Jerry Kill’s parking space at the Gophers football complex remains empty, but the head coach has been back to work for several days.
Kill joined acting head coach Tracy Claeys at the team’s weekly news conference Tuesday, marking the first time Kill has addressed the media since the university announced he was taking time off to treat his epilepsy Oct. 10.
He said he’ll return to the coaching booth Saturday at Indiana, just as he has for the previous two games, and that he isn’t sure when he’ll return to the sideline. But he also made it known that he’s been busy behind the scenes, recruiting, attending practices and team strategy meetings.
Asked for a health update, Kill made reference to his parking space. Under Minnesota law, a person who has a seizure can’t drive for three months. Kill’s last reported seizure came Oct. 5, the day he had to miss the Gophers game at Michigan.
“I’ll be driving in February,” Kill said. “I’m not going to say, ‘I hope’ and ‘maybe,’ and all that. I’m going to be driving that truck. As a matter of fact, I think I’m going to order the thing this week.
“And I ain’t lying. I’m just talking from the heart. I guess that sums it up. I’m going to beat the odds.”
Kill, 52, who was first diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005, has missed parts of four games in three seasons at Minnesota because of seizures.
According to the National Epilepsy Foundation, 70 percent of the patients with the disease can become seizure free with the right medication. Soon after taking his leave, Kill spent about six days at an epilepsy treatment center in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Claeys, Kill’s defensive coordinator, has served as the Gophers acting head coach the past three games and moved to the sideline for victories against Northwestern and Nebraska. Kill addressed the team at halftime in both games, and played an active role game planning for the Cornhuskers.
On Tuesday, Claeys was asked about the starting quarterback decision for Indiana, and Kill said, “That’s mine. I dealt with that last week, too, so I’ve been around a lot more than you think.”
Claeys had said it’s his preference to name a starting quarterback on Tuesday, but the Gophers kept that decision a mystery until game time again last week.
Kill declined to specify exactly how many shots he called last week in the Gophers’ 34-23 upset over Nebraska.
“I’m not going to go into all that,” Kill said. “It’s just hard for me to explain. We all talk. There’s no agenda. We all coach. There’s no superego guy here making all the decisions. Now, when it comes down to critical things, like talking to quarterbacks and all those kinds of things, me and [quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski] did that last week.
“You’ve got to make critical decisions; you’re the head coach. But we all work together.”
Kill said he has gained some perspective and listened to others in the coaching profession who have preached the importance of delegating more. Among those he heard from, he said, was Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano, who took an indefinite leave last year to treat his leukemia before returning this season.
“I haven’t listened a whole lot over the years [and that’s] probably why I’m in the situation I’m in,” Kill said. “But I’m listening now, so I’ve got great professional advice from people who’ve been in the game. And there’s a lot of ways to do things and win. I need to change a few things, and I’m doing it. I’m working on it. It ain’t easy.”
Asked if he’d like to return to the sideline at some point this season, Kill said, “I was offensive coordinator [before becoming a head coach]. I kind of enjoyed it up there. I enjoyed it at Northwestern because you’re in that box, you can’t hear anything.
“I had a Diet Coke. You get to be my age, you go to the bathroom because there’s so many darn TV timeouts, and you don’t miss any plays. So there are advantages to that and you can see things.
“We’re going to take it week by week. I can tell you this: We aren’t going to screw it up right now, and I will be in the box at Indiana. … I’m not going to make those decisions right now, but I am a little superstitious, and we’re not going to change a whole lot.”