Jerry Kill was busy on the recruiting trail Tuesday when his cellphone started lighting up with congratulatory messages.
Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year on Tuesday, by both his fellow coaches and the media, after leading the Gophers to a 5-3 conference finish.
In a preseason poll of Big Ten writers, conducted by Cleveland.com, the Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten’s West Division behind Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. Minnesota wound up second behind Wisconsin after defeating those other three teams.
“It’s a team honor,” Kill said in a phone interview. “When I talk about our coaching staff, I accept it as a compliment to the job that all these guys have done and the whole team.”
Kill won the award over Urban Meyer, who led Ohio State to an 8-0 conference record and the East Division title despite losing quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett to injury. Meyer has a 24-0 Big Ten regular-season record but has yet to earn the conference’s coach of the year award.
“Urban Meyer probably deserves it as much as anybody with the quarterback situation he’s had to deal with,” Kill said. “He’s a great football coach. [Michigan State coach] Mark Dantonio — they’re all good. That’s why it’s tough to win every Saturday.”
The last time the Gophers had a Big Ten Coach of the Year was in 1999, when Glen Mason led them to a 5-3 conference finish, including a victory over No. 2 Penn State.
Kill is 25-25 in four seasons as Gophers coach. His team’s Big Ten win totals in that span: two, two, four and five.
“I am thrilled for Jerry, as he is truly deserving of being named Big Ten Coach of the Year,” Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague said in a statement. “I am continually impressed at how he is building our program and know that even brighter days are ahead for Gopher football. Jerry and his staff are second to none.”
Several national media outlets have mentioned Kill, 53, as a potential candidate for the coaching vacancy at Nebraska, and there also are jobs open at Michigan and Kansas.
In an interview with the Big Ten Network, Kill said he hasn’t received any calls about other jobs.
“I have made it real clear about how I feel about Minnesota,” Kill said in his phone interview with the Star Tribune. “My wife and our coaching staff all love it here. I’m not looking for a job. I don’t want to leave. We will be here as long as the university wants us to be here.”
The Gophers (8-4 overall) will learn their bowl destination Sunday. They finished 8-5 last season and are seeking their first bowl victory since 2004.
Kill said the program still has a ways to go. His oft-cited motto is brick-by-brick.
“What are the two bricks that are left?” he said. “Well, we’ve got to continue to get better players. And to get better players, you’ve got to have the resources. That’s just the way it is.”
Kill said he hopes the Gophers can begin breaking ground on a new practice facility by April.
He won national coaching awards at Southern Illinois in 2003 and 2007, and his peers voted him one of five regional coaches of the year last year, along with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Missouri’s Gary Pinkel, Baylor’s Art Briles and Stanford’s David Shaw.
Adding this latest hardware should only help the Gophers in recruiting.
“It’s great for our staff and our players,” he said. “And it’s all part of moving the program forward.”