Jerry Kill danced with his players and savored the biggest victory of his time in Minnesota for less than a half-hour when someone turned the topic to Saturday’s showdown at Wisconsin.
“You’re not going to let me enjoy the win?” he said with a smile.
It took even less time for the nervous Nellies within the Gophers fanbase to start worrying about some other school snatching their coach.
You already see those conversations percolating on social media and bar stools.
What if Michigan comes after Kill? What if Nebraska fires Bo Pelini and tries to hire Kill? Or Kansas? Or [fill in the blank]?
Sorry, folks. Regardless of what happens in the winner-wins-the-West clash in Madison, Kill’s name undoubtedly will surface in the coaching rumor mill this winter.
That’s the price of success at a school that’s not used to being in this position.
People nationally have taken notice of Kill’s rebuilding job. They see the improvement, the toughness, the defense, the upsets.
Minnesota winning at Michigan and at Nebraska in the same season doesn’t get lost in small print.
The Gophers are getting some national love right now, which means their coach is, too. Kill is a leading candidate for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. And he’s highly respected within his profession.
This year, ESPN.com asked 128 coaches in a poll which coach they would like their son to play for, not including themselves. Kill finished third.
In a different poll, the website asked coaches to name the nation’s most underrated coach. Kill finished fifth.
Kill wasn’t Joel Maturi’s first choice back in 2010, but he has proved to be the right choice. His blueprint has created real momentum, something that feels sustainable, not built on flimsy footing.
They are recruiting and developing better talent. They play the right way, with toughness and resolve. Kill’s feistiness is reflected in his players.
This represents new territory for the Gophers. Thanksgiving week, and they are playing for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. This is what college football should feel like, a buzz around town in anticipation of the most important game in decades.
That’s why diehards understandably might feel a little nervous anytime some media outlet mentions that Kill would be a smart hire for [fill in the blank]. The program is on the right path, and they don’t want that to change.
Nobody should feel satisfied though. That includes administration. The Gophers have made themselves relevant, and the school must take advantage of this momentum and increased exposure. Now is the time to capitalize.
Kill understands that better than anyone, which is why he continues to basically beg athletic director Norwood Teague and Teague’s bosses to get going on that facilities project.
Kill has mentioned facilities publicly a few times lately, a sure sign of his frustration over the glacial pace of fundraising efforts and workers actually putting shovels in the dirt. He won’t stop pushing until that happens, nor should he.
“I’m not here to win a popularity contest,” Kill noted Sunday.
To put it bluntly, the Gophers football facility is embarrassing relative to their competition.
Chunks of ceiling at the indoor practice field fall if a punter kicks the ball too high and hits it, which must be mortifying on days when recruits stop by for practice. Players eat meals in a small lobby, not in a designated cafeteria like many other programs.
The school has made cosmetic changes in other areas — practice locker room, trainer’s room — in recent years, but that’s basically lipstick on a pig. The trip to Lincoln, Neb., this past weekend drove that point home.
Nebraska’s football facility features a three-story waterfall, a dedicated Heisman Trophy room and first-class amenities for athletes. The Gophers have a dark indoor facility with holes in the ceiling.
Think recruits notice the difference?
A cynic might argue the merits of facilities because the Gophers have caught or surpassed teams with fancier digs. That’s missing the point. They are winning despite that. And why settle?
The university displayed a commitment to football by building TCF Bank Stadium, and also by standing with Kill through his health crises and giving significant raises to him and his staff last offseason. Those were critical pieces to the puzzle. After this successful season, Kill doesn’t need another raise, he needs the shovels to hit the dirt, pronto.
The time is right to take advantage of this momentum. Their program feels like it’s on the cusp of big things.
They found the right coach. Now they need to keep building around him.