But Saturday afternoon, it happened again. Kill suffered a seizure on the sideline as his players headed to the locker room at halftime of their 29-12 victory over Western Illinois.
The Gophers marching band performed its halftime show while the team’s medical staff tended to Kill and loaded him onto a stretcher. He was driven to a hospital and was back home resting comfortably by late afternoon, a team spokesman said.
It was the third time in three seasons the Gophers finished a game without Kill on the sidelines. He had a seizure in the locker room at halftime against Michigan State in last year’s regular season finale and missed the second half. He also had one on the sidelines in the last minute of a loss to New Mexico State in 2011.
Gophers Athletic Director Norwood Teague was not available for comment. He is expected to address Kill’s health during the week.
Matt Hodson, a U spokesman, said President Eric Kaler was not available to comment on Saturday. However, Hodson said: “Coach Kill does have the full support of President Kaler and the university. The president was at the game today, he enjoyed another Gopher victory, he’s excited about the direction the program is going and he looks forward to having Coach back at work.”
Telling the players
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who serves as acting head coach in Kill’s absence, addressed the players in individual position groups at halftime. “I said, ‘Hey guys, we’ve been here before, you’ve been trained well, we need to get after it. Don’t disappoint Coach by not doing your job,’ ” he said. “They had a great attitude. He tells them about every week there’s just a chance, so I’m very pleased with them.”
Kill, who turned 52 last month, spent the offseason working with a new epileptologist, Dr. Ilo Leppik. Leppik has kept in close contact with the coach’s wife, Rebecca, helping regulate his medication, and Kill has stuck to a strict diet and exercise regimen.
The changes had left Kill optimistic that he could manage his condition. “It’s not something I’m going to solve in a month,” Kill told the Star Tribune this summer. “The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the Michigan State situation. You can’t be the head football coach and miss half of a game. I mean, I’m not stupid, I realize that.
“If I was doing those things, the university wouldn’t have to fire me. I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it. But that won’t happen because you’re talking to a guy that wasn’t supposed to be here anyway.”
That last line was in reference to a 2005 seizure Kill suffered on the sideline while coaching at Southern Illinois. Besides being the first time he was diagnosed with epilepsy, that episode helped doctors discover that Kill was suffering from stage 4 kidney cancer. He had surgery to remove the cancer and has been in remission.
But epilepsy, a condition that affects nearly 3 million Americans, remains an ongoing battle for Kill.
“That’s the frustrating thing about these things; you never truly know,” Claeys said. “I can tell you he’s done everything he’s been asked to do, with who he’s working with. He’s in great shape physically, so he’s going to be [ticked], there’s no question, because he’s done what he’s supposed to do.”
Most of Kill’s assistant coaches have worked with him for more than a decade, so the staff has a protocol when he’s gone. Claeys takes over as acting head coach from the press box coaching booth, and defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel is on the sidelines.
“We know something like this can happen because we know Coach and what he goes through,” Gophers tight end Maxx Williams said. “I think our coaches just knew we weren’t going to miss a beat. I know Coach Kill wouldn’t want us to miss a beat. He would want us to go out there and play tough, just like we did in the second half.”
In contrast to the 2011 game against New Mexico State when the crowd was silent throughout the 15-minute drama, fans seemed to take the latest episode in stride. They watched the marching band perform its halftime show while the stadium announcer provided the audio backdrop. Fans seemed to be aware it was Kill on the ground on the sideline, and some commented when they saw his wife, Rebecca, run to his side. The student section chanted “Jerry, Jerry” as he was taken off the field.
At the postgame news conference, Gophers spokesman Chris Werle read a statement that said, in part, “Coach Kill’s condition has been documented by the media in town and nationally. Fans are aware that he has epilepsy and that situations like this can happen. With that being said, we don’t feel the need to take any further questions on the matter.”