I wonder if University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler realizes what a precarious position the Gophers football program is going to be in if the contracts of the entire football coaching staff is not extended as part of the pact coach Jerry Kill agreed to when he signed his contract extension in August.

The contracts of the nine Gophers assistants, including defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, were terminated when Kill retired Wednesday. The new contracts they were offered this week keeps them through Jan. 31, with the potential to be extended.

The Gophers have 18 commitments, 10 of whom will visit during the Michigan game Saturday. If these recruits aren’t sure that Claeys, now the interim coach, and his staff — the assistant coaches who helped recruit these players — are going to remain a part of the coaching staff in the future, rest assured the Gophers will lose most of them.

It’s very important that Kaler sign new multiyear contracts with Claeys and the eight assistant coaches soon.

Furthermore, now that Kill has decided to retire as a result of his difficulties with epilepsy, some of the current players on the team might also leave if the remaining coaches aren’t given some job security before this season comes to a close. It took almost six months of negotiations before Kill’s extension was finalized. This can’t be the case with Claeys and the staff.

Claeys and his staff are better than any group the Gophers could hire from outside. This is not a school that has historically been very successful hiring top coaches, save for Lou Holtz, Glen Mason and Kill, who was the seventh coach interviewed for the job before he was hired in December 2010.

The university can’t afford to hire another Tim Brewster or Jim Wacker.

One can’t emphasize how important it is for this program to continue to progress it made under Kill. Claeys, Matt Limegrover and the other Gophers coaches need to be given extensions right away. This group of coaches is the best the school has had in years, even with Kill’s departure.

Already around the country, there are a lot of coaching vacancies, and the season has barely passed the halfway point. Believe me, if the university administration doesn’t act, Kill’s staff will find better jobs with better chances to win than at Minnesota and for a lot more money. In the Big Ten, there are already two other openings, at Illinois and at Maryland, and there might be another at Purdue.

As mentioned earlier, when Kill was hired, it was after the Gophers had interviewed and pursued a number of other candidates. Ball State’s Brady Hoke was one coach they wanted, but he ended up at Michigan. Connecticut’s Randy Edsall was another, but he landed at Maryland. But Hoke was fired last year, and Edsall was fired earlier this month.

Kill, meanwhile, turned the Gophers into a winning program after taking a program that had sunk under Brewster.

Now, with a much easier schedule next year, there is a good a chance for the Gophers to win the Big Ten’s West Division if Claeys and his staff are retained.

Please, Mr. President, don’t foul this one up. To bring in a new staff that doesn’t know the personnel would be a big mistake. I have covered Gophers football for 71 years and this is without a doubt one of the top coaching staffs I’ve seen over this time.

Job for Kill

One of the smartest things Kaler could do would be to keep Kill on staff in a role with public relations and fundraising.

Under Kill’s contract the university can hire the former coach at a position paying $200,000 a year.

“I haven’t got past anything from today. We haven’t talked about it. I’ve been kind of trying to just survive the situation,” Kill said during his news conference Wednesday when asked about a future role. “… I don’t know what I’m doing to do.”

Kill is also giving up $8 million under terms of his contract.

“I’m a guy walking away from a whole lot of money. A whole lot,” he said. “But if I can give anybody any advice … count on your health instead of your wealth.”

Legacy fund set up

Private memorial services for Timberwolves basketball boss Flip Saunders will take place this weekend in the Twin Cities area, Saunders’ family announced in a statement Thursday night, adding that a public memorial celebration will be scheduled sometime later this year with details yet to be finalized.

The family requested that in lieu of flowers or other expressions of sympathy, anyone wishing to express their condolences and support send contributions in Saunders’ memory to the Flip Saunders Legacy Fund, P.O. Box 46410, Plymouth, Minn. 55446. The fund will be devoted to aiding and supporting deserving individuals or groups and to continuing the positive impact of the life of Saunders.

In addition, the Wolves said they will hold a pregame video tribute to Saunders before Monday night’s home opener against Portland, after Saunders died at age 60 on Sunday.

Jottings

• First-year Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh sang the praises of the retiring Kill when he said: “Everybody has so much respect for Jerry Kill. … Jerry Kill is such a battler. Things that he’s gone through and overcome to do what he loves, and there’s nobody who gets more enjoyment of what they do than Jerry Kill. It’s been a phenomenal career. He’s a great example, truly, at the highest level at what we aspire to be coaches.” Harbaugh’s father, Jack, coached Western Kentucky in 2011-02 when Kill was coaching conference rival Southern Illinois. “[My dad] said one year they were trying to out-power each other. They must have run over 50 power plays combined,” Jim Harbaugh said. “The Harbaugh family has a deep, abiding respect for coach Kill.”

• Typical of how good and versatile the current Gophers staff is, defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel will call plays for the defense. Jay Nunez, who handled special teams quality control, will be working with special teams and defensive backs and will be in the coaches’ booth Saturday vs. Michigan. Keith Jordan, who was previously operations assistant, will take over special teams quality control.

• Brad Nessler, the St. Charles, Minn., native and Minnesota State Mankato alum, who will do the play-by-play of the Gophers-Michigan game Saturday night with analyst Todd Blackledge and reporter Holly Rowe.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com