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.
As if Jerry Kill's life isn't hard enough, now he's got to straddle a line that's almost impossible to navigate.
In the wake of a 1-4 start and a 58-0 loss, he's responding to demands that he explain why it's happening. But when he points out the reasons, the Gophers coach hears, "Don't make excuses."
Now that's a Catch-22. (Ancient reference, I know, from a long-ago college lit class. Kids, just google it.)
As I read my emails, as I discuss the Gophers, I hear those complaints, so I can't imagine how often he must hear it. And I keep coming back to: What's he supposed to say? There really are reasons the Gophers are in last place, and they are things that can't be fixed by a new coach five games into his tenure.
"At one time [on Saturday], we played eight freshman. Eight freshmen were on the field on the offensive side of the ball," Kill said, mostly because of injuries. "When you're lined up with somebody that's 265 pounds, and he's going against somebody that's 310 pounds, well, OK. ... That's all we have. I played the roster we have."
That's why Minnesota is a multi-year project, because more talent must be recruited and the players here must be given time to develop. And as Kill made clear during an entertaining press conference Tuesday that lacked only a choir and some stained glass to give it the full effect, while he waits to address some of the physical deficits, he's working hard on the mental aspect.
"The one thing we can change is what you believe in. 'Can I go do it? Will I go do it?'," Kill said. "Will you play hard?"
He sees progress. He sees discipline being instilled, players going to class, even though it means "I spend more time babysitting than coaching."
That's because "we had guys that played the whole year last year, and some of them didn't go to class," he said. "It's better. The groundwork's better. ... But those results haven't been seen on the football field yet."
He understands that fans are impatient, and that players, particularly seniors, want to win now, not in three years. If fans "want to blame me or yell at me, I'm OK with it. But I'm doing everything I can," Kill said. "But people have to understand, we have what we have, and all I can do is work with it and we slowly try to change the culture. It's maybe frustrating for fans. It's frustrating for coaches."
All he's asking for, Kill said, is ... well, faith. Blind faith. And the time to reward that faith.
"You've got to believe in somebody. Somebody believed in [Hall of Fame former Wisconsin coach] Barry Alvarez a long time ago when he was 1-10," Kill said. "I'm not saying we're going to be 1-10. I'm just saying, they believed in what he was doing. They bought into it. And look what they've got now."
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