Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Ron Balaskovitz/Sand Mountain Reporter
After 11 seasons on the sidelines of his alma mater, Gene Hill recently stepped down as Sardis head football coach.
Hill (pictured above) made the announcement to his assistant coaches and players on Thursday, May 19. The decision became official last Monday (May 23) with the Etowah County Board of Education approving his resignation.
“Honestly, every decision I’ve ever made in my 35-year coaching career, number one, has been based on my family,” Hill said. “I wanted to spend more time and get to see my senior daughter play. That had a lot to do with it. I also just felt like it was just time for a change for our program here and for me, too. It’s a lot of mixed emotions, but in the end, I just felt like that was best for both of us.”
Hill amassed a 51-64 record with the Lions over his 11 seasons, and a 96-93 overall record, including seven seasons at Etowah.
Hill’s 51 victories are second most in Sardis history behind Jerry Don Sims, who won 78 games from 1971 to 1985. Hill’s time at Sardis included seeing the program transition two levels, going from 3A to 4A after his first season and from 4A to 5A for the 2018 season. Hill guided the Lions to five postseason appearances and region titles in 2011 and 2017. The 2011 team started out 9-0 and reached as high as No. 6 in the ASWA weekly polls.
Hill also led the Lions to their first victory over neighboring rival Boaz in 21 years, going 5-6 all-time against the Pirates, and in 2012 guided the program to its second ever win over Guntersville. Over the course of his tenure, Hill saw 15 players receive All-State honors.
For all the on-field accomplishments, Hill said his greatest pride was bringing back the sense of pride and community in the team and helping the team grow and transition to two new levels in the span of six years.
“Looking back, I think the growth of the program there for at least the nine years,” Hill said. “Starting out in 3A, we had the really good year, started out 9-0 and ranked as high as sixth, and a lot of pride in the community and the program coming back. I was just happy for our school and community. Back when I played 40 years ago, we struggled, and I wanted to come back and bring that back to the school. For about nine years, we made the playoffs two or three times in 4A, then the second year in 5A we made the playoffs.
“Then COVID hit us, and I know it hit everybody else, but we had to forfeit a few games at the end, and it really hit us really hard. We’d just come off a senior-laden group that made the playoffs, [but] we had a really young team, and the combination of that with COVID was bad timing for us. But establishing that pride back in our program again, so getting to see that again was really good.”
Hill will remain as the school’s athletic director, noting that there are a number of projects he would like to help the school finish from that role. He acknowledged that he will now have more time available to help across the board with Sardis athletics.
Hill said that while he has suggested a couple possible head coaching candidates, he is not involved in the search for a new football coach, leaving that decision up to Principal Josh Wallace.
“I’ve only had to do this two times in my career,” Hill said. “[Sardis] is a little different because this is where I played and where I went to school. And, of course, I still live in the community. So, it’s not my literal family, but it’s my family, still.”