Two of Jerry Kill’s longtime associates had a message Sunday for fans and critics who suggest he should resign for health reasons: Not happening, at least not now.
Kill, who has epilepsy, suffered his third in-game seizure in three seasons as Gophers coach Saturday, but the team expects him to be back to work soon.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who has worked on Kill’s staff for 19 years, going back to their time at Saginaw Valley State, said he’s never heard “an inkling” from Kill’s wife, Rebecca, or any doctor that Kill could jeopardize his long-term health by continuing to coach.
“Being as good of friends as we are … if we thought it was going to cause something permanent … we’d tell him to get the heck out of the game,” Claeys said. “We’d all be fine. Heck, I’ll go back and serve bar in Clay Center, Kansas.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover first joined Kill’s staff in 1999, as the offensive line coach at Emporia State in Kansas.
“He’s not in it for the money, he’s not in it for the fame,” Limegrover said. “He’s in it because he loves kids, he loves the process, he loves building something special wherever he goes.
“And if he doesn’t feel that his health is allowing him to do that, he’s gone. There’s no doubt about that.”
Claeys pointed to Kill’s own comments that the head coach would walk away if, as Claeys said, “he is hurting the football program, or the university, or the state of Minnesota.”
“And he is a man of his word,” Claeys added.
After going 1-3 and 4-0 in nonconference play during Kill’s first two seasons, the Gophers improved to 3-0 on Saturday with a victory over Western Illinois. Kill’s seizure struck while he was on the sideline, right as the players headed to the locker room at halftime.
Kill was driven to a local hospital and was home resting two hours after the game. Kill’s mother and brother were in town visiting this weekend, and Claeys said he paid a quick visit Saturday night.
The family was eating pizza and watching TV. Claeys said he didn’t stay long, knowing Kill needed rest, and knowing how frustrated the head coach was to have another seizure during a game.
Kill has had epilepsy since 2005. It’s a disease that affects nearly 3 million Americans, though 70 percent of the people who have it can become seizure-free with the right medication.
For the past 10 months, Kill has been working closely with a new epileptologist, Dr. Ilo Leppik, and has stuck to a strict diet and exercise regimen. But his latest seizure struck with the Gophers leading 7-6 at halftime.
“I know everybody tries to spin it, that it’s going to have an effect,” Claeys said. “I’m telling you, we know how to coach football. The kids know how to play. They’ve been trained very well.”
The Gophers fell behind and trailed 12-7 until late in the third quarter but scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives for a 29-12 victory. The coaching staff follows a protocol whenever Kill has to leave, with Claeys taking over as acting head coach from the press box.
“I think the best thing [Saturday] was our kids proved that they’re comfortable with the situation,” Claeys said. “Nobody likes to see him go through it, but we all know that it could happen. I was very pleased with how everybody responded.”
As the Gophers began preparing for next Saturday’s game against San Jose State, the suggestion that Kill should resign wasn’t sitting well with Limegrover.
“He has epilepsy, and he’s made that very clear, and he hasn’t run from it or hid from it,” Limegrover said. “I think when people say that and write that, they’re basically saying, ‘Hey, it’s too bad. You people with epilepsy, don’t shoot for your dreams, don’t push and try and have goals because it makes me uncomfortable to see when something happens.’
“I mean, I’m shaking over here because I think it’s so ignorant.”