Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
It was interesting to hear Jerry Kill talk on Wednesday about how little control coaches have over their players off the field, and how hard he and his staff work to educate the players so they don't get into trouble. "We're responsible for 105 kids," he said. "Can I tell you once they leave this building every single thing they do? There's no way."
He was mostly talking about taking illegal benefits, since the question was about his reaction to the University of Miami's long list of alleged violations, but the Gophers' coach began speaking about how he keeps his cell phone next to his bed, and how it seems like someone calls with a problem almost every night.
"There's some kid, maybe they lost their mom, maybe they got sick, maybe they broke up with their girlfriend," Kill said. "I'm like a doctor on call."
There have been no major off-field incidents involving Kill's players since he took over at Minnesota, and he has counseled the Gophers endlessly about avoiding such problems. But Kill knows all too well that college kids sometimes get into trouble no matter who the coach is or how much they are lectured.
Kill had been on the job only four months at Emporia State a dozen years ago, when he got the worst call of all: One of his players, freshman linebacker Brian Wagner, had been driving around Emporia with a friend when they pulled into the parking lot of a local bar to talk to some other friends. Wagner soon became involved in a confrontation, which escalated into a brawl. When the police arrived, Wagner was lying unconscious, beaten and kicked until he was comatose. Six days later, the teenager died.
Kill was still learning who his players were, and vice versa, when the fight occurred, and already he faced a crisis. Not only did he have to console his shocked team, but he had to keep a bad situation from escalating, since there apparently were players who discussed taking revenge on Wagner's assailants. (Three men were eventually arrested and convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the crime.)
Through it all, and though still grieving over the death of his father a few months earlier, Kill managed to keep his team focused on football when they needed to. Though using mostly inexperienced players, Kill led the Hornets to a 5-6 record that fall.
"It's probably the best job of coaching he ever did, considering everything he was dealing with that year," said Kill's younger brother Frank, who attended most of Emporia State's games. "They didn't have a lot of talent, and they went through so much -- that murder was really a big, emotional issue around town -- but he got them to play pretty good football."
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