Head Coach Nick Hill
Heading into his fourth season at the helm of Saluki Football, 34-year-old Nick Hill has brought the perfect balance of energy, passion and creativity needed to re-energize the program.
A native son of southern Illinois, Hill’s journey to the top job at SIU started 16 years ago and just 20 miles north of campus, where he was a football and basketball icon at DuQuoin High School.
During his senior year of high school in 2002-03, Hill was the area’s Player of the Year in both sports and guided the Indians to the Illinois High School Association 3A state championship football game.
The legend continued on the hardwood where Hill averaged 23 points as a senior at DuQuoin and chose Western Kentucky from a host of Division I offers. A broken hand prematurely ended his freshman season at Western but ultimately led him home.
In the spring of 2004, Hill transferred to SIU to switch sports and play football under head coach Jerry Kill, just as the program was beginning its rapid rise to the top of the league standings.
“I took a leap of faith with Coach Kill,” Hill recalled. “Everyone needs someone who believes in him and for me, that someone was Coach Kill.”
Hill initially sat behind league Player of the Year Joel Sambursky, before taking over the starting job in 2006. In two seasons as the starter, he went 21-6 and set the school record for passing yards in 2007. He still holds the best completion percentage (68.3) in school history.
Highlights of Hill’s playing career include guiding Southern to a win at Indiana in 2006, in which he passed for four touchdowns as SIU became the league’s first team to defeat a Big Ten opponent. Hill capped off his career in 2007 by leading the team to the Final Four of the playoffs, where the Salukis ultimately lost a 20-17 heartbreaker to Joe Flacco and Delaware. He was also a finalist for the Payton Award in ‘07.
Hill played six seasons of professional football, mostly in the Arena Football League, where he played for head coach Jay Gruden, now the head coach of the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Hill also had brief free-agent stints with the Chicago Bears in 2008 and Green Bay Packers in 2012.
Playing for Gruden, one of the game’s top offensive minds, helped shape Hill’s offensive philosophy. First as Southern’s offensive coordinator and now as head coach, Hill has refined his own unique style of offense that combines elements of Air Raid, spread and up-tempo.
In his first season at SIU, Saluki quarterbacks broke a school record for single-season touchdown passes with 29. The following year in 2015, Southern’s offense averaged 498 yards per game -- the second most in conference history. Quarterback Mark Iannotti led the nation in total offense per game.
In 2016, the Salukis set program records for passing completions, attempts and yards while only throwing seven interceptions. Southern Illinois ranked in the top-10 nationally for passing offense, total offense and scoring offense for nearly the entire year.
The offense was on its way to surpassing those marks in 2017 before starting quarterback Sam Straub was injured early in the eighth game and missed the remainder of the season.
In 2018, the offense ranked third in the MVFC in total offense, first downs and time of possession.
Following the 2018 season, Nick Hill was selected to attend the American Football Coaches Association's 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute.
Hill has assembled a talented mix of veteran assistant coaches and young, up-and-comers. First-year defensive coordinator Jason Petrino has both head coaching experience, plus spent four years in the MVFC as defensive coordinator at South Dakota. Tight ends and special teams coach Pat Poore is a former Kill assistant who was a key figure in Southern’s initial rebuild.
“I know what the blueprint looks like for our program to be successful, going back to my playing days for Coach Kill, and I know we can get there,” Hill said. “Coaching my alma mater is a dream come true. I love everything about this region and what it stands for, that blue-collar mentality. This is not my team. This is our team. Our program is going to invest in the community and make us proud on and off the field.”
Hill and wife, Alicia, a former volleyball player at SIU, reside in Carbondale and have two daughters, Skylar and Charley. His brother, former Saluki quarterback A.J. Hill, is now the head coach at DuQuoin High School.