A long time ago, a smart college administrator realized that a football team would inspire more enthusiasm than an English department. A good college football team could become a billboard, a siren, a mint. A good college football coach could become a Pied Piper, a magnet for attention and money.
That’s how it is supposed to work. That’s not how it worked on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, where the University of Minnesota’s football program, and by extension the entire school, became the subject of pity and ridicule.
Jerry Kill suffered another seizure on another game day, and this time his boss chose to pretend nothing was wrong.
How can a school continue to employ a football coach who has had four seizures during or after the 16 home games he has coached at the school, along with an unknown number of seizures away from the public eye?
How can the athletic director in charge of that coach avoid speaking publicly about such a public and newsworthy event?
Kill suffers a seizure on game day as the coach of the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium exactly as often as he wins a Big Ten game. He’s 4-for-16 in both categories.
His latest epileptic seizure, suffered on Saturday, evokes sympathy for him and his family. He appears to be a good man earnestly trying to elevate a woeful program while searching for ways to manage his disease.
Even those who admire him most can’t believe that he should keep coaching major college football after his latest episode. Either the stress of the job is further damaging his health, or his health was in such disrepair that he shouldn’t have been hired to coach in the Big Ten in the first place.
The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference. No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.
Kill’s case is sad. He did good work his entire life to reach a position that his system can no longer handle.
His boss’ case is sad in a much different way. Norwood Teague has supported Kill and, in the case of bumping North Carolina off the schedule in favor of a high school-quality program named New Mexico State, Teague has done his bidding.
Saturday, when those generous enough to express interest in the Gophers football program asked to speak with Teague about Kill’s condition and the ramifications of his latest collapse, word was sent through an underling that he would not take questions until later in the week.
Teague did drive Kill’s wife, Rebecca, to the hospital. He could have made the 10-minute drive back for a 10-minute news conference at any time, especially if, as the Gophers insisted, Kill was resting comfortably.
Kill is unable to fulfill his duties. Teague is unwilling to fulfill his.
Teague, like Kill, seems likable enough. He’s affable, and generous with his time when the questions are easy.
Saturday, his football program, the most important piece of the athletic department, faced a leadership void. Kill was in the hospital. That left an assistant coach and some 19-year-olds to handle touchy questions.
Into this leadership void stepped … no one.
Teague may think he dampened coverage of Kill’s seizure by waiting to answer questions. He didn’t. All he did was damage his credibility as a leader.
That’s what Saturday was about for Gophers football and the athletic department: Leadership.
Kill is not healthy enough to lead. Teague will have to come up with his own excuse.