Coach Jerry Hill Moves on From Columbia
The Columbia boys head basketball coach resigned, citing the rigors of extensive travel.
When members of Cougar Nation look back on the eight-year stay of Jerry Hill at the helm of the boys basketball team, they'll think of one word above all: consistency.
After averaging 16 wins and eight losses per season for nearly a decade, Hill resigned as head basketball coach of the Cougar boys, citing extensive travel and the need to spend more time with his family.
"I really had a great experience at Columbia High School. It eventually just took its toll on me," Hill said of the travel.
Between teaching history at Northern Valley Demarest High School in Bergen County for over 20 years, residing in Rockland County, N.Y., and coaching in Essex County, something had to give. Hill said he was easily working 70 hours per week during the season. He would leave at 6:30 a.m. and get home at 7:30 p.m. (and that's if there wasn't a night game), five days a week. That does not include weekend games or practices.
"When you're in season, you don't take lunch, you watch film," Hill said. "The season never ends when you're a varsity coach."
But what took the largest toll on Hill was the extensive traveling. Hill said that he spent more than two hours each day traveling back and forth and often wasn't able to get on the bus with his team because of running late from Demarest. This does not even include the endless amount of gas he had to buy, filling up twice a week.
Something else that he had to consider was that he is married with children, and because of the distance from his house, they were often unable to attend games.
"My kids are getting older, and I was missing a lot of stuff," Hill said. "My wife is great. She understood that when you're married to a coach, it's a lot of hours. She always supported me. She never said anything. The kids were great too."
The decision did not come lightly for Hill, who is a lifer as far as coaching goes, and had been coaching in Essex County for 11 years, including three at Irvington.
He began his basketball coaching career as head coach at Demarest, but decided that he wanted to move up to the challenge of Group 4 basketball. Since then, he has gone 167-100 between both county schools, including a 131-66 record at Columbia, beginning in the 2002-03 season.
"If you have good players, it makes you a better coach," Hill said. "If you can get the players on board, if you can get them to believe in themselves and believe in what you're saying, that's a recipe for success."
Hill defined himself as a defense-minded coach, and looking at the past season, he certainly has a point. Columbia was built around defense this season; they were 9-1 in games in which they held teams below 50 points.
This year Columbia finished 13-14 overall, battling in the newly formed Super Essex Conference American Division. Columbia defeated Piscataway in the opening round of the state playoffs, before being eliminated by top-seeded Plainfield. Columbia was 19-9 a season ago and reached the state sectional semifinals.
His best season came in 2005-06, where the boys went 22-6, reached the county championship game for the first time in school history and won its league for the first time in 21 years.
"I feel like the program is intact and it's positive. I do think I left the program in better shape," he said, adding that the program was not in shambles when he took over. "I think we were able to bring it to the next level."
He said that his coaching days in Essex County are likely done, and as far as looking for another basketball coaching position, he said that the right opportunity would have to present itself. He added that he hopes one of his assistants from CHS gets the head coaching job, and that he plans to stop in for a visit every once in a while to take in a game.
"I'll always have a little bit of red and black in me forever," he said.