James Carson Hilyer Jr (born 1935 in Sycamore; died January 26, 2022 in Birmingham) was a nationally certified sport and exercise psychologist, and the first head football coach for the UAB Blazers, guiding the team from an intramural club, through NCAA Division III to NCAA Division I-AA.
Hilyer was born to James and Ivera Stone Hilyer of Sycamore, in Talladega County. He moved in with his grandparents in 9th grade in order to be able to play football at Sylacauga High School. He was offered a scholarship to Itawamba Junior College in Mississippi. From there he was recruited by Florida State University in Tallahassee, but ended up transferring to Stetson University in Deland, Florida.
Hilyer graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology and physical education in 1957 and began his career as a football and track coach at Mainland High School in Daytona Beach, Florida. While there he played for the Orlando Thunderbirds of the Continental Football League for two seasons. In 1963 Hilyer joined Paul Davis' staff at Mississippi State University. After five years with the Bulldogs he was hired by Shug Jordan as an assistant coach with the Auburn Tigers football team. He helped to recruit James Owens, the Tigers' first Black football player.
Washington Redskins coach George Allen brought Hilyer to his NFL staff in 1973. In 1976 he returned to Auburn on Doug Barfield's staff, and remained there for the first year of the Pat Dye era. In 1982 he came to Birmingham as an assistant to Rollie Dotsch for the Birmingham Stallions.
Hilyer was hired as a stretch and conditioning coach for UAB after the Stallions folded in 1985. He served as an assistant professor at the UAB School of Medicine. While at UAB he also completed master's degrees in public health and educational administration, and a doctoral degree in educational psychology. Hilyer accompanied the U.S. Paralympic teams to Athens, Greece and Beijing, China as a sport and exercise psychologist. He also directed a 10-year grant funded by the National Institutes of Health to benefit first responders in Birmingham.
Hilyer inaugurated football as a club sport at UAB with no funding. Hilyer compiled a 28-12-2 (.691) record at UAB, which remains the highest win percentage of any Blazers football coach. He stepped down in order for Watson Brown to take over the program as it advanced to Division I-A. Hilyer was brought back as a special assistant to Bill Clark from 2016 to 2019. He was inducted into the UAB Athletics Hall of Fame in January 2021.
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