A year ago today, Joel Maturi flew to DeKalb, Ill., and came home with a new Gophers coach.
"In some ways it seems like several years ago, and in some ways, it seems like yesterday," Minnesota's athletic director said of his hiring of Jerry Kill.
His weekend was much more relaxed this year. He spent Saturday in Indianapolis at the Big Ten championship game with his fellow athletic directors, no doubt enjoying the stress that his Illinois counterpart, Mike Thomas, is under at the moment, trying to choose a new head coach.
If Maturi was hiring a replacement for Tim Brewster (who, coincidentally, was also at the Big Ten title game, in his role as Fox Sports sideline reporter) this year instead of last, he might not have been able to hire Kill. Northern Illinois, where Kill coached for three seasons, on Friday finished its second straight 10-win season by winning the Mid-American Conference championship game; the Huskies are headed to their fourth straight bowl game, taking on Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile. Kill's resume would look even stronger today than it did 12 months ago.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of other openings at places where Kill might be a logical fit, potentially opening up competition for the current Gophers' coach. Ron Zook was fired after going 34-50 in seven seasons at Illinois, where Kill is well known, having been successful for a decade in the state at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois.
And Turner Gill is out after going 5-19 in just two seasons at Kansas, a state where Kill's roots are deep. He grew up in Cheney, got his start as a college coach at Pittsburg State, and spent two seasons as head coach at Emporia State, each of which is with a couple of hours of Lawrence. If the Jayhawks had come calling at the same time as the Gophers, who knows whether Kill would be in Minneapolis today.
"There's no question we're a little bit lucky how everything worked out," said Maturi, who signed Kill to a seven-year contract and is confident the coach will turn around the Gophers' football fortunes. "At the same time, Minnesota has proven to be a good fit for Jerry Kill, and he's been a great fit for us."
The prospect of going home to Kansas, or taking on a Big Ten program with a little more success over the past couple of decades, plus a natural recruiting ground in Chicago -- could Minnesota have lured Kill here with that kind of competition?
"Well, that's impossible to know, and fortunately we don't have to," Maturi said. "But it's safe to say that Jerry Kill knows the upside of Minnesota now, and he sees the potential for success here. I think he's very happy with his situation."