By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Bernard Hill's favorite part of his job was also the thing he liked best about his days as an Auburn football student-athlete.
"The best part of the job is people," says Hill, Auburn's Senior Associate Athletics Director. "I love people. I love interacting with people. I love helping people. I love talking to people."
As a sport administrator, Hill works with coaches and student-athletes, "trying to put them in the best place to be successful."
When a student-athlete's eligibility ends, Hill's work continues.
"I work with our former letter winners, stay in contact with them, to figure out if we can be positive influences in what they're doing," he says. "Help them if they run into difficult times. We do the same thing with our current student-athletes. Provide an opportunity for them as they transition away from the University into the workforce. Try to give them the necessary tools to be successful after they leave Auburn."
A football star at Handley High School in Roanoke, Ala., Hill continued a family tradition by attending Auburn.
"I always knew I was coming to Auburn," he says. "My mom went to school at Auburn. She was one of my heroes."
Hill did not realize at the time that being part of Auburn's football program was training him for his future career.
"Being able to be around the guys. To earn their respect, that was important for me. I got a chance to do that," he says. "The camaraderie, that's what it was all about to me."
After earning a degree in health and exercise promotions, Hill went home to Roanoke to start coaching. But the pull to return to Auburn was strong.
He reached out to Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs, who oversaw Auburn's event management at the time. Jacobs offered an internship.
"Bernard's work ethic, his character and integrity were the qualities I saw," Jacobs says. "I saw someone who was dedicated to excellence."
After serving as a compliance assistant and event management intern in Auburn's athletic department, Hill worked for Stetson University in Florida for five years. Once again, Auburn called.
"I didn't know if I would get an opportunity to come back, but when the opportunity came, I knew I had to come back," Hill says. "It was great to be in close proximity to my brother and my sister. I'm the oldest of three. My parents have been married for 47 years and still reside in Roanoke. It was a no-brainer to get a chance to come back to Auburn."
"It's great to have former student-athletes working in athletics because they can empathize with what our current student-athletes are going through," Jacobs says. "There's a trust relationship between Bernard and our student-athletes. He also has the ability to see around the curve, to anticipate potential issues before they arise. That's just invaluable."
Now in his second decade as an Auburn administrator, Hill's mission is clear.
"Impacting the lives of young men and women is the reason I got into this business," he says. "What I always wanted to do was make a difference in their lives.
"My goal has never been to be an athletic director or worry about what chair I was sitting in," Hill says. "But to have an opportunity to positively impact young men and women. And we can do that no matter what role we're in. That's what I love most about the job every day."
One of the chairs in which Hill has continued to sit during his time at Auburn has been in the classroom.
"My mom is a teacher, so I'm a lifelong learner," he says. "I would ask my mom when I was about 6, `Where is Daddy at?' She would say, `He's behind that preposition.'"
Inspired by his mother's example, he earned a master's and PhD in higher education administration. From his father, Leon, Hill says he learned about mental toughness along with how to be to a great husband and an involved dad.
"I'm always desiring to push myself," he says. "My goal is try to do more. And so I'm always trying to figure out how to go after that next thing. Never being really satisfied. Always trying to figure out what more can I do."
Dr. Hill and his wife, Sherina, are passing along the importance of education to their 6-year old daughter, Kylie Grace, and 5-year old son, Christian Bernard.
When Christian was nine months old, he spent a month at Children's Hospital following surgery to remove a liver tumor.
"He's doing really well. I'm very thankful for that," Hill says. "He gave me a new appreciation for what's really important.
"For me, it's about service. I'm a big believer in being a servant leader. It's really not about me. It's about making a difference and trying to be part of something bigger than me. I hope every day when I come to work, I inspire people by what I do. And it's really not about what I can get out of it, but what I can give back to people. That is my motivation, and that's what I try to do every day."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer