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October 11, 2013Missouri's two biggest offseason moves -- promoting Josh Henson to offensive coordinator and moving Andy Hill to quarterback coach -- didn't generate much excitement.
Almost eleven months later, 25th-ranked Missouri travels to Athens, Ga., as an undefeated team. Saturday's game against seventh-ranked Georgia has arguably as much buzz surrounding it as the 2010 homecoming game against No. 1-Oklahoma. Sure, there was plenty of excitement before last year's meeting between the Tigers and Bulldogs, but that was because of the historic element of the match-up.
This year, much more is at stake this deep in the season.
Who's to thank for the 180-degree turn this team has taken? The Karma Gods have gone easy on the Tigers in the attrition department. Henson's offense has Missouri running teams off the field, approaching statistics not seen since 2008. Dave Steckel's defense is playing opportunistic, bend-but-don't-break-ball, getting possession back to the offense to do its thing. James Franklin is a Man On Fire, proving that the 2012 season was an aberration, not an omen.
And then there's Andy Hill, a wide receivers coach by craft and trade, the lone hold-over from the Larry Smith days. Hill's promotion to quarterback coach and associate head coach certainly raised some eyebrows. But now, eleven months later, Hill is the position coach reaping the benefits of Franklin's resurgence.
Maybe it's time he gets some thanks, too.
There's not much ego involved with Hill when he talks about his new position. From the get-go, he said he spoke with other people in the profession to get advice. Now, it's "going as you go."
"Basketball players talk about Michael Jordan," Hill said. "We're talking about John Elway, those kind of guys, now the Peyton Mannings of the world, how their fundamentals work. You're seeing play-fakes, how this guys does it, just watch and learn is the big thing right now."
Make no mistake about it -- Hill felt he had to earn the respect of his quarterbacks when he made the transition.
"Absolutely," Hill said, barely letting the question finish before answering. "You have to know what you're talking about, and then you have to have success to back it up. I think those guys knew me as a person and they probably knew my style a little bit as a wide receiver coach, but I think ultimately, you have to prove that you can coach the position, and hopefully, it's going ... so far so good."
"He's always had at least my respect," Franklin said, "and I think the other guys, too, he had their respect, too. Just getting familiar with the position, he worked with us before, but as a receivers coach. Moving to become a quarterbacks coach, he was asking some things from last year, how do we things, because it's a little bit different than how receivers do things."
That style has changed with Hill, who is always friendly but dryly sarcastic with the media. As a receivers coach, Hill said his style was "more vocal." L'Damian Washington intimated that Hill joked around more in his days with Missouri's pass catchers.
"Quarterbacks are more serious," Washington said. "Gotta be very demanding, great leaders. Well, like our receivers, we're a bigger group of goof balls, you know?
"You've got your quarterbacks, which are your serious guys. He's changed up a smidge-bit."
Franklin said one of the most subtle changes in Hill has been the most rewarding.
"What helps me out is that he's down there on the field, talking to him one-on-one," Franklin said. "We're not talking on the phone and having to worry about communication issues. It's good because we can talk as soon as I come off or even before I go out. I think that's something I've liked in this transition, that he's down on the field."
Hill took over at a tough time for the Tigers, a few weeks after the departure of David Yost. Despite the struggles of last season, Yost was known nationally as a successful quarterback coach, developing Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert in his tenure at Missouri.
"I think Andy has done a great job, and he took over for a quarterback coach that was one of the best in the country last year," Pinkel said.
Hill and Yost remain friends. When asked if they talk, Hill responded, "He bought a new Jeep last week."
Their conversations include college football, too.
"He's very encouraging," Hill said. "He's out there (at Washington State) and they're doing a great job, too, but he's been very complimentary of me. He's pulling for us, all the way through."
So far, Hill has been seen in a spectrum, surrounded by the influence of two quarterback coaches: Yost, and George Whitfield. Whitfield's name is mentioned in nearly every article written about Franklin's year, with the term "quarterback guru" always worked in there in some capacity. Whitfield's influence can't be ignored, either. But on paper, it seemed to be an odd situation -- an outside coach getting much of the credit for a player's year.
That issue remains just that -- on paper.
"Anyway you can improve, fundamentally," Hill said. "I don't take offense to it. I mean, I just felt like he came back and he was really sharp after going out there, and felt good about it."
Hill said he asked Franklin questions about what he learned from his time in San Diego to help himself as a coach.
"To take offense to that would be ridiculous," Hill said.
It's not lip service, either. Franklin said he never felt any kind of backlash from his spring break trip.
"That's something that all our coaches want, for us to get better," Franklin said. "We're trying to get better as best we can. They're not selfish, saying that they're the only ones that want to help out. We'll take all the help that we can get, and they were pretty cool with it and happy about it."
Missouri is 5-0. The offense is seventh-nationally in total offense, eighth in scoring. The Tigers are ranked for the first time since September 6, 2011.
Gary Pinkel and Josh Henson and the Karma Gods get plenty of credit for the turnaround. But on Saturday, the coach in the ear of the offense's most important player is Andy Hill.
He doesn't care if he gets any credit.