It's too soon to tell whether Jerry Kill will coach the Gophers against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, the football team's physician said Monday, but he knows which way he would bet.
"You want a gut feeling?" Dr. Pat Smith said. "Absolutely."
Good guess. Despite a medical condition that has sent him to the hospital six times in the past 12 seasons, Kill has a perfect attendance record at his team's games. He's cut himself during a seizure, broken ribs, lost 15 pounds in a week, and even put off cancer surgery -- but he's never failed to lead his players into competition.
Which is why Smith's news conference sounded a lot like those held by physicians who have treated Kill before.
"As you'd anticipate, Coach Kill's feeling is that he wants to get back on the field," said Smith, who expected the coach to be released from the hospital "sooner than later," though he remained hospitalized Monday night. "So we're going to make sure [his] medication levels are appropriate, that he's feeling well enough ... and to address those issues we can address now and not let this occur in the future."
That won't be easy; Kill has experienced seizures of varying severity since at least 1992, he has told reporters in the past, and has told friends that doctors believe scar tissue on the brain -- perhaps a residue of his football playing career as an aggressive 165-pound linebacker -- might be the root cause.
"I have scar tissue that's built up on my brain," he told Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Ken Corbitt after being hospitalized for three days at Emporia State in 2000. "They described it like electricity going off in the breaker box that's causing my breaker to pop. That causes seizures."
So does the combination of stress, fatigue and especially dehydration -- basically a workaholic coach's lifestyle. Of Kill's six public seizure-related hospital stays, dehydration was a factor in at least four. Smith said the Minnesota medical staff felt badly that was the case Saturday.
"There was clinical evidence of dehydration upon his admission. Shame on us for that," Smith said. "I share that responsibility -- that won't happen again. We can easily manage that problem."
Like many with the affliction, Kill has experienced occasional smaller seizures, too; his collapse on the sidelines in the final seconds of a game at Southern Illinois in 2005 included a half-dozen "aftershocks," the coach said later. And his 2000 event was foreshadowed by minor flareups.
"Three weeks [earlier], I was at home and had a small seizure, I guess," Kill said at the time. "I don't remember it. Of course, I'm not going to go to the doctor and I let it go. I had a couple of little spells and I knew something wasn't quite right, but I just kept going. You have to in this profession."
Kill takes medication daily for his condition, and Smith said "we need to look at his [dosage] levels." But a friend of Kill's from a previous stop said Monday that his medication can be problematic during football season, because fatigue is a common side effect. Like many college coaches, Kill tends to work long days, sometimes 18 hours or more, and must balance the fatigue-inducing effects with his fatigue-inducing job.
Coaches frequently "push the envelope," Kill said at a Northern Illinois news conference last September after being released from a Chicago hospital, because "that's what we do. That's who we are.
"I will not change my coaching style. I never have, and haven't slowed down one inch. The day I don't do that, then I won't be [coaching]. But that won't happen, because I've been doing it too damn long and too damn good. I just want to coach football."
Athletic director Joel Maturi said when he announced Kill's hiring in December that he had investigated the coach's medical history and found the same thing -- that Kill and his staff both understand how to deal with his condition. The Gophers' film sessions and team meetings went on as normal Sunday, and coordinators Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover will make sure Tuesday's practice is routine.
"The reality of this disorder is that this is a common problem. People live normal lifestyles with this," Smith said. "There's medical management with current drugs that can make people live absolutely normal lives. We have to make sure we are providing that for him."