Eastern Washington’s offensive juggernaut has been fueled by terrific quarterback play.
And now the man who coached those players is joining the Boise State football coaching staff.
The Broncos are in the process of hiring Zak Hill to fill the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach vacancy left by Eliah Drinkwitz’s departure for North Carolina State.
Hill coached four Big Sky offensive players of the year in seven years as the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator at Eastern Washington, including two-time Payton Award runner-up Vernon Adams Jr.
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Adams, who won the Big Sky award twice, transferred to Oregon in 2015 and starred there, too.
Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin called Hill “the biggest factor in the recruiting and development of not just good quarterbacks, but All-American quarterbacks” for the Eagles, according to The Spokesman-Review.
Hill, 36, was a record-setting quarterback at Central Washington, where Baldwin was his position coach for most of his career.
Hill was named the Hawaii offensive coordinator in early December.
“He’s worked incredibly hard and meant so much to Eastern,” Baldwin said in the press release announcing Hill’s departure. “He’s helped us build our program and our offense, and specifically our passing game.”
Hill had at least two key allies in landing the Boise State job. Wide receivers coach Junior Adams, the only other coach to leave Baldwin’s staff in the past five years, worked with Hill at Eastern Washington.
And former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore put in a good word for him, too. Moore grew up in eastern Washington.
“Zak is awesome,” Moore said in a text to the Idaho Statesman. “Big fan of his.”
Hill, who hasn’t served as an offensive coordinator at the college level, would have called the plays at Hawaii. It’s unclear what his role will be at Boise State, where it’s possible coach Bryan Harsin will take a more active role in the offense. Harsin called plays for about half of the 2013 season at Arkansas State before handing that duty to Drinkwitz, who was a first-time coordinator.
Hawaii’s new coach, Nick Rolovich, has coached quarterbacks at Hawaii and Nevada.
“I’ve heard Zak’s name for a long time and I got the chance to see him work with quarterbacks at various camps,” Rolovich said when announcing Hill’s hiring Dec. 10. “I’ve enjoyed how he’s dealt with the kids. He’s a well-respected offensive mind and has been with a program that’s been consistently successful for many years.”
Hill played quarterback at Central Washingnton from 1999 to 2003. He broke more than 20 league records while throwing for 8,882 yards in his career. He led CWU to an 11-1 record in 2002 and was named a third-team All-American. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
Hill became a student assistant at Eastern Washington (2004-05) before moving to the prep ranks, where he was the offensive coordinator (2006-07) and head coach (2008) at Hillsboro (Ore.) High.
He returned to EWU in 2009 as quarterbacks coach and pass game coordinator. Line coach Aaron Best served as offensive coordinator.
Hill’s first quarterback at EWU was Matt Nichols, who won the Big Sky offensive player of the year award in 2009. Bo Levi Mitchell took over from 2010 to 2011, won another Big Sky award and eventually won a Grey Cup in the Canadian Football League. Adams stepped into the lineup from 2012 to 2014.
In a down year as a team in 2015, quarterback Jordan West finished fifth in the nation in pass efficiency while throwing 30 touchdowns against eight interceptions. The Eagles led the nation in passing offense (353.3 yards per game) and tied for 18th in scoring (34.6 points per game) while going 6-5.
West, who faced the pressure of replacing Adams, set a school record for single-game efficiency rating against Montana State (313.5).
At Boise State, he’ll get to work with true sophomore returning starter Brett Rypien — who, as a Spokane product, likely witnessed some of Hill’s success.
Hill also will be tasked with rebuilding a troubling quarterback depth chart. The Broncos also have former starter Ryan Finley, who will be a redshirt sophomore again if he receives a medical-hardship year, and junior Tommy Stuart on scholarship. But the only other expected scholarship quarterback in 2016 is Jake Constantine, a nearly last-minute addition to the recruiting class after longtime commit Micah Wilson backed out to go to Missouri.
Hill will be the sixth quarterback coach in seven seasons at Boise State, following Harsin (2006-10), Brent Pease (2011), Jonathan Smith (2012-13), Mike Sanford (2014) and Drinkwitz (2015).