5 x 8: Can Jerry Kill be a coach?


The world is full of inspiring stories of people overcoming obstacles to live independently in a world that favors the “normal” and “healthy.” The stories teach us.

Jerry Kill could be one of those stories on a campus that’s in the business of teaching and inspiring young people. But he makes his living in a business that’s about making other people feel better about themselves by winning football games and he probably won’t get the chance.

Kill suffered another epileptic seizure at halftime of the University of Minnesota’s football game on Saturday and the vultures are circling. The Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan writes that he has to go:

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.

What’s odd here is that Souhan said nothing when Rick Adelman, coach of the Timberwolves, took weeks off from work last season because his wife was having seizures.

Is it possible a coach can be sick and still be a good and inspiring coach?

In Aberdeen, South Dakota a few years ago, Don Meyer, a former Hamline coach, passed Bobby Knight for most collegiate basketball victories. He did it while in a wheelchair; he’d lost his leg in an accident. He also did it with liver cancer.


When he was in Houston last season for a bowl game, a boy asked a question of Kill at an event.

“I have epilepsy,” the boy said. “Do you think I’ll ever have a girlfriend?”

A lot of healthy people have proven they can’t coach at the University of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Kill’s coaches and players shook it off and — since they were coached to do so — carried on without him on Saturday.

“They handled it great,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “They did not panic at halftime and played very well in the second half. Defensively, this is the first time since I have been here that we have been able to pin teams deep and keep them there.”

We’re not used to seeing the struggle against epilepsy that talented people fight. Maybe it makes us uncomfortable.

Gregg Doyel, a CBS national columnist says that should be enough of Kill.

Kill is doing good work for Minnesota football, and for epilepsy patients, and I’m thinking about that as I write this.

But I’m also thinking about everyone else in the stadium the next time Kill has a seizure during a game, whether it’s at home or on the road. People die from epileptic seizures. It’s called Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), and according to EpilepsyFoundation.org it happens to about one in 1,000 epilepsy sufferers per year. But the odds go way up for people who, like Kill, have more frequent seizures — as high as one in 150 people.

Could Jerry Kill be that one in 150? Gosh I hope not. You hope nobody dies from epilepsy ever again, but denial doesn’t do any good. People really do die every year from epileptic seizures, and Jerry Kill really does have multiple seizures every year, and his seizures really do seem to be increasing in frequency, exacerbated by the stress of coaching a Big Ten football team on game day.

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?

What about it?


As promised, Aaron J. Brown, who writes Minnesota Brown, delivered his prescription for what ails northern Minnesota.

There is no economic alternative to mining, supporters of copper and mineral mining on the Iron Range say. But Brown says it’s unlikely the people promising environmental stewardship while extracting minerals will be the same ones who are in charge when the mines eventually close; that’s not the way the mining business works these days, he says.

He acknowledges, though, that the environmental processes being proposed by Polymet, which wants to dig near the Boundary Waters, could be game changing.

His solution?

Only we can save the Iron Range 21st Century. Stop waiting for the mines, or complaining about them. All Iron Range mental, emotional and financial resources should be dedicated to streamlining education into innovative fields.

Every Iron Range resident should be called upon directly to pursue community improvement, whether through volunteerism, organizing, investment or simple beautification. We must come in out of the woods, out of our internal worlds to give something tangible to our sense of place.

Yes, many give countless hours and dollars already, but that hasn’t been enough. We will find that a little bit more from all of us would go further. We can’t wait for the same folks, the same institutions to bail us out again. Some of our greatest community servants are literally elderly, giving more of themselves than they should have to. Others must step up now.

We must encourage the arts, new businesses, and independent workers who would benefit from living in a beautiful, affordable place. Our infrastructure must match this goal — developing our towns (not our outskirts of town), expanding internet affordability and availability across the region.

We must welcome others, because the Iron Range of the future will be populated by people whose great-grandparents came from Maplewood or Mexico, not necessarily Montenegro.

“Put your life where you mouth is,” Brown says to the city slickers who are opposing expanded mineral mining in the area, “and move here.”


There is no longer any competition for Husband of the Year. It’s Larry Swilling of South Carolina who walked the streets with a signboard when his wife’s health was failing and she needed a kidney.

She got a kidney.

