Here's a story you don't expect from the first day of preseason practice: Just a few hours before the 2012 Gators take the field for the first time, Florida has announced the resignation of wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill for "personal reasons," effective immediately. In a statement from the university, head coach Will Muschamp said Hill "didn't want to be a distraction" during the upcoming season, and will be replaced on an interim basis by a graduate assistant, former Boise State quarterback Bush Hamdan.
"Aubrey informed me he was resigning for personal reasons that have nothing to do with the University of Florida," Muschamp said. "Aubrey didn't want to be a distraction to our team and our football program and he thought it was best for him to move on. I appreciate Aubrey's efforts and wish him the best moving forward. He will always remain a Gator."
The release does not mention the NCAA or the name Nevin Shapiro, but it doesn't have to. Given the timing and the pointed effort to distance Florida from the reason for Hill's departure, said reason is almost certainly Hill's reported connection to Shapiro, the former University of Miami booster turned convicted Ponzi schemer who remotely detonated a decade's worth of alleged NCAA violations by dozens of Hurricane players and coaches from his New Jersey jail cell last year. The NCAA's investigation is ongoing, and may have expanded beyond the allegations levied by Shapiro.
In Hill's case, though, Shapiro's word may be enough. According to one of the 15 prison interviews Shapiro gave to Yahoo! Sports, Hill – then serving as Miami's wide receivers coach under head coach Randy Shannon – was one of two UM assistants who brought a handful of high-profile recruits to Shapiro's Miami Beach mansion on a recruiting trip in 2008:
"Aubrey Hill came to my house – he was the receivers coach – he came to my house with Clint Hurtt. They were recruiting three players from Sanford, [Fla.] Seminole County. I think in Orlando. [The players were] Andre Debose, Dyron Dye and Ray-Ray Armstrong. I walked those kids through my closet, and there was a very specific recruiting pitch that I gave after showing these kids the UM jerseys I had, which was about 50 of them. He was part of that, and that was my encounter with Aubrey Hill."
From there, the visit reportedly included a ride with the recruits in Shapiro's $200,000 Mercedes S65, arranged by Hurtt, followed by a tour of several Miami bars and clubs on the booster's dime. (Another source confirmed Shapiro's account to Yahoo! reporter Charles Robinson; neither Shapiro nor the coaches was on hand for the club-hopping portion of the evening.) Two of the players, Armstrong and Dye, signed with Miami the following February; Debose signed with Florida. Hill, a former Gator receiver himself, joined Muschamp's staff last year after Shannon was fired from Miami in November 2010.
Compared to some of Shapiro's other claims, an assistant coach hanging around his house during a recruiting visit isn't exactly a headline grabber. But if corroborated, it is more enough to warrant a response from the NCAA, and possibly to threaten Hill's career with a "show cause" penalty. A few days after the Yahoo! exposé dropped last August, Muschamp told the Union-Tribune in Jacksonville that he had no plans to remove Hill from his staff. "I've talked to Aubrey after the article came out," Muschamp said then. "I feel very comfortable with he and I's conversation. I support Aubrey 100 percent. I'm glad he's here at Florida and that's all I'm really going to comment on."
Hill's exit almost exactly one year later, to avoid becoming a "distraction," is another small sign that NCAA investigators are closing in on a resolution in the Shapiro case. If Clint Hurtt is cast out of his current job in Louisville, it may be time to start battening down the hatches.