Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
What has Jerry Kill's exact role been with the Gophers these past few weeks? I get that question a lot, so here's a quick attempt to clear it up, based on the information at hand.
Basically, it seems like he's back to work full-time, and the only difference has been that he's been coaching from the press box coaching booth on Saturdays with acting head coach Tracy Claeys on the sideline.
On Oct. 10, Kill announced that he was taking time to treat his epilepsy. He went to a level-four epilepsy treatment center in Grand Rapids, Mich., for a few days and a spent some time at his downtown Minneapolis home, away from the office.
He visited Gophers practice before the team left for the Northwestern game on Oct. 18. That night, his wife, Rebecca, drove him to a hotel about 90 miles outside of Evanston, Ill. Kill surprised the team by showing up at Northwestern, and spent that game mostly watching from the coaching booth.
Kill, 52, has been at every practice since that day. Starting with the Nebraska game on Oct. 26, he was heavily involved in the game-planning and in-game decision making. He's been careful not to steal credit from his assistants, but at the same time, the Gophers are fighting a perception that Kill has faded into the background.
Kill has gradually resumed all of his media obligations. For now, Kill plans to continue coaching from the coaching booth, but much of that stems from the fact the team is riding a four-game winning streak.
The Gophers have a bye this week before a key showdown with Wisconsin on Nov. 23.
In an interview Monday on Big Ten Network, Kill said, "I’m fortunate to have Coach Claeys, who’s been with me a long time, and we’ve been able to make the transition pretty easy. It’s just like anything, he gets better [coaching] on the field each week, and I think I’m getting better in the box each week. So it’s worked out good, and we’re having success doing it, and no use to change right now."
Kill went on to tell former Gophers coach and current BTN analyst Glen Mason that they both know there are days as a head coach when you work 15-16 hours.
"I’m still working 11-12-hour days, and really nothing’s changed a whole lot," Kill said, noting that he's been able to delegate more of his duties to Claeys and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover as of late, as he continues to work on his epilepsy treatment.
In the time I've spent around Kill, he's been in good spirits and feisty as ever. Hope that helps clear up some of the questions.
I sat down with Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson today for a story that will run next week. The Gophers have a bye before playing Wisconsin on Nov. 23 in one of their most anticipated games in years.
Nelson said the hip pointer that he suffered during the Indiana game on Nov. 2 feels better now than it did last week. He took another hit on the same right hip early in last Saturday's victory over Penn State.
"The training staff created a little extra padding around that hip, and that saved me really," he said. "You've just got to realize that hip pointers are just a bruise, and it's just a matter of playing through pain, moving around and getting blood flow through it."
Nelson hasn't fumbled or thrown an interception since the Sept. 28 loss to Iowa. During the Gophers' four-game winning streak, he has passed for seven touchdowns and rushed for three more. In Big Ten games, he ranks fourth in Pass Efficiency, at 159.4, behind Braxton Miller (178.4), Devin Gardner (167.5) and Tre Roberson (160.4).
As a team, the Gophers have just two turnovers during their winning streak, compared to eight for their opponents.
"Our coaches do a great job of really emphasizing that," Nelson said. "All throughout fall camp, you don’t want to turn the ball over because then you end up on the Critical Error Chart. I think us an offense not turning the ball over that much lately is a credit to our coaches really putting a great emphasis on that."
Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson knew he’d be sore after getting a hip pointer injury in Saturday’s win at Indiana. But Nelson is managing the pain, and he said he’d be able to practice Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s just a little painful, but the good thing with hips is they can’t get much worse,” Nelson said. “And the only way you can make them better is by continuing to keep moving them, so that’s where I’m at right now.”
In other injury news, Gophers coach Jerry Kill said wide receiver Derrick Engel is questionable for Saturday’s game against Penn State because of a sprained ankle.
“He’s going to be limited [in practice] today, and we’ll see how his progression goes through the week,” Kill said. “He’s got an ankle sprain, and didn’t do much on Sunday, ran a little this morning. … He’s not running full speed. We’ll know more Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and he’s going to do everything he can to be ready.”
Kill said he plans to coach from the press box again Saturday, with Tracy Claeys remaining on the sideline as acting head coach.
“I guess I’m CEO right now, and me in the box right now is the best for the football team and the best for the coach,” Kill said. “And you have to have somebody operating down on the field, an Tracy’s the guy that needs to do that.
“If there’s a situation where if it’s a difficult situation, and I need to come down [to the sideline], then I’m going to do what’s best for the football team, and I’m going to suck it up. Coach [Claeys] is doing a good job.
“I called plays for a lot of years on the boundary. It’s not easy but you can do it, and he’s a pretty gifted, smart, guy.
“Right now, it all goes back to – we’ve won three straight games, and I know from being up in the box, actually I can see better. So I can be a part of a lot of things, and I’ve got people I trust. So why fix something that’s working? My ego’s not that big.”
After Tuesday’s press conference, Kill sat down for an interview with ESPN’s Samantha Ponder for a segment that will run as part of “College GameDay” on Saturday morning.
Gophers coach Jerry Kill handled the team's regular Sunday beat writer briefing today for the first time since Sept. 29, and he was in great spirits coming off the 42-39 victory over Indiana.
The Gophers (7-2, 3-2 in the Big Ten) play host to Penn State next week with a chance to reach eight victories for the first time since they went 10-3 in 2003 under Glen Mason.
"We’re playing for something in November, and we’re playing at home, which is even better," Kill said. "I’m happy for our fans, but by gosh, we need everybody right now. Playing Penn State for the first time [since 2010], we need a packed house, and our players need to be hungry."
* Kill had some somber news, as starting center Jon Christenson will indeed miss the rest of the season with a left leg injury that required surgery Sunday afternoon. Kill couldn't provide other details but said, "I just feel terrible. The game of football’s a great game, but it’s a hard game, and ... he is a beautiful kid, and smart, so it’s a shame."
Kill added, "It’s a shame, however the kid that came in [at center] just did a tremendous job, Tommy Olson. So that’s why we always preach about depth."
* The Gophers aren't ranked in the Top 25 in either poll, but they climbed to No. 31 in the AP poll and No. 30 in the Coaches' poll.
Gophers football coach Jerry Kill continued to resume his duties on Thursday, going on his weekly radio show with Mike Grimm and Mark Rosen on 100.3-FM.
Kill said he still plans to coach from the press box coaching booth at Indiana on Saturday, but he has been doing more and more behind the scenes.
"I understand my back's against the wall; I can't afford any setbacks," Kill said. "But I beat cancer, and I'll beat this [epilepsy] eventually."
Kill described how tough it was to wake up from his seizure on Oct. 5, when his wife told him that he'd missed the game at Michigan. Kill talked about how much it helped his spirits being around the team.
Kill said he has told recruits: "I'm going to be coaching for a long time. If I'm not, I'll call you."
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