If there’s a guy you could root for in Minnesota sports, it was U of M football coach Jerry Kill, if only to mute the sportswriters who wanted him fired a few years ago when his epilepsy caused him to collapse on the sidelines at several games.
“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,” the Star Tribune’s Jim Souhan wrote in September 2013. “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.”
The column prompted then-editor-in-chief Nancy Barnes to apologize.
“In no way did we intend to suggest that people with epilepsy, or other disabilities, should be hidden away. Nor did we intend to be callous or insensitive to their struggles,” she said.
“Is it possible a coach can be sick and still be a good and inspiring coach?” I asked at the time.
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.
Kill proved to be the inspiration we’d imagined, educating us about an illness that we once thought indicated a person was possessed. He also won a football game or two.
But this is not a time of happy endings in Minnesota sports.
Coach Kill announced today that he is retiring effective immediately due to health reasons. Tracy Claeys has been named interim head coach.
— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 28, 2015
“I’ve coached this game for 32 years. My daughter’s been on the sidelines with me for 21 and my wife’s been in this thing for 32, and my youngest one’s been in it. It’s hard on all of us, but certainly my family. And my daughter’s walked that sideline for all those years,” a visibly devastated Kill told a news conference this morning. “I’ve given every ounce I have for 32 years and the kids I’ve been able to coach. I never stole from anybody, I’m not going to steal now.”
“You all know about the struggles and some of those struggles have returned,” he said. “And I don’t want to cheat the game.”
The urgency, the timing, and the history messages us that this isn’t going to be good news for one of the best educators the University of Minnesota ever had.
“There are no adequate words to describe his contributions to helping kids with epilepsy chase their dreams, and the inspiration he gives to the 60,000 people in our community with epilepsy,” the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota said today.
Here’s the full press release:
University of Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill announced today that he is retiring from his position effective immediately due to medical concerns. Kill is stepping away from college football with a career record of 156-102 and a 29-29 mark at Minnesota.
Minnesota Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz named Tracy Claeys Interim Head Coach this morning. Claeys, who has worked with Kill for 21 years, was previously Minnesota’s Associate Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator.
Claeys served as Minnesota’s Acting Head Coach for seven games during the 2013 season when Kill took time to focus on his health. Minnesota was 4-3 with Claeys was the Acting Head Coach and posted wins against Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana and Penn State.
Kill was named Minnesota’s head coach on Dec. 7, 2010, and took the Gophers to heights not seen in recent years. Last season, Kill led Minnesota to a January 1 bowl game for the first time since 1962 and coached the Gophers to wins against Michigan and Iowa, which had previously not happened in the same season since 1967. Under Kill’s direction, Minnesota also erased a 14-point halftime deficit at Nebraska to beat the ranked Huskers on the road for the first time since 1960. Minnesota won eight games in both 2013 and 2014, which marked only the fifth time since 1906 that Minnesota won eight games in consecutive seasons.
In 2014, Kill was voted the Big Ten’s Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year by the conference’s coaches and the Dave McClain Coach of the Year by the media who cover the Big Ten. He also was named Region 3 Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association for the second straight year. Kill, who was the only repeat winner among the five Football Bowl Subdivision coaches, was recognized by the AFCA for the fourth time, as he was also named a Regional Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2004 while at Southern Illinois.
Last season, Kill coached the Big Ten tight end of the year in Maxx Williams and the Big Ten punter of the year in Peter Mortell and in total five Gophers were named All-Big Ten First Team, the most since 2004.
The NFL also took note of Kill’s rebuilding of the Minnesota program, as six Gophers were selected in the last two NFL Drafts. In 2014, Ra’Shede Hageman was selected in the second round by the Atlanta Falcons and Brock Vereen was a fourth-round pick of the Chicago Bears. In 2015, Maxx Williams was taken in the second round by the Baltimore Ravens, while Damien Wilson (fourth round to the Dallas Cowboys), David Cobb (fifth round to the Tennessee Titans) and Cedric Thompson (fifth round to the Miami Dolphins) also heard their named called by NFL teams.
The four draft picks from 2015 are the most that Minnesota has had since it also had four players picked in 2006. The six combined picks from 2014 and 2015 were more than Minnesota had drafted from 2007-13 (Gophers had four players taken during this time).
Kill’s rebuilding of the Minnesota program also took place in the classroom. The Gophers recorded a 994 Academic Progress Rate (APR) for the 2013-14 season as well as the 2012-13 and 2011-12 seasons. The 994 score is the highest single-season score that the Minnesota football team has ever recorded and the Gophers’ multi-year rate of 975 is also a school record.
Kill By the Numbers:
.605 Winning percentage as a collegiate head coach
1 National Championship. Won as offensive coordinator at Pittsburg (Kan.) State University in 1991
1 Big Ten Coach of the Year (Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year and Dave McClain Coach of the Year) at Minnesota in 2014
2 Mid-American Conference Vern Smith Leadership Award (MVP) winners in three years at NIU
3 National Coach of the Year honors. 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, 2004 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year, 2014 Tom Lemming Coach of the Year
3 Bowl-eligible teams in three seasons at Northern Illinois University. 2008 Independence Bowl; 2009 International Bowl; 2010 Humanitarian Bowl
3 Bowl-eligible team in four seasons at Minnesota. 2012 Meineke Car Care Bowl; 2013 Texas Bowl; 2015 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
4 AFCA Regional Coach of the Year honors. 2003 and 2004 at Southern Illinois, 2013 and 2014 at Minnesota
5 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoff appearances as head coach at Southern Illinois University
6 NFL Draft picks in his tenure at Minnesota
7 First-team All-Big Ten selections in his tenure at Minnesota
10 First-team All-MAC selections in his three-year tenure at Northern Illinois
15 Winning seasons (out of 21) as a collegiate head coach
156 Career victories
— GopherHole.com (@GopherHole) October 28, 2015
“I know people will ask, ‘Coach, what are you going to do?'” he said today. “I don’t know. That’s the scary part. I ain’t done anything else.”
Kill said he met with his players early this morning and he told them what he’s been telling them for years.
“You can’t do football forever.”
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 28, 2015