Over the course of 23 seasons, Rich Hill had built a consistent and winning program at the University of San Diego, taking the Toreros to eight NCAA Regionals.
Hill’s 2021 team went 33-12 and barely missed out on an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The 2022 season was shaping up to be the year the program could achieve his goal of hosting a regional on campus and advancing to a super regional.
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Hill will still strive for that in 2022. But instead, he’ll do it in a Hawaii jersey as the program’s third head coach since 1971. He was officially introduced in a virtual press conference on Friday morning.
“I’ve seen Hawaii with a rabid fanbase, with a passionate fanbase, great players. The opportunity to have the state of Hawaii across my chest was just very, very appealing. It’s humbling. The opportunity to compete in the Big West Conference, which is a great baseball conference,” Hill said. “I believe that Rainbow Warrior baseball, that’s the pro baseball team (in Hawaii). Shoot, the opportunity to lead this program, it’s awesome.”
As emotional as it was to say goodbye to his players at USD, the opportunity to coach on the islands was a prospect Hill couldn’t turn down. Hill, previously a part-time resident and frequent visitor of the islands, also has an affinity for surfing.
“It was way more emotional than I thought,” Hill recalled about his goodbye Zoom call to his former USD players. “When I saw their faces, I’m kind of getting emotional about it now like, ‘Whoa, it kind of hit me.’ It is tough.
“At the same time, it’s time. I really felt that when I was on campus, I felt that here yesterday, driving into campus today, like ‘Man, I feel great.’ I feel great about this next challenge. I’m completely invigorated. People ask me, ‘How do you feel about it?’ I’ll tell you how I feel about it — I feel like a little kid again.”
After resisting overtures from the Pac-12 and other opportunities over the years, Hawaii turned out to be the school that pried him away.
“Always, this was the one where I wanted to be,” Hill said of the UH job.
Nationally, the University of Hawaii baseball program has long been considered a sleeping giant due to its unique location, stadium and fanbase. For a team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2010, Hill plans to restore the ‘Bows to glory by embracing their past, a common gripe held in the early years of Mike Trapasso‘s tenure.
“When you start talking about Hawaii baseball, the local baseball community and the local players and the local coaches are some of the best in the country,” Hill said. “Very, very focused on the development. I know everybody says, ‘We gotta keep the local boys here, there’s so much talent here.’ Yeah, I believe that but I want to eliminate the word ‘keep’ with ‘want.’ I want these players to want to be Rainbow Warriors and their families when we have an opportunity to stand in front of them, to share our vision on development, on impact in the community and to have their son go from a teenager into manhood, which is really what it’s about anyway in higher education, they’re gonna want to be here. They’re gonna see the stadium full.”
According to UH, Hill has a five-year deal, although financial details were not immediately released. Despite the length of his contract, Hill fully intends to win immediately and isn’t afraid to pursue the transfer portal. After the NCAA dead period began on March 13, 2020 and was lifted on June 1, Hill intends to hit the ground running on recruiting his team for 2022 and beyond. Stops in the Pacific Northwest, Arizona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Texas, Georgia, and the Team USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. are planned.
“Recruiting never stops. That’s the tough part of this thing. You sign these guys to USD and then poof, the head coach goes, there’s some anxiety with young people. Same thing the future Rainbow Warriors felt,” Hill said. “Nine guys in that ’21 class and there’s some commits beyond that that we need to talk to right away, and that’s kind of the first order of business — reach out to the current players and reach out to the recruits and get that on the rails, kind of see where we are. We’re gonna recruit character, we’re gonna recruit talent and toughness and we’re on it right away.”