In for the Kill: No big splash, but a winner

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 6, 2010 - 6:32 PM

Many candidates were interviewed, but Joel Maturi went back to a coach who beat the Gophers earlier this season: Northern Illinois' Jerry Kill.

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The Gophers have hired Northern Illinois' Jerry Kill as their next football coach.

Photo: Carlos Osorio, Associated Press

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Joel Maturi must have meant it when he said he wanted to hire a coach who could bring a winner to TCF Bank Stadium. The man he chose, after a six-week, coast-to-coast search, is already 1-0 in his new home.

Jerry Kill, who led Northern Illinois to a 34-23 victory over Minnesota on Sept. 25, has been hired to take over the woebegone Gophers, the university announced Sunday night. The 49-year-old coach, who has never had a losing record in four previous smaller-school stops, has agreed to a five-year contract and will be introduced on campus at 2 p.m. Monday.

Kill gathered NIU players together after a season-ending banquet in DeKalb, Ill., Sunday night and broke the news that he is leaving before the Huskies' appearance in the Humanitarian Bowl, their third consecutive postseason game. Then he accompanied Maturi and other Minnesota officials on a flight back to the Twin Cities, and into a new chapter of his life.

The university did not reveal Kill's salary, but it figures to be a large increase from the $381,000 he was earning at Northern Illinois. Tim Brewster, who went 15-30 in 3 1/2 seasons, was paid roughly $1 million per year.

"I was raised the old-school way by my father and mother to do my job to the very best of my ability," Kill said in a statement. "You go full speed at it and you don't let anyone outwork you."

That was also Maturi's intention in finding a successor to Brewster, fired Oct. 17 as the Gophers slumped to 1-6. But the search, with the help of an executive-placement firm that was paid $90,000 for its help, seemed to founder from one rumored candidate to another. According to multiple reports, San Diego State's Brady Hoke, Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Houston's Kevin Sumlin, among many others, were approached but ultimately not hired.

"We cast a wide net in this search," Maturi said in a statement, "but the name we kept coming back to was Jerry Kill."

It's a name that likely comes as a shock to Gophers fans, since Maturi had declared that "we're out here to find a Tubby Smith," meaning a well-known, successful coach. "Somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in, and people are going to bring instant credibility and notoriety to the football program," Maturi said. "That is my goal. Whether there is that interest remains to be seen."

It doesn't appear he found much interest. But by choosing Kill, Maturi might have reached for a good football hire rather than a bold public-relations stroke. The new coach is known for modesty and loyalty, and for succeeding without high-profile recruits. The Huskies (10-3) reached No. 24 in the AP poll, rare for a MAC team, and won the league's West Division before being upset by Miami (Ohio) 26-21 in the league title game on Friday in Detroit.

He will need similar effectiveness to turn around a tattered Gophers program that last won a Big Ten title in 1967.

"He plays Big Ten-style football. He is going to line up and play physical and play hard," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said of Kill, a friend from their days coaching in Kansas in the 1990s. "He is just a very true guy, a very, very good football coach. He has won everywhere he has gone."

Not since Lou Holtz in 1983 has Minnesota hired a coach with a winning record; Brewster had no head coaching experience at all. But Kill, who went 6-7, 7-6 and 10-3 in three seasons at Northern Illinois, also built a 127-73 collegiate record at Southern Illinois, Emporia (Kan.) State and Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State.

"Coach Kill has a history of rebuilding programs," Maturi said. "I'm confident we have chosen the right man to lead the Golden Gopher program."

A lot of fans and ex-players have been skeptical of Maturi's ability to do that, and some even organized the website savegopherfootball.com to express its doubts. But Doug Kingsriter, an All-America tight end on the 1971 Minnesota team, said the group's problems with Maturi would not affect how he regards the hire.

"I don't know that it's any different than an election -- once a person is in that position, you turn to doing whatever you can to help," Kingsriter said. "... I hope he'll do the Gophers proud."

So does Adam Weber, the Gophers' four-year starter at quarterback who was impressed by the Huskies' discipline in September. "You can tell by the little things, how many mistakes they make during the game, their fundamentals," Weber said. "They're not sloppy. That reflects on the coach."

  • GOPHERS FOOTBALL THE U HIRES JERRY KILL

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