After spending time at a top epilepsy center in Grand Rapids, Mich., Gophers football coach Jerry Kill has returned home to Minneapolis, where he’ll continue receiving treatment, a person familiar with the situation told the Star Tribune on Thursday.
Kill began an indefinite leave from the team on Oct. 10, and there’s still no timetable for his return. Acting head coach Tracy Claeys said he doesn’t expect Kill to be with the team for Saturday’s game at Northwestern.
Filling in for Kill on his weekly radio show Thursday on 100.3-FM, Claeys sounded upbeat about Kill’s progress.
“They feel very good about the process right now,” Claeys said. “It’s just not going to be fast enough for [Kill].”
Two people who’ll miss seeing Kill on Saturday are Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald and athletic director Jim Phillips.
“He’s tough,” Fitzgerald said of Kill. “He has overcome cancer and the challenges that come with epilepsy. I hope he feels all of our support. There is no one more respected or loved in our coaching fraternity in the Big Ten than Jerry.”
Phillips was the AD at Northern Illinois in 2007 when he hired Kill to be the school’s new football coach. Phillips left for Northwestern a few months later, but he watched as Kill’s staff built Northern Illinois into a Mid-American Conference power.
The Huskies went 6-7 and 7-6 in Kill’s first two seasons before going 10-3 in 2010.
“He’s as good a person and as honest of a person as you’d ever want to meet,” Phillips said. “He’s committed his whole life to leading and guiding young men through football. He does it with impeccable character and integrity and dedication, and it’s really hard not to love Jerry Kill.”
Kill, 52, was first diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005, when he suffered a seizure on the sidelines while coaching for Southern Illinois. That seizure led to the discovery of kidney cancer, and after having the tumor removed, Kill has been in remission ever since.
Phillips said he knew Kill’s health history when he hired him at Northern Illinois.
“That was well-documented at the time, so it wasn’t a secret,” Phillips said.
Likewise, Kill had discussions with Minnesota officials about his health before he was hired to be the Gophers coach in December 2010. Phillips was among the people Gophers officials checked with in vetting Kill’s background.
Phillips also had come to know Kill’s staff, including Claeys and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover.
“Those kids are in incredibly good hands with both Tracy and Matt,” Phillips said. “There’s such great continuity with the guys he has that if anybody could lose their head coach for a short or long period of time, it would be that program.”
But Phillips doesn’t expect Kill’s epilepsy to hold him back for long.
“I think he’s going to be back, and be back stronger, and this will be like every other challenge he’s had in his life,” Phillips said. “He’s going to overcome it, and he’s going to do it with great support and a great family. I have a lot of confidence that it’s going to have a really happy ending to it.”