It's not fun exactly, or at least you wouldn't think so, unless you've been spending too much time in hospitals lately. But for Jerry Kill, coaching the Gophers to the most lopsided Big Ten loss in the school's football history was actually a decent way to spend a Saturday afternoon -- when you consider the alternative.
"A lot of people live their life like this, don't they?" Kill said after the loss, holding his hand steady to demonstrate a turbulence-free existence. "They never take a chance. And my life, I've been all the way here [raising his hand over his head] and I've been all the way down there [holding his hand at knee level]. So one thing about it -- I'm living."
Yes, philosophically he's a winner. Now, about that football part ...
The Gophers were dismantled -- actually, more like ignored -- by a talented Michigan team that regarded Gophers tacklers as little more than traffic cones -- in a shocking 58-0 rout that Kill said he didn't see coming.
"I don't think you see getting your tail end kicked coming," he said. "We thought we'd have a great opportunity if we did this and this and this. But it's the game of football. Each Saturday is different."
Funny, they all sort of look the same to longtime Gophers fans, or even relatively new ones, considering Minnesota's 1-4 start, heading into Saturday's game at Purdue, is its third in five seasons. And some of those fans are growing restless already, Kill said on a WCCO radio interview Sunday morning. He has begun receiving e-mails, he said, from fans who doubt his coaching ability, who question his methods, who wonder why it's taking so long to create a winner.
Kill knew it would be like this, he said, because he's been through it before. He has been predicting a rough season practically since the day he was hired. Nobody is happy with embarrassing blowouts, but it's an unavoidable step in the process when taking over a team that lost nine consecutive games a year ago.
"We'll just keep staying the course," he reiterated Saturday. "We know how to win."
What's it going to take? Time, for one thing.
"It's not going to be a one-year thing. It's not going to be two years. It's not going to be three years," Kill said.
Assistant head coach Bill Miller spelled out another critical ingredient last week, one that was shockingly absent in Ann Arbor.
"We need to recruit more tough kids, more physical kids. I'm not saying our guys are soft, but we don't play with the mentality you've got to have," Miller said. "It's more of a mental thing, tackling. It's not a schematics thing, it's a matter of just getting there and making the tackle. The mental and physical toughness is something we need to keep working on."
Motivating his players to keep working could be a challenge in itself, and Kill said more than a dozen players are having academic difficulties.
"We have to give the kids confidence. It's not easy to bounce back," he said. "When you don't have a lot of success, sometimes you come apart instead of moving together. It's frustrating for me, it's frustrating for the kids, and there are a lot of them trying in that locker room."
The defeat wasn't a total disaster, Kill said, despite Michigan's 580-177 yardage advantage. He played virtually everyone on the travel roster, valuable time for some of the youngest players, and for the coaches who must evaluate them. Twenty-three different players made tackles, five by sophomore Chase Haviland. D.L. Wilhite recorded his first sack since the 2009 Insight Bowl. Freshman David Cobb finished with 54 yards on eight carries, and fellow freshman Marcus Jones returned a kickoff for a touchdown, though it was called back by a penalty.
It's not much, but it's all the Gophers have. That and Kill's confidence that this will all change.
"It's a tough job for tough people, and I'm a tough person," Kill said. "I'll weather through it, and these kids will, and one day I'll get to have a press conference where I'll have a lot of fun and smile. That's the way it's been my whole career, and I don't see it going any different."
Phil Miller • firstname.lastname@example.org