Joe Christensen's Gophers Insider: Team soldiers on

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2013 - 11:03 PM

Coach Jerry Kill was expected back to work soon after his latest seizure on Saturday.

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Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was the acting head coach in Saturday’s loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Photo: MARLIN LEVISON • mlevison@startribune.com,

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One day after Jerry Kill had another setback in his eight-year battle with epilepsy, missing his first full game as Gophers coach, there were no hints of a coming end to his tenure.

Kill has said he’d walk away if seizures continued to force him from games, but after missing Saturday’s 42-13 loss at Michigan, he was expected back to work soon inside the Gophers football offices.

“He loves the University of Minnesota, he loves the state, and our football team,” Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said Sunday. “As long as he feels he can keep that moving in the same direction, he’ll keep battling.”

Kill, 52, has missed parts of four games in three seasons at Minnesota because of seizures, including two this year. The latest episode stemmed from a change in his medications, Claeys said.

Kill remained home Sunday, resting under the care of Dr. Ilo Leppik, an epileptologist from MINCEP Epilepsy Care, a level-four treatment center in Minneapolis.

“All you can do is go by his doctor, who I think they say is one of the best,” Claeys said. “And he claims that when [Kill] gets his medication regulated, they’ll have great control over this.

‘‘So every time [a seizure] happens, it’s a bad thing, but in his doctor’s eyes, he’s getting closer to being able to control the situation.”

Gophers athletics director Norwood Teague continued to voice support for Kill at Michigan Stadium.

“It’s unfortunate that [Saturday’s seizure] happened, this timing, but we’re driving on,” Teague said. “I mean, I see improvement in this program every day, and it’s because of Jerry and his staff and the kids they’re bringing in.”

Claeys handled Kill’s usual Sunday morning appearance on WCCO AM-830 and said the coaching staff never has had a recruit tell them he picked another school because of Kill’s seizures.

After going 2-6 in the Big Ten in the first two seasons under Kill, the Gophers are off to an 0-2 conference start this year. The Michigan loss came one week after a disappointing 23-7 home loss to Iowa.

“You never improve fast enough for people on the outside,” Claeys said. “And I have no problem with it because on the outside, all the improvement’s always judged by wins.

“But you watch the [Michigan] film, we competed well. We’re moving forward, and we understand we have to get to where we win those games. But I think we’re narrowing that gap down, and our kids are capable of doing that.”

Kill continues to have seizures on game days — five since he arrived at Minnesota, counting the one he had following the Northwestern loss last season. But Claeys said, “I can count on one hand probably the number of practices [Kill has missed] in the last nine years.”

This is Claeys’ 19th season coaching under Kill, and the Gophers have six other assistant coaches who’ve been part of the same staff for more than a dozen years. One wonders if Kill might push himself too far, knowing that his assistants’ jobs are all tied to his.

But those close to Kill know that ultimately, any decision about his future is up to Kill, his wife, Rebecca, and their two grown daughters, Krystal and Tasha.

“That’s a decision he and his family have to make,” Claeys said. “I mean we [coaches] have all talked about that. We would never step in the way of that.”

And regarding Kill’s statement that he would walk away if he felt he could no longer do the job because of his health, Claeys said, “He will be true to his word. I guarantee you that.”

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