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.

Posts about Gopher coaches

Kill plans Thursday announcement in conjunction with Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: May 13, 2014 - 1:56 PM

According to a press release, Gophers coach Jerry Kill plans to make a "major announcement" Thursday in conjunction with the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota's Rise Above Seizures Day.

Kill, who suffers from epilepsy, will speak at Kieran's Irish Pub in Minneapolis at 10:45 a.m., and take questions from the media, before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Twins/Red Sox game.

“Coach and Rebecca Kill’s partnership continues to help thousands of people and elevate epilepsy awareness to a level we never dreamed possible,” Executive Director Vicki Kopplin said in the release.

Claeys and Limegrover get sizeable raises under new three-year deals

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 23, 2014 - 3:18 PM

Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys got an annual raise to $600,000, and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover will make $550,000 under the terms of their new three-year contracts signed this month.

The Star Tribune obtained copies of the new deals Wednesday through a data practices act request. Claeys had been making $346,800, and Limegrover was at $341,800 under their previous contracts.

All nine of Coach Jerry Kill’s assistant coaches received raises, thanks to language in Kill’s new contract that ensures his assistant coaching salary pool will rank in the top six of the Big Ten.

Kill’s seven other assistant coaches each got new two-year deals. Here are the new salaries:

Quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski: $253,000

Defensive backs/special teams coach Jay Sawvel: $253,000

Defensive line coach Jeff Phelps: $230,000

Running backs coach Pat Poore: $230,000

Wide receivers coach Brian Anderson: $230,000

H-backs/tight ends coach Rob Reeves: $230,000

Linebackers coach Mike Sherels: $181,000

Assistant coaches salaries are on the rise throughout the sport. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi will be paid $904,600 this year. And according to the Washington Post, Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley just got a raise to $625,000.

Gophers offer fans up-close access to practice, team meetings and training table -- for $2,000

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: April 16, 2014 - 3:05 PM

Gophers coach Jerry Kill is offering 25 fans up-close access to the team during fall camp -- including practices, team meals and position meetings -- at a cost of $2,000.

The Gophers announced today that they'll be hosting their first "Boys of Fall Elite Camp" from Aug. 1-3 -- the first three days of fall camp.

The release says, "In addition to getting to know the team and staff on a personal level, attendees will also have unfiltered access to the day-to-day operations of a Big Ten football program.

"Campers will receive an in-depth look at Coach Kill’s offensive, defensive and special team’s philosophy and will be able to attend all team, position and special teams meetings with student-athletes and coaches. Attendees will also attend practice each day and will partake in the team’s training table. Each person who attends will also receive gifts, athletic gear and will eligible for raffle prizes."

The camp will be limited to 25 participants. It costs $2,000. The web site says, "Your financial support will assist in the enhancements of our football program." For more information, click here.

Boy's of Fall Elite Camp

Starts: 5 p.m., Aug. 1
Ends: 2 p.m., Aug. 3
Cost: $2,000 ($500 non-refundable deposit due at registration)
Total Participants: 25
Deadline To Register: July 1, 2014

A blast from Jerry Kill's past: Former Webb City QB visits Gophers practice

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: March 8, 2014 - 4:23 PM

Before Jerry Kill had Jordan Lynch and Mitch Leidner, he had Mark Smith.

The lineage of Kill’s strong running quarterbacks really stretches back to his first head coaching job, at Webb City (Mo.) High School.

Smith was in eighth grade and didn’t even play football when Kill arrived as Webb City’s new coach in 1988.

“I thought I was heading to the NBA,” Smith said Saturday, after watching a Gophers spring practice. “Coach Kill talked to me, and he told me I was going to play quarterback, and I was like, OK.”

Webb City had a decent football program, good enough to win a conference title here and there but never a state championship.

“Coach Kill got to town, and he went to all the schools and wanted any male student to at least come and listen to him talk about the program,” Smith said. “I remember thinking, ‘Who the heck is this guy?’

“He looks like he did then, only he had a little bit thicker hair and glasses. But he came in there, he had the chubby old finger sticking up there, telling everybody how great football was going to be. He said, ‘Just give them the opportunity, people will get so excited, they’ll be throwing babies in the aisle.’”

In the fall of 1988, Smith played linebacker as a freshman under Kill as Webb City went 11-1. The next year, Smith played quarterback, and the team went 14-0, winning Missouri’s 4A State Championship.

There’s a fantastic highlight video from that season, featuring an interview with Kill, who sounded the same as he does now, talking behind those huge glasses. Smith looked like a man among boys, even as a sophomore.

Kill left the following year to become the offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh (Kan.) State. Smith eventually went to Arkansas, where he played four years and became an All-SEC linebacker. He also played two seasons with the Chiefs.

These days, Smith still lives in Southwest Missouri and works as a regional insulin salesman for Norvo Nordisk.

“I mean 25 years later, I still remember [Kill’s coaching],” Smith said. “He talked about the mental aspect of the game, being able to handle adversity. That’s a blue-collar town anyway. The kids were all close, and he just kind of tied it all together and told us to go.

“It was one of those deals that kids are looking for a leader, and for some unknown reason Coach Kill showed up in Webb City.”

For Smith’s 40th birthday, his wife surprised him with a trip to go visit Jerry and Rebecca Kill in Minnesota. Smith is staying at their house this weekend.

“It’s the best present I’ve ever gotten,” Smith said. “It’s been 25 years, and he’s a head coach at a Division I school. My wife calls him up, and he opens up his home to me,” Smith said. “That tells you what kind of person he is.”

Mike Sherels officially promoted to Gophers linebacker coach

Posted by: Joe Christensen Updated: March 7, 2014 - 1:46 PM

Mike Sherels has officially been promoted to Gophers linebacker coach. The team made it official Friday with a press release touting Sherels' rise from walk-on player to two-time captain to graduate assistant and now full-time coach.

Sherels replaces Bill Miller, who left to become the linebackers coach at Florida State.

"I am very happy for Mike,” Coach Jerry Kill said in the press release. "He has been with us for the last three years and knows and understands what we are trying to do here. He is a former two-time Gopher captain and truly loves Minnesota. This really is a dream come true for him.

“Mike is a terrific on-field coach and is a relatable presence to today's players. I cannot wait to see him recruit, as nobody can tell our story better than him. I expect his transition to be a smooth one and am excited to see him embrace his new role."

A Rochester native, Sherels made 30 starts at linebacker for the Gophers between 2003 and 2007, recording 219 tackles.

“I am extremely thankful to Coach Kill and the rest of the staff for having the belief in me to handle this job,” Sherels said in the press release. "It is a dream come true to coach at my alma mater and to represent my home state.”

Note: The Gophers will hold their third spring practice on Saturday at 11:20 a.m. They were originally scheduled to practice Sunday, as well, but they announced today that they have moved that practice to a later date, to be determined.

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