Scoggins: Coach, heal thyself before attempting to mend Gophers

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 27, 2011 - 11:28 AM

Jerry Kill needs to take care of his health first.

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Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill watched his team at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 17, 2011.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Jerry Kill sat behind a table on a dais Saturday night and accepted full responsibility for the Gophers' latest embarrassment, a humbling 37-24 loss to North Dakota State.

"Any other questions?" Kill asked media members. "I owe it to you. Win, lose or draw."

The next morning Kill suffered another seizure and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic. Kill has worked tirelessly to fix this downtrodden football program, but it no longer can come at the expense of his health. That reality finally forced him to call a personal timeout.

Kill essentially has taken a medical leave of absence to seek treatment and hopefully find answers for how to control his seizures. He's suffered a seizure disorder for nearly two decades, but something has triggered a series of them since he collapsed on the sideline in the closing seconds against New Mexico State two weeks ago.

Kill's decision to step away not only is a smart decision, but it really is his only option. This has become a serious issue for him and his program. Whether it takes a week, a month or the rest of the season, Kill should not return until his medical problem is under control and his doctors have a handle on it.

This latest crisis makes you wonder how much more Gophers football can endure. The futility on the field seems like it will never end. Former coach Tim Brewster was a bad hire and made such a mess of the place that the talent level is well below Big Ten standards. The school can't sell out TCF Bank Stadium, which opened in 2009, unless the opponent's fans buy tickets in bulk.

Kill's arrival provided hope and an approach fans embraced, but some of that optimism was stripped away by home losses to one of the worst major-college teams in the country (New Mexico State) and a Football Championship Subdivision team (North Dakota State) this season.

It is a sad state of affairs with no tangible proof that things are on the verge of turning around anytime soon. Gophers fans must wonder if the program ever will be competitive or competent. Now their immediate concerns revolve around Kill's health and what the future holds in that regard.

Kill was downright defiant after returning to work last week. He said he "ain't changing" and vowed "to go like hell until I go down." He's never missed a game because of a seizure episode.

That shows his toughness and commitment to his job and players, but there is a bigger picture here.

Kill's public seizure on the sideline was a frightening and shocking event. It also shed light on his history of seizures and how he's managed them over the years. But if it happened again during a game, the problem would only be magnified in a very public way. The Gophers and Kill don't need that.

Kill indicated last week that his doctors are trying to get his medications squared away. You also wonder if fatigue from long work hours and the stress of trying to pull his program out of an abyss have contributed to his condition. That's up to his doctors to decide.

The university needs to be transparent in its updates on Kill's condition, to the extent that it can while also respecting his privacy. Kill stunned reporters at his news conference last week when he revealed he had suffered 20 seizures in six days after being hospitalized. It came so out of the blue that it wasn't clear if Kill was speaking literally until he confirmed it later that day.

In no way is this meant to suggest that Kill's medical condition raises doubt about his ability to do the job. To me, he's absolutely still the right man for this job.

By all reports, Kill told university administration and his players about his condition. There was no intent on his part to deceive. They just need to figure out the reasons behind these latest episodes.

The silver lining in this situation is that Kill's coaching staff has been together forever and knows the drill. It's not some hodgepodge group that lacks continuity or clear understanding of how things should run in their leader's absence. That should give Kill some peace of mind as he tends to his health.

It's unclear when Kill will return to work. To steal one of his phrases, he's a tough son-of-a-buck. Perhaps even a little stubborn. But his health needs to be his top priority right now.

The mess he inherited will still be there when he's ready to return.

Chip Scoggins • cscoggins@startribune.com

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