With the Gophers football team off to a 1-6 start and the overall football program in bad shape, we decided to do a question-and-answer session with new University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler about the direction of the program, the new contract for coach Jerry Kill, who has been in regular contact with the administration more than football coaches in the past, and of Gophers athletics in general.
Q: Talk about coach Jerry Kill and your reaction to him as a person, what's your reaction to the record so far, and also talk about the reason for the seven-year contract.
A: First off, I like coach Kill tremendously. I think he's a great football coach, and he's a wonderful human being, so I'm very glad to have him be a part of Gopher athletics. We have signed him to the contract that you've seen the details [of]. I think the length of the contract reflects the fact that it's going to be a building process for several years. I wanted to send a clear message of the institution's commitment to Coach and the expectation that he's going to be here for a long time, and our commitment to being with him while he builds the football program.
Q: How did you come to the conclusion of a seven-year contract?
A: I made that decision.
Q: You just thought it's going to take a long time to do it?
A: And I wanted it to be very clear that we're committed to this coach and this program to build Gopher football back to where it needs to be.
Q: You don't believe in changing football coaches?
A: Not on a regular basis, no.
Q: If he continues losing for three or four years, it won't affect your feeling about him?
A: I think it's going to be a multi-year process to get the team back to where it needs to be. We need to build with student-athletes. I'm not interested in a quick-fix kind of program, because that's not what Minnesota football should be about. That means it's going to take awhile to bring in the young men that Coach can build in this program.
Q: Are you worried about his seizures affecting his coaching?
A: I think he's got great medical care. My understanding is that they're under medical control, and I think he'll be fine.
Q: What makes you think that he's the guy who can change things?
A: You know to me, there's one thing that can help predict the future, and that's what somebody has done in the past. He's been affiliated with terrific programs his whole career: from Pittsburg [State] in Kansas, through Southern Illinois where he went 1-10 his first year and turned it around, to Northern Illinois where he built first-class winning programs. He's done it before, he'll do it here.
Q: He says it's important to have continuity academically with instructors and coaches, will you give him the ability to have that?
A: His coaching staff has been with him for a long time, and I'm looking forward to them being at Minnesota for a long time. I expect strong continuity in the program.
Q: Have you been getting calls or e-mails from boosters who give money to the university who are not happy with the football program?
A: I certainly have gotten complaints about the football program. But the only counsel I can give is to be patient. I think we have the right guy to build it back up.
Q: What about the university budget? Joel Maturi has done a great job with the budget, but I don't think there is the emphasis in the Minnesota budget on football that there is at other schools. The football revenue is not there that there is at other schools.
A: Well, I think the football budget is public knowledge. If you don't have that, you can look at it. When I run my eye down it, our football budget is not out of line with the rest of the Big Ten teams.
Q: You want to give him all the weapons that he needs to win?
A: I expect him to be able to win ethically and with good student-athletes. The university is going to do what we can to help him do that.
Q: How involved will you be with the athletic office?
A: An appropriate amount. I'm interested in college athletics, but the athletic director's job is to run that department. It's not my job. I'm not going to be a micromanager in any sense of the word on that.
Q: Minnesota hasn't won a Big Ten football championship since 1967 when they tied Indiana and Purdue.
A: We are not interested in the past. It's the future we are concerned with and hope to do something about.
Q: Let's talk about the football team. When they built this stadium, they talked about how students are going to flock there. And now I'm certain there are less students at the stadium than there were at the Metrodome. It was kind of embarrassing Saturday, all those Nebraska fans sitting in the student seats. Can you figure that one out?
A: I think athletics is one part of student life on campus. There are lots of other things that the students can be doing, but I certainly would like to see more of them at Gopher games in all sports. I'd like to see us move in that direction.
Q: Have you been going to all of the football games?
A: I did not go to the Michigan game but I have been to all of the other ones.
Q: You told me that basketball is your sport and you want to get to a lot of basketball games. Tubby Smith, what do you think about his getting an extension?
A: We haven't made an extension on Tubby Smith.
Q: So with sports you'll be interested, but you won't be telling anyone what to do?
A: That is right. I don't think it's the president's job to tell people what to do in athletics. But I'm a fan and I look forward to having some more success, for Minnesota athletes to have more success, but I'm not going to micromanage it.
Q: What about the athletic director's situation? Joel's contract expires in June, any decision on that yet?
A: No, Joel and I will be having some conversations about that soon.
Q: Whether he stays past June or if you have somebody new, is that the discussion?
A: I think he and I will talk about his contract situation and that's what we'll talk about.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • firstname.lastname@example.org