a joy to have around and to work with on a daily basis. It’s still a shock that he is gone. We will certainly miss him, but he will not be forgotten. His handprints are all over our program here at Jefferson County.
“He was the kind of guy who just loved the game of basketball and teaching it to the kids that came though our programs here. He could sit down to talk to you about a few things and it turn into a two-hour conversation. He never met a stranger and treated everyone like he had known them for years.”
Jefferson County athletic director and assistant principal Randy Rogers said it will be difficult to not see Hill on the sidelines this season, given his length of service with the basketball programs at the school.
“Coach Hill was a constant fixture in Jefferson County basketball,” Rogers said. “He was there simply to help the kids and he was a tremendous asset to our Jefferson County High School family. He will be greatly missed.”
Jefferson County girls’ assistant coach Sarah Jane Manis said she plans to keep the seat next to her on the bench open this season in honor of Hill, adding her former coach never missed a moment to tell her how proud he was of her.
“Coach Hill always asked me, ‘Did you learn them today?’ for the past four years since I went into teaching,” Manis said. “Now all I can think about is how he ‘learned’ me. His encouraging words for how proud he was of me for the life I am living being a teacher and a coach will always stick with me. With him, you never knew what you were going to learn that day. It could have been a conversation that went in circles, but it always came out making some kind of sense, whether it be about basketball or life. I’m so very thankful for all I have learned from Coach Hill.”
JCHS boys’ basketball head coach Chris Poore said he and Hill spent a lot of time together just talking about the game and bouncing ideas off each other while attending clinics.
“Coach Hill was a special person and he helped establish what it means to be part of the Jefferson County family,” Poore said. “He was one of the first to welcome me to JCHS and was always one of my biggest supporters. He was always open to attend clinics with me and sit up afterwards to talks and share life stories. Coach Hill’s legacy of passion for the game and genuine love for his players will be the greatest lesson that I will take from knowing him.”
Former Jefferson County girls’ head coach and current Carter Middle School head coach Bo Lewis remembered his former assistant and mentor fondly.
“Sometimes in life, we have people that make a major impact on our lives. For me, Coach Hill is one of those people,” Lewis said. “He was a mentor, teacher, coach, colleague, friend and father figure for me. We normally talked 3-4 times a week and anytime I had a major decision. Coach was on my short list to call just to hear his viewpoint.
“He never hesitated to tell me his thoughts, whether it be about basketball or about life. Lately, I had told him how I was missing those late night conversations in the gym and in our basketball office. Now, I’m certainly going to miss those random and numerous talks we had on a regular basis.”
Lewis added Hill’s love for basketball and his players and students in the classroom made him unique.
“As a coach and teacher, nobody loved their job as much as he did,” Lewis said. “He was very detail oriented and believed in doing the right thing. I’ve never met anyone who loved and respected the game as much as he did. It was an honor and a blessing to coach with him. He impacted so many lives and honestly cared about people, especially his players and students. I love him and will miss him greatly. He is probably showing Jesus how to get low in a correct defensive stance and to ‘point his pistols’ like he used to say.”
Morristown West girls’ basketball coach Johnny Galyon said he had become great friends with Hill through the years, and he enjoyed the rivalry with the Lady Patriots because it allowed him to speak with Hill.
“This really is a sad day for IMAC basketball,” Galyon said. “I became good friends with Coach Hill through the years and I really appreciated his friendship. He really loved talking basketball, but one thing he loved talking about more was his son Andy. I always looked forward to our West/Jefferson County match ups because it gave me a chance to talk with him. He will be sorely missed by our league. I wish there were more coaches like John Hill.”
Fulton boys’ basketball coach Jody Wright said it would be hard to find a better person than John Hill.
“We lost a great one today in John Hill,” Wright said. “I never met anyone who loved learning or talking about basketball more than John. We had many long talks. He was a respected and well-liked man. He always made you feel like he was happy to see you. They just didn’t come any better than John.
Haley Johnson, currently an assistant basketball coach and head softball coach at Gatlinburg-Pittman and a former Jefferson County assistant, reflected on her two years spent on the same sideline with Hill while working for Lewis.
“Coach Hill was one of the genuinely good guys in high school sports,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t in it for himself, which is rare these days. he coached because he loved young people, teaching and the game of basketball. He was a great mentor and friend and a great man.”
Former Jefferson County girls’ head coach and current Carson-Newman women’s assistant coach Michael Potts called Hill a true Patriot.
“John Hill was truly a Jefferson County Patriot,” Potts said. “He was always full of positive responses and comments and was a heck of a basketball coach. I never saw him not smiling. His favorite greeting with a firm hand shake was ‘How in the world are you?’ All my players loved John. He was a vital member of my great staff in the early to mid 2000s.”
John B. Cagle, a current assistant principal and CTE director at Jefferson County, said Hill showed a clear passion for working with students and seeing them succeed.
“Coach Hill had a true love for working with students,” Cagle said. “I never saw him have a bad day, and I never heard him utter a negative word about a student, a fellow teacher or the profession of education. He had a great impact on me, as well as the thousands of people he encountered in his teaching and coaching career.”
Jefferson County football coach Kenny Cobble said there was never a time that he saw Hill in the hallways at the school that he didn’t offer a word of encouragement or his signature smile.
“What a genuine and caring man he was,” Cobble said of Hill. “He always flashed his smile and offered encouragement every single time you saw him. He was an asset to our school and our kids, and though he will be sorely missed here, I know he is celebrating in Heaven today.”
Kevin Potts played for Hill while he was in school at Jefferson County, and he reflected on the man who became his mentor and friend as he began to coach at Maury Middle School.
“Our relationship goes back so many years,” Potts said. “As a young player at Jefferson County myself back in the mid 1990s, I would like to point out that Coach Hill believed in me when I felt like nobody else did. It did wonders for my confidence that helped me both as a player and later in life as a coach.
“A lot of the success we had during my tenure at Maury was a direct reflection of the things I learned from him. With his son Andy on our staff, believe me, we picked his brain daily. He never met a stranger and always had a kind word to say every time you saw him. He truly was a mentor to me and will be dearly missed. Most importantly, I’m proud to have called him a friend.”
Cobble added he had seen Hill in recent days coming to and from the school, and he smiled and waved upon seeing him like he always did.
“You just never know when you’re time will come,” Cobble said. “This was just totally out of nowhere. I just passed him on the road the other day and he gave me a big wave and that smile. He will be missed.”
Hill is survived by his wife Barbara and his son Andy. He had retired from his driver’s education position after 46 years but had remained with the school as a substitute teacher.
Receiving of friends for Hill will be held on Wednesday evening at First Baptist Church in Dandridge from 4-7 p.m. with the funeral to follow. The interment service will be Thursday at Hillcrest Cemetery in Dandridge at 11 a.m.
The family has requested in lieu of flowers that all friends and family make memorial gifts to the Leroy Shannon Memorial Scholarship Fund.
-By Matt Daniels, Tribune Sports Editor