Last fall was an extreme test.
Besides the swaying emotions from a 6-7 season, Kill dealt with two public-relations fallouts.
First, the Gophers announced they were paying $800,000 to remove two games against North Carolina from future schedules. Then receiver A.J. Barker quit the team, criticizing Kill sharply in a 4,100-word blog post.
That wasn’t the worst of it for Kill. His brother-in-law, Don Smith, flew in for the Michigan game and suffered a severe allergic reaction at the stadium. Smith lost oxygen to his brain and fell into a coma. Rebecca Kill spent much of November at her brother’s hospital bedside before he was pronounced dead. He was 53.
“Jerry would go do what he had to do at the office, and then come check on me and my brother in the hospital,” she said. “I kept thinking, ‘Jerry, you’re going to wear yourself out.’ ”
She was in a stadium suite for the Michigan State game when she learned of Kill’s seizure. She spent the second half with her husband in the training room, then drove to their home in Minneapolis.
“I think this is how his body reacts to certain things, when it hits a wall, so to speak,” she said. “Some people have migraines. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve been around it.”
At the football complex, Kill is surrounded by others who understand his epilepsy well. Most of his assistant coaches have been with him for more than a decade. They know their roles if Kill has to leave a game, and the players are prepared, too.
“Coach Kill’s done a great job of keeping us up to date on his situation,” Gophers senior Brock Vereen said. “So now we know when it happens, everything’s going to be fine. There’s no need to panic. It’s not the end of the world.”
Teague repeatedly has praised Kill’s coaching efforts.
Asked via e-mail how the Gophers would handle fan perception if there’s another in-game seizure, Teague responded: “Obviously, we would hope we don’t have another situation. However, we are prepared to manage it both internally and externally.”
Kill said one mistake after taking the Minnesota job was not switching to a local epileptologist. At Northern Illinois, he worked closely with a doctor from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. After his 2011 seizure struggles, he went to the Mayo Clinic.
“I jumped into the job going 110 miles per hour, and we had so much work to do, I didn’t pay enough attention,” Kill said. “I thought we could go long distance [with the Northwestern doctor], so I got a wake-up call.”
Now, Kill is under closer medical surveillance, with his wife serving as the doctor’s second set of eyes.
To help relax and get his exercise, he goes for a long walk almost every day. Often, he waits until after work and walks with her from their downtown Minneapolis townhouse along the Mississippi River.
“There are no guarantees in life,” Kill said. “But right now, kind of like our football program, I think I’m heading in the right direction.”