There might be a point when coach Jerry Kill's seizures outweigh all the work he's doing with the football program, Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague acknowledged Monday.
But this isn't it.
"If [Kill's epilepsy] was something that there was no hope of managing, that would concern me," Teague said. "But there's not just hope, there's [a record] of doing so."
Kill went four years without a seizure, or at least one that became public, while coaching at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, and Teague said the Gophers coach -- who missed the second half of Saturday's loss to Michigan State after suffering a seizure in the locker room -- is intent upon "drilling down deeper into his condition" before next season, consulting with more doctors "in order to make this more manageable and put this in his rear-view mirror."
Can the repeated public attention on Kill's health become damaging to the program? Perhaps, Teague allowed, "but I haven't honestly thought about that -- where is the line? I've been focused on the now -- feeling good about our improvement, and knowing that he'll look deeper into this during the offseason."
Epilepsy is a chronic condition and can't be cured, but the right combination of rest, diet and medication can greatly reduce the frequency and severity of seizures. It can be a delicate balance, and after several visits to Mayo Clinic, Kill believed he had found the right mix entering this season. He was stricken in his stadium office, however, about an hour after a loss to Northwestern on Oct. 13, then again on Saturday, though he walked out of the stadium under his own power and went home a few hours after that episode.
Doctors are unsure how stress relates to seizures, but fellow epileptics believe it plays a major role. Laurie Olmon, a city councilwoman in Nowthen, Minn. -- a town about 10 miles north of Anoka -- suffered a seizure the same day as Kill, and said it's no mystery why -- a family member recently died, she's taking care of elderly parents as well as her own family, and the holidays disrupted her diet and sleep.
Similarly, Kill last week was dealing with a family medical situation, the controversy over receiver A.J. Barker's departure from the team and criticism of Kill.
"Stress isn't the only thing, but it definitely brings it to a head," said Olmon, who has had seizures intermittently for 34 years. "But people think you can't function, or that it's some brain-altering [impairment], almost a mental illness. But it's actually more like diabetes, or migraines, or any other disability. It happens, but it's over pretty quickly, and you go right back to work."
Epileptic seizures look scarier than they actually are, Teague said, and the same is true when a coach misses half a game because of one. Kill's absence from the sideline "is a perception issue more than anything else," Teague said. "I don't want to downplay Coach's role. It understandably worries our fans, and concerns people on the outside. But from what I gather talking to players and assistant coaches and people inside the program, I don't want to say they think it's no big deal, but it's definitely business as usual."
Kill insists that's how he deals with it as well, and he loathes the public attention his seizures draw. It's widely believed recruits shy away from a coach with health issues, but Teague said that perception might be overstated.
"So much of what you strive for in recruiting is relationships. When you get [Kill] in the room with a recruit, [he is able to] quell any anxieties," said Teague, who cited Kill's "tremendous progress in getting us to 6-6, to a bowl game, and to a 3.0 grade-point average" as evidence epilepsy is having little effect on the coach's effectiveness. "People talk about recruiting, but kids operate from a different framework of understanding. I'm not sure how much it matters to them."
Freshman receiver Jamel Harbison was in the stands and witnessed Kill's sideline collapse during the New Mexico State game a year ago, but said the sight didn't cause him to reconsider playing for the Gophers, especially after talking to the coach the next day.
"Coach Kill preaches, don't worry about his health," said the Charlotte, N.C., native.
Staff writer Chip Scoggins contributed to this report.