Before we have even had a chance to turn our calendars, 1500 ESPN host Patrick Reusse's 2011 "Turkey of the Year" award already has a winner. With all due respect to James Sheppard, Adam Kelly, Don Lucia, Devoe Joseph, Zygi Wilf, Scott Ullger, and KFAN (what happened to that Paul Chryst hiring?), the winner is a no-brainer.
It's Joel Maturi.
Sunday night, while referencing his latest football hire, Maturi said "We cast a wide net in this search, but the name we kept coming back to was Jerry Kill." Really?? This from the same guy who said "We're out here to find a Tubby Smith . . . We're out here to find somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in, and are going to bring instant credibility and notoriety to the football program." Why can't Maturi just keep it real? San Diego State's Brady Hoke said no, and so did others. The question then becomes, how far down the list was Kill?
On Monday morning at 7 a.m., when Maturi addressed the team, he said, "If you've done your homework, you'll know that this guy has won at every place he's been." Please, not the homework line again, especially after the Tim Brewster fiasco. Maturi didn't do his homework then, so what makes us believe he did his homework this time?
This is not an indictment on Kill, who did the exact same thing anyone in his position would have done. Although, he'll have to deal with constant comparisons of "What would Mike Leach have done with this team?" Kill's resume is good despite a 2-12 record vs. FBS teams that finished above .500 in the last three years (2-13 if Illinois wins its bowl game). Also, he is 0-2 in bowl games and, while with FCS Southern Illinois, went 4-5 in playoff appearances -- never making it to the championship game. He also lost on Friday night as a 17-point favorite in the Mid-American Conference championship game to Miami (Ohio). For a chance to triple his salary and coach in the Big 10, it's easy to see why he said yes. Heck, he didn't have an indoor practice facility at Northern Illinois.
Northern Illinois improved in many areas under Kill's watch. Their penalty numbers went down in each of his three years, and this year finished in the top-10 in the FBS. That is good discipline. They have a plus-10 in turnover margin this year, 18th in the FBS, second in the MAC. Those who know him love him. He's the opposite of Tim Brewster. In other words, there won't be any Rose Bowl turf in the football complex, and he'll limit his use of "tremendous." He's a hard-nosed football guy, who relies on out-scheming the opponent.
I do worry about his health, though, especially when he'll have to deal with Sid Hartman on a regular basis. In 2005, he was treated for kidney cancer (best win of his career), and in September he collapsed at his home following complications from gall bladder surgery. According to the Chicago Sun Times, his father passed away at age 66 from pancreatic cancer.
But Kill deserves a shot. With home games against Iowa, Wisconsin, and Nebraska next year, he has a chance of winning over a negative fan base immediately.
Maturi? He's had his chance. In some ways, the harsh treatment of him may not be fair. It's the Kevin McHale syndrome. Once you screw up long enough, nothing can be accepted. But that's big-time athletics. In October, a high-profile booster destroyed Maturi in a phone conversation. At the time, I thought it was a bit harsh, but maybe he was right. I'll give Maturi one thing: on the day he fired Brewster, he was right when he said, "You're not following Vince Lombardi here."
The same will be said when Maturi's successor is hired.