Dr. Jim Hilyer, first UAB football head coach, passes away at 86 – AL.com

Dr. Jim Hilyer (center) was inducted into the UAB Sports Hall of Fame in 2021 by former player and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox (right) and UAB athletic director Mark Ingram (left). (UAB Athletics)
If Gene Bartow is the Godfather of UAB athletics, then Dr. Jim Hilyer is the father of the UAB football program.
The first head coach of the UAB football program, and former faculty member at the UAB school of medicine, Hilyer passed away Wednesday evening at the age of 86.
“Dr. Jim Hilyer was our football program’s first head coach,” UAB director of athletics Mark Ingram said. “It was our honor to induct him this past year into the UAB Athletics Hall of Fame. Coach Hilyer has meant so much to so many of our players, fans and alumni. The impact that he made will never be forgotten. We mourn his passing; our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
Hilyer began his coaching career as an assistant at Mississippi State (1963-1967) and Auburn (1968-1973) and returned to the Plains for four seasons following a two-year stint as an assistant with the Washington Football Team. He was also an assistant for the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions.
Hilyer took over as stretch and conditioning coach at UAB in 1985, following his time with the Stallions, and became an assistant professor in the UAB School of Medicine while earning his M.P.H. in Health Promotion and Behavior.
During his time with UAB, Hilyer guided the program to a 28-12-1 overall record while overseeing the Blazers’ move from a club-level program to an FCS independent before retiring after the 1994 season. When the program was shuttered and eventually reinstated, Hilyer joined Bill Clark’s staff as a special assistant to the head coach between 2016-2019.
“It is with sadness that we learn about the passing of Dr. Jim Hilyer,” UAB head coach Bill Clark said. “He meant so to the UAB football program and it was special for me that I got have him on my staff. We are praying for his family. Dr. Hilyer is such an important part of UAB and Birmingham.
A four-year letterman under Hilyer, Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox inducted the former UAB coach into the UAB Sports Hall of Fame this past fall and credits Hilyer with his and former teammates’ individual successes following their respective football careers.
“Coach was old school in every sense of the meaning,” Tuscaloosa mayor and former UAB player Walt Maddox said. “Most practices were in full pads and were with full contact. He was no-nonsense and demanding. Most importantly, he was loyal. Loyal to you as a player, loyal to the team and loyal to UAB. He wanted you to fight with every fiber on the field and bring that same intensity to your grades and life.”
Maddox also provided a small insight into Hilyear’s coaching style during a 36-15 blowout over Morehead State during the 1994 season.
“My senior year we were beating Morehead State pretty badly at the half, and the locker room atmosphere reflected this,” Maddox said. “In a flash, he demanded everyone leave the locker room except us few seniors. For the next few minutes, he reminded us of our duty to the team and the example we should be setting. Then, he really hit us. Coach stated that everyone except Josh (Evans) had only a few more quarters of football remaining in our lives and asked us what were we going to do with this opportunity? What were we going to do when this chapter of our life closes? How do we want to remember this?”
Hilyer, along with former player Josh Evans who was inducted posthumously after passing in February 2021, was inducted in the UAB Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the 2020 class while Evans was the 2021 selection.
“In October, dozens of former players were there to be with him when he was inducted into the UAB Sports Hall of Fame,” Maddox said. “We loved Coach Hilyer because he saw us as more than just a football player and we saw him for more than a coach. We will all miss him, and we will all be thankful for him in our lives.”
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