Detractors stay silent as Jerry Kill proved them wrong

Nati Harnik / Associated Press

By all accounts, Jerry Kill is far too nice of a guy to say what must be said to those dunderheads in Minnesota who last year declared someone with an illness can’t be a college football coach.

Kill, the coach of the University of Minnesota, has epilepsy and after he had a fourth seizure on the sidelines a year ago, the sportswriters who probably know nothing about epilepsy called for him to be fired.

We’re looking at you, Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune.

The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference. No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.

It can’t?

Even those who admire him most can’t believe that he should keep coaching major college football after his latest episode. Either the stress of the job is further damaging his health, or his health was in such disrepair that he shouldn’t have been hired to coach in the Big Ten in the first place.

He shouldn’t have?

Kill is unable to fulfill his duties.

He is?

Kill was getting additional treatment for his illness at the time Souhan, a handful of radio sports talk hosts, and the fan boys who support them were declaring he was a lost cause and had to go.

Then there was Gregg Doyel, a columnist for CBS Sports.

That’s Jerry Kill’s job. But should it be? I’m not asking for him. Apparently he’s decided what’s best for him, and that’s his right.

But what about what’s best for everyone else?

And there’s Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, who rushed to Souhan’s defense.

Nobody is suggesting that an epileptic can’t pursue his or her dreams. But there are certain things you can’t do — like drive, which Kill can’t do — when you’re beset by this disease. Every week, Kill has players and coaches counting upon him to be there, to be healthy.

Sadly, that hasn’t been the case, and likely won’t be the case in the future.

They can paint Souhan as the heavy here, but he’s only saying what needs to be said, what very few others in the media are willing to say for fear of being looked upon as insensitive or politically incorrect.

Yesterday, the University of Minnesota Gophers were rewarded for their outstanding season with an invitation to play in the Citrus Bowl, a New Year’s Day game.

Oh, by the way, that comes a week after Jerry Kill was named the Big Ten coach of the year.

Souhan, Doyel, Kravitz, the sports radio hosts, and most of the fanboys have had nothing to say since Kill proved them all wrong.

  • Gary F

    Kill also has lost weight over the last year and stopped drinking Diet Coke. He said he used to drink a lot of Diet Coke. Losing weight and cutting down on the caffeine is good for a guy with a high stress job, probably even better for a guy with epilepsy.

    I agree also that we can’t continue on with a coach having seizures on the field on game day. But Kill may have also taken this as a wake up call, and realized that things within his control were possibly causing things out of his control if he was going to reach the next level.

    Souhan should write an article on the new Jerry Kill.

    I’ve met the guy, I am a U of Mn alum, and I want the guy to be successful at the U of MN.

    • But the thing is, Kill wasn’t doing nothing about his illness. His docs were also tinkering with medication. Sometimes things take time. Sometimes we have to be a little patient.

      Sometimes the education afforded by a university happens on the football field.

  • TominEagan

    Coach Kill is truly a class act. We are fortunate to have him.

  • John O.

    Agreed, Gary! You can bet the house that Jerry Kill doesn’t go to Boynton Health Service at the University of Minnesota either. He’s getting Cadillac care because of the investment the U of M is finally putting into this program.

    This town went crazy when the Little Elf (Lou Holtz) showed up in ’84 and one tangible positive from that mess was the indoor practice facility that is now coming up on 30 years old. He was gone before the end of the ’85 season and a lot of people (myself included) pretty much gave up on the football program.

    I want Coach Kill and his staff to stay and build on what they have started. Whether the corporate community is willing to reallocate more money to the U of M and less to the other pro sports teams in this town remains to be seen.

  • Brian Estrada

    This is very unfair to those columnists. Had the seizures continued with regularity, then the situation WOULD have been intractable. If Kill had not willingly bowed out, the University might have been forced to make an extremely unpleasant move. It should not give folks the vapors to point this out.
    I am thrilled Kill has made adjustments and is healthy. But it is the height of obtuseness to deny that in the immediate aftermath of that most recent seizure, questions had to be raised about whether he should continue.

    • You’ll note they weren’t raising questions. Those were declarative sentences in those pieces.

      You’ll also note another thing about all of those pieces: Not a single one included a shred of information from someone informed about epilepsy.

      Not one.

      • Brian Estrada

        “Lets come to a greater understanding of epilepsy” is a laudable and worthy topic.
        “Should Jerry Kill continue to occupy the head coach chair at University of Minnesota while tackling this health issue” is a different topic, and one might take different legitimate positions on it.
        I just think the demonization you are engaged in is off target, and the sanctimonious tone is irritating.
        I don’t know Souhan or even like most of what he writes.

    • Gopher77

      Brian Estrada – I hope your employers give you the same lack of compassion the next time you develop a challenging but manageable health condition.

      • Brian Estrada

        Jim Souhan is not Jerry Kill’s employer.
        Hi is paid to have strong opinions and he gave one.
        On principle, do you think people should remain in positions if they cannot discharge those duties? What it looked like the day after Kill’s last seizure was quite bleak. It is a blinkered view of compassion to suggest “thou shalt not point out unfortunate facts.”
        Had the University decided to remove Kill from the position, that would have been unfortunate and sad, but justifiable given the data available on that date. They took another option open to them, and it has paid off. I am quite happy for Kill and am a big fan of what he is doing and who he seems to be as a coach and person.

        • Eric

          The fact that anyone thinks that Souhan is paid simply for “strong” opinions is frightening. The comments section of most websites are filled with strongly held opinions which are not worthy of print. As Bob pointed out, Souhan didn’t do a thought piece on Epilepsy in high-stress high-visibility jobs. Had he done that he surely would have- I don’t know- talked to one person who treats or has epilepsy. He would have found high-level fortune 500 execs in MPLS who have epilepsy. But Jim didn’t do that. He wrote a hatchet piece and explicitly stated that Mr Kill’s disability makes him uncomfortable. Nice. The system which rewards columnists for simply being a lightning rod without compassion or god forbid context is sick and any defense of it will be difficult to accept.

