Area Football: Hills takes helm of Aitkin football
Alan Hills was learning to coach before he realized it. The son of a former head basketball and football coach, Hills would watch game tape with his dad, Greg Hills, who is the current football offensive coordinator at Crosby-Ironton. When the op...
Alan Hills was learning to coach before he realized it.
The son of a former head basketball and football coach, Hills would watch game tape with his dad, Greg Hills, who is the current football offensive coordinator at Crosby-Ironton. When the opportunity to be an assistant football came arrived six years ago at his alma mater, Hills jumped at the chance.
At a June 30 special meeting, the Aitkin School Board unanimously approved Hills as the new head coach for the Aitkin Gobblers football team.
Hills takes over for Tom Sanford, who resigned.
"I'm really excited for it," Hills said. "Obviously, some big shoes to fill with Tom (Sanford) leaving and making such a successful program over the last four years. The plan is to just keep things rolling as is."
And things were rolling well for the Gobblers.
In the last four seasons, Aitkin ran up a 22-13 overall record. In the six seasons prior to Sanford's arrival, Aitkin won only 12 games total. In Sanford's first season, Aitkin finished 6-3, which was the first winning season the Gobblers enjoyed since 2006.
Hills was an assistant coach those four seasons and two years prior. He saw firsthand what worked and won't deviate too far from that plan.
"As far as tweaks, we're really not going to make any changes program wise," Hills said. "Tom really did a good job of building a team first-, family first-type of mentality. That's something that I think is huge in high school and in all sports. We're going to roll forward with our 'we not me' approach that we've used. We're going to keep going with that. Everything is going to stay status quo as far as how we've done things in the past. We'll just move forward with new leadership."
Most of the coaching staff returns with Hills. Last year's offensive coordinator Tom Smith will not return, but that was expected. The familiarity with the players and vice versa should create a smooth transition in Aitkin.
"More importantly for me, I have guys that I trust and I can rely on," Hills said. "These are guys I've worked with before and they're familiar to the kids. I think that's big, that we hired from within and aren't making a big wholesale change, especially with such a short time frame. To try and come in and do a completely different thing would be reckless almost. You would pretty much be throwing a whole season away. I think we can move forward with the guys we've had that understand what we've done."
Another key component to HIlls' hiring is he knows the players' talents. He has an understanding of who fits where within the system that is already in place.
He also understands the history of the program. Hills graduated from Aitkin in 1999. He's one who hasn't taken the last four years of winning for granted.
"We won our first conference title, or district as they're called now, for the first time in 35 years," Hills said. "I would love to stick around for as long as they'll have me and just keep the program going on a winning track as it has been for the last four years. That isn't something Aitkin football has been know for before this. Growing up playing in the program, .500 was always considered a pretty good year. To keep that benchmark above .500 or better is the long-term goal."
This will be Hills' 12th season of coaching a sport in the school district. Hills coached junior varsity basketball before moving to football. This is first time being a head of the program, however. Hills believes he has strengths to solidify his hiring.
"I have a knowledge of our kids and our program," Hills said. "Just knowledge of the game itself. I come from a coaching family with my dad. It's something that I've just always done since I was little without even knowing it. I was just watching film and things like that. Having been around the game, I have a comfort level with it. It's something I really enjoy doing it."