Hartman: Gophers football staff will keep team stable while Kill is gone

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 11, 2013 - 12:29 AM

Assistants such as interim coach Tracy Claeys have passed up better offers to stay with the Gophers coach.

The announcement that defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is officially taking over as interim Gophers football coach while Jerry Kill takes an indefinite leave of absence from the program to find the right medical treatment for his epileptic seizures shouldn’t surprise anybody.

In a statement issued by the university Thursday, Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague said, “Kill is continuing to take time to focus on his treatment and better manage his epilepsy.”

People who know Kill well report that after previous seizures, he has perhaps returned to work too soon and, being the workaholic he is, that might have affected his ability to manage his health.

Kill and his doctors can’t pinpoint how long it will take to control the problem. However, in a statement issued by Kill, he said: “I look forward to returning to the Minnesota sideline on a full-time basis soon.”

It’s been difficult for Kill to watch the Gophers start out 0-2 in the Big Ten after four nonconference victories. Kill took the Iowa loss hard on Sept. 28 and, even though he wasn’t on the sidelines, the Michigan defeat last Saturday didn’t help either.

Teague might have influenced the decision of Kill and his family. In an interview with Teague on Wednesday, he said he had a long conversation with Kill on Tuesday night.

If he came back too soon and had another seizure, it might have hurt recruiting and maybe even the program as a whole.

The one advantage Kill has over other programs is that he and this Gophers staff have been together so long that they will have a much better chance for continuity. The coaching staff will do a first-class job in his absence.

Claeys has had numerous chances to leave Kill for more money and successful programs but he has remained loyal to him. The same is true of offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover.

If Kill had to give up coaching because of his seizures, my guess is that Claeys would be named head coach and the entire staff would stay.

Weber likes Freeman

Former Gophers quarterback Adam Weber spent all of last season, OTAs this year and most of training camp this year as a Tampa Bay teammate of new Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman.

“I was surprised that they did let him go,” Weber said. “But I know that it sounded like the relationship kind of fell apart. I figure it’s best for both Tampa and Josh that they went their separate ways.”

How good a quarterback is Freeman?

“He’s good. He’s really good. He’s still developing,” Weber said. “He’s still getting better. He’s only 25 years old, so he’s not even close to his prime yet. When he figures out how to play consistent football at the level that he can, he can be really, really good.”

Weber said he believes Freeman has demonstrated that high level of play before.

“He’s shown that he can do it,” Weber said. “It’s just a matter of doing it every week, and I believe he can do that.”

Weber also said he thinks Freeman will fit in with Vikings players, even though he enters in the middle of the season and into a complicated situation with Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel already established as the top two quarterbacks.

“He’s down to Earth, a good guy,” Weber said. “He’s easy to get along with. I think he’s going to come into the Vikings locker room and it’s going to be an easy transition for him. Guys are going to like him, he’s easy to talk to.”

Well, I am in the minority. I’ve never seen a Vikings quarterback get the criticism Ponder has been getting, even though he was the leader of a 10-6 team last year.

I might be wrong. But once Ponder is healthy, I think he will get a chance to start and if he does well, he will be the No. 1 quarterback. If he fails to produce, then Cassel and Freeman will compete for the job.

Rough start

The Carolina Panthers, the Vikings’ opponent Sunday, started the season with two tough losses, a 12-7 defeat to the Seahawks at home and a 24-23 loss at Buffalo, the latter coming on a touchdown pass with two seconds left by EJ Manuel. But they seemed to have figured things out when they destroyed the New York Giants 38-0 at home in Week 3.

So it was surprising to see them lose so badly to a middle-of-the-road Arizona Cardinals team last week, falling 22-6. But Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith said Monday that a lot of the offensive problems in that game could be pinned on one official.

“I got a [pass interference] penalty, which is very interesting,” Smith told the Charlotte Observer. “I got … hugged a few times. Being a pretty good flag football player, I think I got my flag pulled on my jersey a few times.”

Smith particularly called out umpire Dan Ferrell, referring to his officiating as “garbage.”

“I make enough money where if [NFL Commissioner] Roger [Goodell] wants to fine me, he can. But I really think that referee probably was the sorriest referee I have ever met,” Smith said.

Jottings

• Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was asked how much digging the team did into Freeman’s background because of his differences with coach Greg Schiano and his sudden exit from Tampa Bay.

“We did some digging,” Frazier said. “That was important. You hear so many things, you have to find out what’s true and what’s not. Between [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] and our personnel department, along with some calls that I made as well, we felt comfortable and we’ll see how it works out.”

• Now that the Pirates have been eliminated from the playoffs, Justin Morneau’s final line with Pittsburgh was a .268 batting average with no home runs and three RBI in 31 games, counting the regular season and playoffs. In six postseason games, he hit .292 with no home runs and no RBI.

• The Oakland A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays, all playoff teams, had a combined payroll of $191.8 million — which combined would be the third-highest payroll in baseball behind the New York Yankees ($229 million) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($216 million). The Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Rays, have a $159 million payroll.

• Former Gopher Rick Rickert is playing with the third Japanese team of his career this year with the Wakayama Trians. Rickert is averaging 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds through four contests.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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