        • Tom Waske

          Poor Brian. You’ve stepped into a discussion you’re woefully unprepared for. As the leader of the Gopher program, the “day after” did not look “bleak” due to the planning and preparation Kill put into place. The plan worked so efficiently the Gophers won the next four conference games, something the program hadn’t done in decades. And, doctors also seem to have solved Kill’s health issues, too. But, make no mistake, the job Kill was hired to do was and is taking place: rebuild the Gopher football program into a championship contender.

  • Carol A.

    Bob Collins, I am blown away by how spot on this is! You are exactly right – I quit the Star Tribune in protest over the Souhan debacle, and wrote / called everyone in their top admin to tell them that Souhan needed to go or at the very minimum apologize profusely. Neither has happened, so than you for this article. I’ll be sharing it with everyone I know who has an interest in Gopher Football, which is becoming the best game in town. I will be in Orlando on January 1st, some place I never expected to be any time soon! Congratulations, Coach Kill, the entire coaching staff and the Gopher Football team!

  • Steve

    Souhan is a terrible writer, and I’m surprised he hasn’t been replaced by now, regardless. Regardless of the topic, his conclusions are almost always wrong. I blasted him after that article, but that’s just par for the course for Souhan. I have a family history of seizures, and I knew it usually takes a little tinkering to get the right medication and the right dosage. Seizures are as old as man, and there are a bunch of treatment options. After meds, the next step was to get more than 2-3 hours of sleep at night, and eat regular meals. Basic lifestyle stuff. 1 in 10 of us will have a seizure in our lifetime, and that could include Souhan. If so, he should immediately “do the right thing” and resign his position.

  • illudiumQ36

    Great article, Bob. And a special congratulations to you and MPR for the best application of the word “dunderheads” in the history of Public Media.

  • Elizabeth

    Mr. Collins,
    thank you for this. Mr.Souhan was allowed to publish ignorant opinions with no understanding of his own recommendations. I was expecting a comment from him/his editors after Coach Kill’s award to the effect of “well, that was my opinion, I might be wrong but I’m paid to have an opinion”. I guess they have opted with “Let’s be quiet and hope no one remembers.”

    I wouldn’t have been so offended if he hadn’t simply called for Coach Kill’s firing. I wouldn’t have been so offended if Mr. Souhan had written one rash piece and dropped it. I was offended. Gravely so.

    Sincerely,
    Elizabeth
    22 months without a seizure

  • Kathy

    My nephew was diagnosed with epilepsy two years ago, just after his 18th birthday and just before graduating from high school. I’m thrilled that someone with this high a profile is doing a great job and dealing with his condition in such a straightforward way. I give the U of M a lot of credit for standing by him and not making his medical condition an issue (as far as I can recall, anyway). Both Coach Kill and the U of M are setting great examples.

  • John

    I live in Nebraska and am not fully familiar with the article written calling for Kill’s firing because he has epilepsy. But the quotes in the article, if not taken out of context, are very misinformed and rash.

    Everyone is different but, like me, Jerry Kill and his doctors only needed time. It was wrong to feel he could not be effective at his job while his medical condition was being attended to. It was wrong to just assume he would always have seizures and say so without knowing anything of his medical case. It was wrong to call for him to be removed.

    I was diagnosed with epilepsy about 40 years ago when I was 10. I remember having up to 4 seizures in a day while the doctors worked to find the correct dosage of medicines. Despite this, i was able to live a life like any other kid, maintained straight A’s, etc. Within a year the doctors got things under control. I cannot remember the last time i had any issue even during stressful times like working on my master’s degree.

    If you know anything about epilepsy, you know that it is completely manageable – much like a physical injury. How many star player are kicked off teams when they have a season ending leg injury? Not many. The truth is, even while working to get epilepsy under control, Kill could and did contribute much more than any sidelined player and continues to add to the future of Minnesota sports.

    Kudos to the U sticking with Jerry Kill and to Jerry for sticking with the job despite such misinformed criticism. The only concern I have about Jerry Kill is how long can Minnesota keep him.

  • Lois

    Basic common sense and compassion for people shouldn’t allow the kind of article Souhan and others wrote. I hope they never get ill in front of anybody, but if they do, it would serve them right. Jerry Kill is an awesome human being and coach.

  • Jay

    Thanks for bringing attention to this Bob. The naysayers have gotten their comeuppance with this season’s successes. Another thing that I think needs some media attention is the fact that he’s also great fit for the U of M because he kind of resembles a gopher. Not all coaches look like their school mascot. There’s something to be said for that.

    • Andrew Sullivan

      Whereas Souhan just looks like an ass…

  • Mark McCubbin

    Bob, as someone with epilepsy, I want to thank you for this column. Jerry Kill has done an amazing job of raising epilepsy awareness. It’s unfortunate that those that wrote disparaging columns last year don’t have the courage to step up and admit they were wrong. A coach or player battles cancer and they’re portrayed as brave and a hero, often justly and deservedly. But someone battles epilepsy, a misunderstood and often visually unsettling condition, and people say you’re unfit for a job.

  • Steveo

    Regardless of his success this year, doesn’t declaring victory only one season removed from his on-field attacks (for which he had to quit coaching for a period) seem extremely premature? That said, couldn’t be happier for Coach and hope he has found a daily regimen that works for him.

    • I wouldn’t think so. The point is one can live with epilepsy. And one can coach with it. He may very well have another attack. So be it if he does.