Longtime Mizzou assistant Andy Hill relishes Super Bowl trip with Chiefs

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

It was 2003. Gary Pinkel, in his third year as Missouri head football coach, joined an assistant coach on an important recruiting road trip to St. Joseph.

That's the hometown of Martin Rucker, a vital in-state target for the Tigers.

As Pinkel stepped inside the Rucker household, he was flabbergasted. It was covered in Nebraska red, in tribute to Martin's older brother, Mike, a beloved Cornhusker. Despite often being associated with Kansas City, St. Joseph is only 144 miles from Lincoln, Nebraska. Columbia is 181 miles southeast.

"We're trying to build our program and get the best players to stay in the state," Pinkel said this week of the state of his program at the time.

Pinkel knew it wouldn't be an easy visit with the proximity and connections the Ruckers had to Nebraska football. However, Martin was worth the effort — a great kid coming from a remarkable family, as the Tigers' winningest gridiron coach in history put it. 

From left, Kansas City Chiefs assistant special teams coach Andy Hill, Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3), Chiefs offensive lineman Yasir Durant (79) and Broncos tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (85) pose for a photo after a game Oct. 25 at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver.

But the Cornhusker influence took Pinkel back a bit. He was quickly thankful he wasn't the only member of the coaching staff on the trip.

That assistant alongside him? Andy Hill.

In the middle of the visit, the Ruckers left their house to take care of a family matter. 

"I looked at (Andy) and said, 'This is crazy. This is absolutely crazy.' And he looked at me and says, 'Coach, I think I can really get him,'" Pinkel said of his interaction with Hill. "I said, 'There's no way we're going to get this guy. This guy was brought up with Nebraska forever.' Well, guess what? He committed to us.

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"That's Andy Hill, his optimism and relationships and everything else."

A few weeks later on his official visit to Missouri's campus, Rucker committed to the Tigers. He was one of several commitments the Tigers secured around that time that formed the core of the 2007 team that reached No. 1 in the country. 

Pinkel has plenty of stories like that one about Hill, who predated him in Columbia and outlasted his head coaching tenure.

Missouri assistant coach Andy Hill talks with players during a game against Tennessee on Nov. 17, 2018, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

Hill's coaching tenure with Missouri came to a close last offseason, a common occurrence when a new head coach takes over. He landed as softly as could be — as an assistant special teams coach with the Kansas City Chiefs.

While no longer working in Columbia, his line of superiority has evident Tiger ties. Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub coached on the Tigers' staff from 1987-2000. And Kansas City head coach Andy Reid was Missouri's offensive line coach for three seasons before making the jump to the NFL.

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From 1996-2019, Hill served as a Tigers assistant coach, his tenure the second-longest all-time behind only Clay Cooper's 38 seasons at Missouri. 

Hill spent his first 19 years in Columbia coaching wide receivers, the next three coaching quarterbacks before spending the final two as special teams coordinator. 

Now, in his first season coaching on the sidelines at Arrowhead Stadium, he will have a hand in the biggest game of his football career.

Hill will be in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday night for Super Bowl 55 alongside superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, former Missouri offensive lineman Yasir Durant and the defending champion Chiefs to take on legendary signal caller Tom Brady — backed up by Missouri alum Blaine Gabbert — and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the Bucs' home field at Raymond James Stadium.

Former Missouri standouts Blaine Gabbert, left, and Yasir Durant will be facing off in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Hill, a Trenton native, is an MU graduate and former Tiger walk-on who eventually was put on scholarship. He spent time at training camps for the Chiefs and the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders in 1985-86. 

Now being on the Chiefs coaching staff brings Hill full circle, 94 miles from Trenton. 

"It's very nice because I've been a Chiefs fan since I was a little kid," Hill said during an interview with KOMU this week. "They won the Super Bowl back in the 1969-70 season. I got a Super Bowl champions sweatshirt for my birthday. My birthday was Jan. 26.

"We are at Kansas City through and through when it comes to the sports fans. To be able to work in the NFL, work with this group of coaches, this group of players in one year, having a close proximity to Columbia, where my family could stay back there and I have a place to stay over here so I get to see them with some regularity all the time — it could not have worked out any better."

Hill started coaching at Missouri after two years at the helm of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. He worked under Larry Smith, Pinkel and finally Barry Odom. 

When Pinkel was hired in 2000, he told athletic director Mike Alden he would interview the current assistant coaches. There was a chance he wouldn't keep any of them. 

That thought process changed after Pinkel sat down with Hill.

After conversations with people around the Tiger football offices and fielding plenty of phone calls from those singing Hill's praises, Pinkel kept him on staff. 

Hill's list of standout players coached in Columbia was long. Some of the most notable: Jeremy Maclin, Danario Alexander, Michael Egnew, Justin Gage and Tucker McCann. 

The transition from coaching receivers to coaching quarterbacks isn't unheard of. For example, current Missouri assistant Bush Hamdan does both on Eli Drinkwitz's staff. 

The switch from offense to special teams is more unusual, but Hill credits working with coaches and pitching in on the return game to advance his knowledge in those areas. 

Hill officially accepted a coaching role with the Chiefs about a month after they defeated the San Francisco 49ers in last year's Super Bowl. 

"He said last year he was going to buy a ticket because he was a Chiefs fan his whole life," Toub said this week of Hill. "Growing up in Trenton, Missouri, always had his eye on the Chiefs and he was going to buy a ticket, whatever the tickets cost, and is going to come down.

"It's just so ironic that he's a coach on the team that's going to the Super Bowl again, and I just wish he could have experienced the whole thing, the real Super Bowl experience. It's going to be good while we're there. We're going to fly in Saturday and it's going to be exciting nonetheless. And once we come out of that tunnel, it's going to be really special for both of us.

"But being it's his first time, I think he's going to really enjoy it."

Hill's time in Columbia shaped him with a headset on. It will be a surreal experience going from childhood fan to witnessing the Chiefs play in the Super Bowl from the inside.

The personal connections that got Hill there are just like the one he formed with Rucker.

Hill can be counted on, and even though he hadn't coached with Toub since 2000 before this season, the Chiefs' vacancy — which could've been filled by someone with much more NFL experience — went to the longtime Missouri assistant. 

"I'm excited for him and this opportunity, my goodness," Pinkel said of Hill coaching in the Super Bowl. "He was pretty fortunate in our business, where life expectancy for Power Five coaches is about four, four-and-a-half years.

"He's a good man," Pinkel continued. "He's a good guy, a good coach and very fortunate, just like the 1% that'll get a chance to do that."