By William Croyle
Mote Hils said 43 years in education is long enough.
The first basketball coach in the history of Northern Kentucky University is retiring today after 32 years at the school - nine as a coach, 12 as an academic advisor and the last 11 years as testing coordinator. Before that, he spent 11 years at St. Henry and Covington Catholic high schools as a coach and social studies teacher.
"It's been a good ride, but I surrender. I'm finished," said Hils, 69. "I know some people retire and get another job, but right now I'm planning on doing nothing."
Hils had just won his fifth consecutive regional championship at CovCath in 1971 when he was asked by NKU (then known as Northern Kentucky State College) to be the school's first coach for the 1971-72 season.
"Mote was absolutely the dominant coach in the '60s and everybody in Northern Kentucky knew that," said Jim Claypool, the Dean of Student Affairs at the time who hired Hils. "He knew the game and cared about the players. And he was flexible enough to roll with the punches of a new program."
Not only was the basketball program new, but the college was only three years old.
"I was basically restricted to recruiting locally because we had no dormitories," said Hils. "And we didn't have a gym at that time, either."
With Regents Hall still a year away from completion, games that first season were played at more than a half-dozen high school gyms throughout Northern Kentucky, not giving the team much of a home-court advantage. Practices had to be held at Ludlow High School, almost 10 miles from campus.
Despite the growing pains of a first-year program, the team finished 12-15 that year against other Division II schools and some NAIA programs.
"He was good. He had a hard task and it took a tough individual to do that," said Jim "Mac" McMillan, a star player for Newport Public High School who was Hils' first recruit in 1971. "For what he did the first couple of years, he was a heck of a man."
Hils had the first of three consecutive winning seasons in 1975-76, and took his team to its first NCAA tournament in 1977-78 with a 20-8 record.
Though they were bounced out in the first round of the tourney, it was a memorable season that included a 59-58 win at Xavier University.
"We were the Division II new kid on the block going across the river to play a Division I school," said Hils. "But my players in high school and college always felt I made them compete by making up a tough schedule."
Dan Doellman, a member of the NKU Athletics Hall of Fame, averaged 18.6 points per game for the Norse from 1975-1979.
"He really pushed us and put Northern on the map," said Doellman. "He worked us hard, but we laughed and had fun. He was really a player's coach."
Hils retired from coaching in 1980 and was succeeded by Mike Beitzel. Current coach Ken Shields took over for Beitzel in 1988.
Shields was the freshman coach for one season at CovCath in 1964-1965 and helped Hils with the varsity program. "I had a great mentor in Mote. He's one of the greatest coaches I've known," said Shields, who will enter his 40th year of coaching this fall. "I give him credit for doing a lot to help my career. He's a legend for sure."
Hils' NKU record
9-year total:...119-118 (.502)
*NCAA Div. II Tournament
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