Hirings are usually feel-good moments for football programs, but so far, it looks as though Jerry Kill's move from Northern Illinois to Minnesota has both schools' fan bases unhappy.
In DeKalb, fans are irritated by a rough weekend for a program that was experiencing a dream season -- a 10-2 regular season, national ranking, a MAC West Division title. But in the space of three days, NIU lost a stunning MAC championship game in Detroit, allowing Miami of Ohio to convert a 4th-and-20 in the final two minutes to pull off a 26-21 upset, then lost the coach who had directed the Huskies to three straight bowl games.
Fans aren't pleased, and Kill's players sounded distraught.
"I have a horrible taste in my mouth and want to get that taste out," NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish told the Rockford Register Star.
He also told the Chicago Tribune, "There's definitely a lot of mixed emotions on the team -- disappointment and shock."
Maybe some grudging acceptance, too, however. Said linebacker Alex Kube, "I could be selfish and get mad at him, but I won't because any man given that opportunity would take it."
In the Twin Cities, Kill is off to a rocky start, though not of his own doing. He's just not the coach Gopher fans believe they were promised when Tim Brewster was fired, a football equivalent of Tubby Smith. Instead, Joel Maturi's hire seems to strike fans as Brewster Redux, another take-it-on-faith coach that they've never heard of.
The venom, most of it directed at the athletic director rather than the coach, is striking. Comments on startribune.com stories and Gopher websites are overwhelmingly angry, and my inbox was full this morning. (One funny emailer: "Ironic that Maturi's hire exactly describes what I'd like to do to him." Yes, the era of Kill puns has begun.) More than 15,000 readers have taken part in the Star Tribune's online poll, one of the 10 busiest ever (and top five non-Favre-related), and more than two-thirds have selected either "Northern Illinois? You're killing me" or "I wanted Mike Leach."
This hire is a public-relations nightmare, a case of overpromise-and-undeliver by Maturi similar to the way Brewster ran the program, and it puts a lot of pressure on Kill to win the fans over, first by what he says at today's press conference, and ultimately, of course, by winning football games.
More on the hire:
- One of the first items Kill must consider is his Gopher staff. He's brought his own, longtime staff from stop to stop, and I'd imagine that same set of assistant coaches will be moving to Minnesota too. He can add a couple of coaches, so it's probably likely he will ask a couple current assistants to remain for their Big Ten experience. Both of his coordinators, Matt Limegrover (offense) and Tracy Claeys (defense) have been with Kill for more than a decade. Thomas Hammock, who took over play-calling when Brewster was fired, is a former NIU running back (though before Kill arrived) and might be a possibility; interim coach Jeff Horton or offensive line coach Tim Davis might be as well.
- There's also another consideration: The Huskies play in the Humanitarian Bowl later this month, and someone has to stay behind to coach the team. Kill has already said he won't coach the game, because he's got to start recruiting for the Gophers. It's not known whether Limegrover or Claeys might be candidates for the NIU vacancy, but there might be a longer transition than usual so the Huskies, who face Fresno State on Boise's blue turf, have a fighting chance in that game.
- Kill spoke to NIU recruits about his choice on Sunday, and one of them, a junior-college tight end named John Rabe, told the Register Star, "He just said it happened so fast and that it was basically what he had to do for his family."
- Kill's press conference will be televised live by the Big Ten Network at 2 p.m.
- The new coach met with his new players early this morning, and the university has posted video of the session here.
- One side effect of the Gophers' hiring process: Brady Hoke is in line for a raise from San Diego State, according to the Union Tribune. Expect Dan Mullen, Troy Calhoun and Al Golden, if they stay put at their schools, to benefit from the attention, too.
- I'll be conducting a live chat tomorrow at noon at startribune.com. I expect all 15,000 of you poll voters to come back with your questions and comments.