“He wouldn’t have stopped ’til he got me one,” his wife said.

Last January, I told you about another man who was begging for a kidney — this time in Oregon. I haven’t been able — yet — to find out how that turned out. The Facebook page — Earl Needs A Kidney — has been taken down.

This would be an appropriate day to sign up to be an organ donor.


Polls are only muddying the water when it comes to understanding America.

Here’s an example:

A poll over the weekend says more than anything else, Americans are worried about getting access to health care.

A poll out this morning says the plurality of those surveyed are either strongly or somewhat opposed to the so-called Obamacare plan.


It appeared to be a long line of Minnesotans heading to Chicago over the weekend, and not to watch the woeful Vikings. The Replacements were playing their second show since getting back together.

The Current’s Andrea Swensson writes it was as special as the Toronto appearance two weeks ago.

But what the ‘Mats proved tonight, at their second of three Riot Fest gigs is that they continue to capture and channel the wry, irreverent, and searing energy that made them such a legendary band to begin with.

Though the crowd wasn’t quite as intimate or insane as the one in Toronto (which was only about a quarter of the size of Chicago’s fest), the band demonstrated that their debut reunion gig wasn’t some kind of crazy fluke.

In fact, their Chicago set was even looser and rowdier, at times almost completely unraveling, and it was downright exhilarating watching them ride the rails and drive the performance forward with an unbridled momentum.

Bonus I:
An interesting coincidence over the weekend. At roughly the same time that local pal Chuck Olsen was taking a picture of the Badlands…

So was Karen Nyberg, the Minnesota native aboard the International Space Station…

Incidentally, the space station’s orbit takes it over Minnesota in the morning this week: Tomorrow at 5:15 am (in the Twin Cities), twice on Wednesday (4:28 and 6:01), Thursday at 5:15 am and twice on Friday (4:28 and 6:01).

Bonus II: The look of Sioux Falls. A guide to the architecture. (James Fallows)

Bonus III: Rise of Hastings’ new bridge, fall of old one pictured daily (TwinCities.com)

Does Minnesota need a higher minimum wage?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: A discussion on whether the Minnesota gasoline tax should be increased.

Second hour: Rethinking senior communities and housing.

Third hour: At the end of this academic year, seniors at colleges and universities across the country will begin taking a new test aimed at assessing the skills they learned throughout their college career. Advocates of the assessment say this test will allow potential employers to look beyond a student’s GPA to see if they are prepared for a job. Critics say this “one-size-fits-all” approach to assessing “value added” during college years is a flawed way to truly assess graduates.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ecolab CEO Doug Baker, Art Rolnick and others speaking about how to have a thriving innovation economy.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – The Takeaway bike challenge opens this morning.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Melissa Block launches a week of stories from Brazil. Will the country be ready for next years World Cup? “Without a doubt” says one official from Northeastern Brazil.

  • MrE85

    1) Related (and sincere) question: would a student with epilepsy be allowed to play NCAA football?
    4) The Affordable Health Care Act is complex, and many people don’t have interest for anything more complicated than “American Idol.” These are the people who elected the people who passed the law, as well as the people who still oppose it. Go figure.

  • jon

    @#1) Any job that is worth doing will lead to your own obsolescence at some point.
    A good leader, shouldn’t need to be there 100% of the time, he should give his people the tools to do what needs to be done, and let them do it. The same applies to a good coach, his staff, and his players should know what needs to be done, and do it, even if he isn’t present to reinforce what needs to be done.

    @#2) I’d love to!! I’d just need a job for me, and another one for my wife, When you can arrange for jobs that fit our skills (IT for me) in the range, and give me one, I’ll move there in a heartbeat.

    @#4) I recall facebook posts of people signing up for the online state markets setup by Obamacare, stating “I don’t really know how well this will work, but it’s got to be better than Obamacare.”
    Then again, others on facebook posting about how terrible Obamacare is, and then state that we could solve all of our nation’s health care problem by putting congress on the same healthcare plan as the rest of the country which is a provision of Obamacare.
    The far right has done a great job demonizing Obamacare, and neither side has yet to really explain what it is in a concise enough way for the general public to latch on to.

