By now, the university’s viewpoint on Gophers football coach Jerry Kill’s epilepsy is well-established. The common refrain from players to athletic director Norwood Teague is that Kill is surrounded by assistants who have worked with him for more than a dozen years, so the team doesn’t miss a beat when a seizure forces the head coach from a game.
But now that Kill has missed parts of four games in three years because of seizures, including last weekend’s trip to Michigan, what are former Gophers players saying? The Star Tribune reached out to several of them Monday, and while some expressed concern, they all voiced support for keeping Kill on the job:
• Adam Weber played for the Gophers from 2007 to ’10 and remains the school’s all-time passing leader:
“With [Kill’s] coaching staff, they’ve been together for 16-19 years, so I’m sure on a given week, it’s very possible that a team can function,” Weber said. “But there’s no doubt that not having your leader makes it tough.”
Weber was recruited by then-Gophers coach Glen Mason but played all four of his years for Tim Brewster, graduating before Kill came aboard for the 2011 season. He has watched Kill’s teams go 2-6 in the Big Ten in his first two seasons before starting 0-2 this year.
“The easiest thing is to start jumping ship,” Weber said. “I firmly believe that what Gopher football hasn’t had for the longest time is consistency. When you put something in place, you have to be willing to go through the ups and downs.
“It’s still not where it needs to be. But Coach Kill and his staff have proven in the places they’ve been that they can win football games.”
• Tony Brinkhaus was an offensive lineman for the Gophers from 2004 to ’07, so he played for both Mason and Brewster.
“I love that [Kill’s] kind of a tough-love coach,” Brinkhaus said. “He’s got a group of assistants who’ve been with him for a very long time, and they obviously know how to work without him.
“But there’s something to be said about the head coach addressing the team, giving that game day speech. I guess any time your leader is [gone] it’s something that could be a distraction.
“I think there are a lot of people out there who are saying, ‘He’s got to go.’ That’s not how I feel. I think the program’s turning in the right direction. I’m hoping he can get through this, and if he’s not able to, I would hope that he’d be making the decision, not the university.”
• Justin Conzemius was a standout defensive back under Jim Wacker from 1992 to ’95. These days, he works at General Mills and co-hosts a postgame radio show on 100.3-FM.
“We’ve had two [seizure] episodes happen pretty close to each other, and I think the question is, what is the frequency of this condition that starts to take away from his job performance?” Conzemius said. “I think it would be shortsighted to say we’ve reached that frequency.
“It sounds crazy, but I think it can be an advantage [in recruiting] because you have a coach that’s obviously been very candid and open about this. And he’s showing your son, who’s developing into a young man, how to overcome some of the biggest challenges in life.”
• Bob Stein was an All-America linebacker for the Gophers in 1967 and ’68 and now works as a local attorney. He was a vocal critic of Brewster but has thrown his support behind Kill. Stein is hopeful, knowing that 70 percent of epilepsy patients can become seizure-free with proper medication.
“He’s got an illness, a disability he’s dealing with, and it’s a matter of getting his medication where it should be,” Stein said. “[Kill’s seizures have] been controlled in the past.
“I just don’t buy into the thinking that there’s anything that prevents him from doing a great job. I completely believe that if he couldn’t, he’d be the first one to acknowledge it.”