Arizona Football

Coach Jim Young: Put Bruce Hill in Arizona Stadium Ring of Honor

Lee Shappell, a product of Amphi High and the UofA, is retired and living in Ahwatukee. His 50-year journalism career began at the Tucson Daily Citizen and included a 39-year run at The Arizona Republic. He wrote this guest piece concerning former Arizona coach Jim Young and his request of the University of Athletic department to honor Bruce Hill, his quarterback with the Wildcats from 1973-75.

By Lee Shappell
Special to

I remember picking up The Tucson Daily Citizen (you all remember The Citizen don’t you? A great newspaper until Gannett bought it, ruined it and folded it) on Dec. 11, 1972, and seeing the front-page headline that the UofA had made its choice on a new football coach after Bob Weber resigned.

There was a large photo of a smiling guy with a flattop haircut and under it his name: Jim Young.

Jim Young. . . . Then the lights started flashing. I knew who this guy was. He had been the football coach at my school in Lima, Ohio – Shawnee High – when I was in elementary school. He had an assistant named Larry Smith. Our teams were really good!

When I was in sixth grade, Coach Young left to become an assistant at Miami of Ohio under some guy named Glenn Schembechler, and Shawnee promoted Smith to head coach. A couple of years later, after a 10-0 season and giving up 6 points the entire year, Smith would join them at Miami, too.

Eventually, Bo got the head coaching job at M-M-M—that team up north (I’m an Ohio State fan), and took Young and Smith with him.

Now, Young, the coach from my old high school, would be coaching the Arizona Wildcats. My college! And he was bringing Smith with him from Ann Arbor as Wildcats’ defensive coordinator.

Jim Young

I was working as a student assistant in the UofA Sports Information Department. Of course, neither Young nor Smith knew me from Adam. They had no idea I was some kid from Lima, Ohio, who had idolized them as a youngster. I wrote most of the UofA football media guide that is distributed to reporters and I did recruiting brochures for the team, including one Coach Young requested when he brought in Nautilus weight-training equipment. That was an innovative approach at the time.

Coach Young won at Arizona with the Veer offense (run magnificently by quarterback Bruce Hill), and then won at Purdue with drop-back passing (with quarterback Mark Herrmann, who went on to play in the NFL for 12 seasons), and finally won at Army with the Wishbone.

Veer, drop back and Wishbone. Three very different attacks. At each stop Young was regarded as an innovator. He was energetic and organized. His UofA team ended a decade-long skid against Arizona State. There is a reason why he is in the College Football Hall of Fame (Class of 1999).

(Smith a few years later would return to Arizona from Tulane as head coach, and I was reunited with him yet again. By then I was at The Arizona Republic as the beat writer covering UofA football. But that’s a story for another day).

Thanks for indulging my little trip down memory lane, but the real reason for this piece is indulging Coach Young’s attempt to get Hill into the Arizona Stadium Ring of Honor.

Coach Young, now 88 and retired in the Ventana Canyon area of Tucson, is aghast that Hill is not in the Ring.

Hill IS in the UofA Athletic Hall of Fame with these credentials:

  • Captained and quarterbacked 1975 Wildcat team that was ranked 12th nationally at season’s end.
  • Career record holder at the time in total offense (6,054 yards) and passing yardage (5,090). Also owned single-game school records at the time for total yards (451) and passing yardage (406).

Young is campaigning hard to get Hill inducted into the Ring during 50-year reunion festivities of his 1973 UofA team this fall.

Young recently penned his appeal, below, and passed it my way. If you hold any sway with the UofA folks who make these decisions, please make them aware of this serious oversight.


By Jim Young

Head Football Coach, University of Arizona, 1973-1976

Bruce Hill was probably the most important QB in Arizona history. He came at a time (1973-75, with a record of 26-7) when both ASU and UofA wanted to get into the Pac-10.

Arizona was not winning in football and had lost nine straight to ASU. UofA needed to prove that it could compete and go with ASU as a pair into the Pac-10.

Bruce, more than anyone, gave UofA three of the school’s best seasons, enhancing UofA’s Pac-10 membership and enlarging the stadium.

Bruce Hill

Bruce mastered a very complicated offense. We put together two totally different offenses: Pro drop-back passing and split-back triple option. Many coaches told me that we could not do both systems.

Bruce made it go. He once went five-plus games without a turnover. He had to read the option and run the football, as well as drop back and throw from the pocket. This was not an easy task.

Winning puts the fans in the stands, and Bruce did put the fans in the stands at a key time in Arizona athletics.

There can be no reason why he is not in the Ring of Honor!

Recently, one of my players called me about their 1973 team’s 50th reunion this fall. I was going to mention to the team at our reunion that Bruce should be in the Ring of Honor.

I had never thought much about the Ring, thinking it was for only a very few former football players. I did not even know that “T” Bell (eventual NFL receiver, who played for Young with Hill at Arizona during that era) was in it!

I was surprised to find so many names and so many QBs in. None of those QBs had Bruce’s won-lost record and at such a critical time in Arizona’s athletic development.

Bruce also was the first Black quarterback at Arizona and has always been loyal and has come back to the campus many times from Los Angeles.

Bruce has the best won-lost record of all Arizona quarterbacks that I could find. He has been totally overlooked and this should change.

Here are the records of the QBs who are in the Ring of Honor vs. Bruce’s record of 26 wins and 7 loses:

  • Ted Bland, 23-12-1, -1932-35.
  • Ed Wilson, 19-10-1, 1959-61.
  • Tom Tunnicliffe, 24-18, 1980-83.
  • Keith Smith, 30-18, 1996-2000.
  • Ortege Jenkins, 30-18, 1997-2000.

Bruce’s record speaks for itself vs. any quarterback in Arizona’s history.

He should be in the Ring of Honor and I would hope that this will be corrected at his team’s 50th reunion this fall.

Lee Shappell, a product of Amphi High and the UofA, is retired and living in Ahwatukee. His 50-year journalism career began at the Tucson Daily Citizen and included a 39-year run at The Arizona Republic.

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