48 hours: Meeting and greeting on the run

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2010 - 10:21 PM

New Gophers football coach Jerry Kill reached out to virtually everyone -- players, recruits, prep coaches, media -- during his first 48 hours here.


New Gophers football coach Jerry Kill mingled after speaking at the news conference where he was introduced Monday at TCF Bank Stadium.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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C'mon, Minnesota, let's make this simpler for Jerry Kill: Would anyone who hasn't spoken to the new Gophers coach in the past two days please raise your hand?

"I can't even list" all the connections made in the 48 hours since arriving to become the university's football boss, Kill said Tuesday as he rushed from one meeting to the next. "They've had me scheduled about every 15 minutes. I can hardly breathe."

Nothing like flooring it from the start. Kill already has held get-to-know-me sessions, in person or by phone, with his new players, his predecessor's coaches and administrators, sports media members from the Twin Cities and national outlets, every recruit who has committed to Minnesota and a few who haven't, and a group of metro high school coaches who gathered in TCF Bank Stadium.

"They've kept me busy," Kill said. "Not much sleep, I can tell you that."

Next up: A quick trip back to DeKalb, Ill., to pack up his office, grab a change of clothes, and sit down with his Northern Illinois assistants, most of whom have followed him from school to school as Kill has kept climbing the professional ladder. By the end of the week or early next week, he hopes to have his new staff assembled.

He might simply bring his entire roster of longtime coaches along with him, though Kill made it clear at a news conference Monday that he'll carefully consider each position. That meant spending much of Tuesday morning and evening interviewing each current assistant, including interim head coach Jeff Horton, without making any immediate judgments about their future.

"We're going to put it together as quickly as we can. We need to make a lot of choices," Kill said, adding that his NIU assistants have to make choices of their own. "We need to find out who the coach that takes my place is going to be. That's going to help a lot of things."

Northern Illinois provided part of the answer Tuesday afternoon, when athletic director Jeff Compher promoted linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz, who has worked with Kill for 11 seasons, to head coach for the Huskies' game with Fresno State in the Dec. 18 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho. At least 10 members of Kill's staff will stay through the bowl game, the university announced.

What that means for Matukewicz's future at NIU, or whether it's an indication offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will not be considered for the job on a permanent basis, is not clear.

In the meantime, though, Kill already is working to ensure that Gophers recruiting can make up for the time lost during the coaching search. He spoke to each player who committed to former coach Tim Brewster, encouraging them to stick with the Gophers.

"He talked about everything from growing up in Kansas to the offense he wants to run," said Max Shortell, a quarterback at Bishop Miege High in Shawnee Mission, Kan. "He said we'll do a variety of things, but kind of a pro-style offense, line up with two backs, that sort of thing. He felt like a normal guy, not someone trying to impress you."

With Horton's help, Kill set up official visits for the recruits this weekend and next, so he can meet each one personally.

"I can't wait. He seemed really sincere," said Pete Westerhaus, a linebacker and tight end from Holy Family Catholic in Victoria, Minn. "He really impressed me. He talked about how he's so high on hard work -- I respect that."

So did the high school coaches Kill invited to campus. He asked them for help in keeping Minnesota prospects from going out of state. Players such as Eden Prairie linebacker Blake Sorensen, who chose Wisconsin, or DeLaSalle running back Alexander Robinson, who plays for Iowa State -- "We can't let many of those guys get away," said Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson, who took part in the hour-long meeting with Kill. "You need more than just Minnesota kids, but the heart and soul of the team has to be these kids who grew up with maroon and gold."

Kill's pride in his high school roots -- he was 25-1 and won a state title in two seasons as head coach at Webb City (Mo.) High in 1988 and '89 -- won over the coaches Tuesday. The meeting on his first day of work, to air suggestions about improving relations between prep coaches and the university, "is a sign that he gets it," Nelson said. "I came away very excited about working with him."

Kill was equally excited, and said recruiting Minnesota's best preps are a priority.

"We're not going to keep them all. If we work our tail end off and we don't get them, you can live with it. But if we're not doing our job, that's a problem," Kill said. "So we've got to get out and hustle."

Then, as if to prove his point, he hustled away, off to another meeting.

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