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's been 10 years since Jerry Kill suffered through a season as unsuccessful as this one, because it's been a decade since he's taken over a program so in need of an overhaul.
And the Gophers' 2-9 season has come with some painful reminders.
"I've been able to go in and turn programs around, but I think I forgot how tough it was," Kill said Tuesday. "You get pounded by people that go, 'I don't think he can do it.' "
That's been the case here, where the optimism of a new regime and a new season quickly gave way to the reality of the task at hand. As the Gophers failed to capitalize on their non-conference schedule, losing home games to New Mexico State and North Dakota State and then appearing completely overmatched by their early Big Ten opponents, more doubters emerged.
Kill has taught himself to tune them out. But "it's not easy to do," he said.
"Thank the Lord I've trained for it and I've been through it before, because if you haven't been through it, it's pretty darned tough," the coach said. "If you've been through it, you kind of live in a bubble, which we do as a staff. We talk all the time, we keep each other going."
The doubts extended even to the players, Kill said, and he could tell that back in the spring. The most important time for a rebuilding program, he said, is the off-season, where weight-room dedication and a culture of hard work have to take hold before a team can be successful on the field.
"I said [during the spring], 'Hey, [the players] haven't bought in. We hadn't worked hard enough,' " Kill said. "All of a sudden, it's kicked in now a little bit, but it's too late. It's too late. I feel bad that I couldn't get that done earlier, but I kept saying, 'We don't know how to work.' I was hoping I could get them to buy in quicker and move faster."
He's seen progress over the past four weeks, and believes the program is moving, albeit slowly, toward a brighter future. And he reiterated that his future is with the Gophers, too -- because he's not up to yet another ground-up reconstruction. "I don't want to do it again," Kill said. "This is it. I've said that since I've been here -- it's too damn hard. It's hard to change a culture."
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