Jim Souhan: Amazingly, Kill gets first extension before first Big Ten victory

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2011 - 1:08 PM

The University of Minnesota is jumping to conclusions about its new football coach.

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Jerry Kill

In December, when Jerry Kill's résumé radiated the promise of an unopened present, the University of Minnesota offered him a five-year contract.

In October, after Kill lost six of his first seven games and was destroyed by three Big Ten opponents, the University of Minnesota gave him a raise and a two-year contract extension.

If Kill can hold Iowa under 100 points Saturday, he likely will be granted tenure.

Perhaps only our Golden Gophers would extend the contract of a football coach who has won one game. Some mixture of naivete, paranoia, muddled thinking and desperation -- call that brew a Gopher Cocktail, or GopherAde -- persuaded the Minnesota brain trust to treat Kill as if he were Nick Saban.

It's understandable that Kill would ask his bosses for more time to turn around one of the worst programs in the country. What's stunning is that his bosses, while negotiating with a man with no leverage, agreed. Kill should have brought some Amway products to that meeting.

Kill is now signed to a seven-year contract worth $8.4 million. If he eventually wins, he will earn that money and more, and be welcomed to stay as long as he wants.

But let's say that Kill is the latest in a long line of failed Gophers coaches, that he's more Wacker than Holtz. Let's say the U decides to fire him after three seasons. In that case, the new contract would call for the university to pay him $2.4 million to go away.

The new contract guarantees Kill a minimum of $1.2 million more than he originally agreed to, not counting his raise. This is his reward for losing the only three Big Ten games in which he has coached by a combined 144-31. The extension guarantees Kill two extra years of buyout money at $600,000 per year.

To summarize, the U has guaranteed Kill $1.9 million more than he agreed to in December. What would have happened had he beaten Miami of Florida instead of Miami of Ohio?

If over the next three or four years Kill had impressed, the university would have had plenty of time to reward him with an extension. Rewarding him after one victory is the business equivalent of spiking the ball not in the end zone, not at midfield, but after taking a delay-of-game penalty on your own 5-yard line.

This decision is so curious that I asked a few well-connected people at the U to explain. I spoke with three sources, none of whom wanted to named. I also tried to reach university President Eric Kaler; his spokesperson said he was traveling and unavailable.

The people I spoke with all said that the extension is a reflection of how much Kill has impressed people at all levels of the university, and an acknowledgement that his predecessor, Tim Brewster, left the program in shambles.

University decision-makers believe Kill is a not only a good coach, but a good coach who inspires tremendous loyalty from those close to him, who is guaranteed to operate a clean program that emphasizes academics, and who wants to grow roots in Minnesota.

They say the university views the extension as an indication that both sides are in this for the long haul, regardless of how poorly the team might perform over the next couple of seasons.

The extension also reflects Kill's belief, according to these people, that he will require at least a couple of years to reach any semblance of competitiveness. He is shocked, they say, not only by the lack of talent on his roster, but the unwillingness of some of Brewster's recruits to even attend class.

In Kill, university leaders see a long-term solution to their persistent football problem, and they're willing to put their money where their faith is.

Imagine how much they would have paid Kill had he beaten New Mexico State.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500ESPN. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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