Amid the frenzy of trying to shape the Gophers' football future, Jerry Kill took the time Thursday to connect with its past.
It was a mission long overdue, Kill's guests said.
"It's time to end the disconnect that has occurred here over the years," Ray Hitchcock, a Gophers center in the mid-1980s, said after the first of what he hopes will become a series of "Coffee with Kill" get-togethers between Minnesota alums and the team's new coach. "These guys in here, now we need to send them into the streets to become advocates for the program."
That's Kill's hope, too, since former players are among the most passionate boosters a team can find, not to mention a valuable historical resource. He spent an hour with the 23 invited guests Thursday, laying out his plans for the Gophers, introducing his staff, and inviting them to watch spring practice.
"As former players, we haven't had the open-door policy to come in and meet the head coach and be interactive with the players," said Rickey Foggie, a quarterback and three-time Gophers MVP in the 1980s. "It's a step in the right direction to come in and get some of the guys reacquainted."
Particularly since a group of ex-players, billing itself as Save Gopher Football, was so vocal about its unhappiness with the program, and particularly athletic director Joel Maturi, during the coaching search. The group even took out newspaper ads demanding a role in the process.
"There were certain people who weren't happy and made a lot of noise," said Jim Fahnhorst, an All-Big Ten linebacker in 1981. "There were also a lot of people who were indifferent and now are a little bit charged up. But I wouldn't paint everybody as angry alumni."
In fact, these alumni sounded sold on the new direction.
"This is a sleeping giant," Hitchcock said. "This guy gets it. He can coach. He can recruit. I think it's a great hire."
Coaching staff complete
With the hiring this week of defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel and several support-staff members, the near-intact transfer of Northern Illinois' staff to Minnesota is complete.
Sawvel, who also will be the primary special-teams coach, joins six other assistants from Kill's staff in DeKalb to be hired by the Gophers. And five other staff positions have been filled by ex-Huskies.
Eric Klein, who has worked under Kill for 17 years, is the Gophers' new strength coach.
"No disrespect to any of our other coaches, but he is the reason we've been successful in turning around programs," Kill said. "He may be the biggest hire that I've made."
New director of player personnel Adam Clark and director of recruiting operations Billy Glasscock each were hired by Kill at NIU. Offensive quality-control coach Nate Griffin was Kill's graduate assistant for two years in DeKalb.
And Brian Anderson, who has worked for Kill for the past decade at Southern Illinois and NIU, is giving up an on-field role to become the program's defensive quality-control coach. Anderson coached tight ends at Northern Illinois for three years, and wide receivers at SIU before that.