  • KTN

    No. He might be a good coach, and is most likely a good guy, but he is unable to perform his job, and unless sympathy is now a valid reason for employment, he ought to step aside. The other examples cited of folks with disabilities still in their jobs are non sequiters; although they may have physical issues, they remain conscience and continue to perform their responsibilities. Kill, not so much.

    • From the story: ” Defensively, this is the first time since I have been here that we have been able to pin teams deep and keep them there.”

      How did that happen?

  • Aaron

    A good leader knows when they are not benefiting who they are leading. What would Jerry do if he didn’t have seizures but his D or O coordinator did. Would Jerry keep them around? The U knew about the condition of his health when they hired him. If the athletes are doing well off the field and winning games – let him keep his job. If the performance of the team spirals down, find someone who can win games.

  • John O.

    1) I’m guessing that page views are one of the new metrics by which a news organization like the Strib measures “performance.” Mr. Souhan has developed a habit of writing increasingly shrill columns that might qualify as “troll bait,” and he rarely disappoints. Seizures or not, Jerry Kill is making a difference with this program that has nowhere to go but up.
    To Mr. Souhan and others who would suggest that Kill should not be employed due to his condition, my question is simply this: where is the line drawn with respect to a head coach (or any employee, for that matter) being “fit” versus “unfit” to do their job?

  • GT

    Everyone who uses a sick day should be fired. People with epilepsy can’t hold jobs. I would never hire anyone with asthma. God forbid someone with seasonal allergies tries to have a job. I will be sending an e-mail to the head of HR here because I work with someone that is lactose intolerant. Who cares about them? The important question is, “But what about what’s best for everyone else?”
    I hope Kill has a very long tenure with the Gophers.

  • Lisa

    1) Perhaps I’m being obtuse, but I’m not getting Doyle’s logic. I’m overweight, so I’m more likely to have a heart attack/get a brain aneurysm even though the likelihood of that happening is very small. Should I be let fired lest I die on the job?

  • Huxley Sanderson

    Who cares what Souhan thinks? He gets paid to write about sports, he doesn’t get paid to not write thoughtless drivel. I remember seeing a Souhan headline about how Childress’s job was in no danger, then hours later hearing that Childress had been fired. The Strib quietly pulled the column from the website.
    And the CBS columnist is apparently a doctor in his free time, capable of diagnosing mortality risk using google?
    I hate to be the bearer of slightly disappointing news, but this is college football, it isn’t the situation room during the bin Laden raid. Also, a coach’s job doesn’t start at the beginning of a game and end at the end of the game. If Kill has qualified people who can step in during a seizure, then there isn’t necessarily any reason to believe that he can’t provide a coached team.

  • Do Gregg Doyel and Jim Souhan realize you can’t fire someone due to a health condition? I liked Phil Mackey’s ideas in his 1500ESPN column. Look into whether it would help Kill to coach from the booth or delegate game-day management.

    • DavidG

      Mostly true. They would first have to prove that the person was no longer capable of performing the duties of the job, even with reasonable accommodations. In this case, that would be pretty tough to prove.

      I hope Souhan will be comfortable with the multimillion dollar check the U would be writing if they take his advice.

  • DanA

    Mr. Souhan is entitled to his opinion, even if it is 50 years outdated. However, he should stick to writing about sports as he lacks sufficient sensitivity and perspective to write about much else. I suspect his thoughts on the matter are shared by many sports fans who don’t want to be associated with anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or inferior. As you say, it’s “a business that’s about making other people feel better about themselves by winning football games.”

  • Ben Brown

    1) Jerry Kill is the perfect coach for the U of M: a spunky, nose-to-the-grindstone, overachiever (as he says, “Just look at my wife!”) who specializes in program building/reclamation and who happens to have epilepsy. To ostracize him over a medical condition is sad and pathetic. I for one hopes he is around here for a long time to come.

  • Craig

    The U makes a solid values statement by employing Kill, what kind of statement does the Strib make by employing Souhan?

  • Josie

    1) I have very mixed feelings about this topic. A friend of mine passed away last week, she had epilepsy, I’m told she had a seizure and did not survive.
    Sounds like Kill is doing a great job. I don’t know his health condition and if his risk of dying is high. If it is and the stress of coaching causes them, then I think he owes it to himself, family and friends to step down from his position.