With Gophers football coach Jerry Kill still recovering at home Tuesday from his latest epileptic seizure episode, University President Eric Kaler made it clear how much the school is pulling for him.
“There are a lot of people with epilepsy in the world, and they lead full and productive lives,” Kaler said in a phone interview. “I think it’s a matter of getting Jerry’s medication adjusted. And I think we need to offer him a chance to get that squared away and come back and be our football coach.”
Kill wasn’t feeling well last Friday and missed the team flight to Michigan. He hoped to fly in on a private jet for Saturday’s game, but those plans were canceled when Kill suffered a seizure early Saturday morning.
The Gophers have a bye this week before playing at Northwestern on Oct. 19. Wednesday will be the team’s first practice since the 42-13 loss to Michigan.
After talking to Kill by phone Tuesday morning, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said he wasn’t sure when Kill would return to work.
“We’ll just see how it goes,” Claeys said. “It’s all around when his doctor’s appointments are, that kind of stuff.”
Claeys also said, “The best thing is rest and getting the medication worked on. Since we don’t play this week, there’s no sense in hurrying that.”
Kill, 52, was first diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005. According to the National Epilepsy Foundation, 70 percent of people with epilepsy can become seizure-free with proper medication.
But finding the right balance of medication can be tricky. In three seasons at Minnesota, Kill has missed parts of four games because of seizures, though Claeys said he can count on one hand the number of practices Kill has missed.
Since last December, Kill has worked closely with Dr. Ilo Leppik, an epileptologist from MINCEP Epilepsy Care, a level-four treatment center in Minneapolis. Leppik also is a University of Minnesota professor of pharmacy and neurology and a former president of the American Epilepsy Society.
Asked if the university needs to begin considering a Plan B for the football team, Kaler said, “Jerry is our head coach, and I don’t have much to add beyond the fact we want him to get these seizures under control and get back with the team.
“People miss work when they get illnesses. This happens in all lines of work, and unfortunately he’s in a very visible position with a lot of interest in it. And we’re counting on his doctors to get him better.”
The Gophers have gone 3-9, 6-7 and now 4-2 in Kill’s first three seasons. After going 2-6 in the Big Ten his first two years, they are off to an 0-2 start.
Kill’s health issues at times have overshadowed the team’s on-field performance. News of Kill’s seizure during the Sept. 14 Western Illinois game was a constant across the national sports tickers that night, and the same went for Saturday’s news about his missed trip to Michigan.
“That doesn’t concern me,” Kaler said of the effect Kill’s seizures are having on the program’s national perception. “The feedback I see in the media, and that I’ve gotten personally, is standing behind and being supportive of a person who’s going through this kind of situation is the right thing to do.”
Kill proved he could overcome epilepsy and build successful programs at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois before coming to Minnesota. Now he’s trying to do the same in the Big Ten.
“I think he deserves the chance to make that happen,” Kaler said.