There were 130 schools in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision participating in the first day of the new early-signing opportunity on Wednesday. Coast to coast, there were expressions of optimism over the signees, along with confidence in many places that the recruiting haul would be improved in February.
Jerry Kill participated in the FBS' February signing ritual for three seasons at Northern Illinois and five more at the University of Minnesota, but as the signatures from recruits rolled in Wednesday, he was riding across country with his wife, Rebecca, at the wheel and the family dog, Hercules, on his lap.
"Hercules is a little bitty thing,'' Kill said. "He's 12, and those are dog years. Football coaches are the same. We live in dog years, too.''
Kill's ongoing struggle with epilepsy caused him to retire as the Gophers head coach seven games into the 2015 season. He spent a year working as a football administrator in the Kansas State athletic department.
"Football is an addiction, and I'm an addict,'' Kill said. "I had been seizure-free for over a year, when this Rutgers deal came up. I said to Rebecca, 'I want to try it again. I might be able to handle it.' "
Chris Ash was entering his second season at Rutgers and was looking for an offensive coordinator. The Scarlet Knights were 0-9 in the Big Ten in 2016; meaning, as was his custom in five stops as a college head coach, Kill wasn't walking into a cushy job as a coordinator.
"We won three Big Ten games this year,'' Kill said. "I'm not sure how that happened, except we had some fighters on this team.''
Overall, the Knights were 4-8, and the toughest of those losses to take was against a MAC team, Eastern Michigan, in the second game. That was also the game in which Kill was run over on the sideline and wound up being hospitalized.
"That's where it started,'' Kill said Wednesday, referring to a return of the struggle with epilepsy.
By midseason, the epilepsy doctors that have done exceptional work for Kill were telling him to step away again — that the return to coaching had proven to be a negative for his health.
"I said, 'I'm not doing that again in the middle of a season; I'm going to coach to the finish,' " Kill said.
There were a couple of adjectives added to the quote, even with Rebecca listening to the phone call from a couple of feet away.
Kill found himself worn down again at the end of the season.
"I was eating good stuff, like the doctors wanted, but I only know one way to coach,'' he said. "You can't back off. And the guy here [Ash] is all-out. You can't be the coach on the staff that's going home early.''
A week after Rutgers finished with a 40-7 loss to Michigan State, Kill told Ash that he was going to retire again from coaching.
"It was going to become official on a Monday,'' Kill said. "I was feeling depressed. Then, our daughter Tasha had our first grandchild — Emery Ann. I flew to Illinois on Sunday, and held that beautiful baby girl in my arms, and everything was fine.''
The details of Kill's retirement were finalized and Rutgers announced it Tuesday.
"I wanted it out there before signing day,'' he said. "There were a couple of quarterbacks I'd recruited, and I didn't want it to seem like we were pulling a fast one. I've been a straight-up guy for 30-plus years of coaching, and that wasn't going to change.''
The Kills and Hercules were headed from New Jersey back to Marian, Ill., and their home on a lake. The football addiction remains, and Kill wouldn't object to a consulting job like he had at Kansas State.
"I had a great setup there, with Coach [Bill] Snyder,'' Kill said. "The problem was, Coach and the athletic director, John Currie, didn't get along at all, and I was in the middle.''
The John Currie that wound up at Tennessee and turned the football coaching search into a national laughingstock before being fired?
"Yeah, that one,'' Kill said.
Asked if he talks with Tracy Claeys, Kill's replacement who was fired after one 9-4 season in 2016, Kill said:
"All the time. I think Tracy has a couple of things out there right now. I'm hoping he'll be back in a good situation as a defensive coordinator very soon.''
There is another important issue confronting the 56-year-old Kill:
"All the seizures have given me short-term memory loss,'' he said. "I have to deal with that. My daughter is a speech therapist, and there are some methods to slow it down.''