Las Cruces is New Mexico's second-largest city with a population of 103,000. It is home to New Mexico State, with 11,000 undergraduates.

The closest full-service airport is in El Paso, Texas, 50 miles southeast and sharing the U.S.-Mexico border with Juarez. The same distance northeast will take you to the White Sands Visitors Center.

On a tour, presumably, someone will point and say, "That's where the world's first nuclear explosion took place on July 16, 1945.''

I was flying from Phoenix to El Paso on the last morning of the 20th Century, headed to the Sun Bowl to watch Glen Mason's third collection of Gophers take on Oregon (Ducks, 24-20).

Looking out a window seat, the endless miles of baked ground — with virtually nothing growing — were astounding. And Las Cruces had to be over there to my right.

Which led me to suggest to Jerry Kill, former Gophers football coach, new head coach for the New Mexico State Aggies, that he's making this comeback in the middle of nowhere.

Kill perked up in what had been a low-key phone conversation and said: "Shucks, it's not bad down here. We're surrounded by mountains. And Ruidoso isn't that far north. People go up there on summer weekends, and it's beautiful.''

Seizures caused by epilepsy had bombarded Kill during the 2015 season, his fifth with the Gophers. On Oct. 29, the university called a news conference and Kill, then 54, announced he was retiring as a football coach.

Epilepsy is a powerful opponent. Medical people can help. Addiction is also powerful and it didn't take long for Kill to find out he had one:

Football coaching.

He tried to control it by being around the game.

First, he was a consultant for his friend Bill Snyder at Kansas State in 2016. Second, he went to Rutgers to serve as the offensive coordinator for head coach Chris Ash in 2017. He toughed it out through the season, then quit after the early recruiting period ended in December.

I talked with Kill on the drive home to Illinois' lake country a couple of days before Christmas that year. He was chipper and sounded like this was going to be it.

Since then, he has been an athletic director at Southern Illinois (2018-19), assistant to head coach Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech (2019), assistant to head coach Gary Patterson at TCU (2020-21), and interim TCU head coach for the final four games last season.

He was 2-2, with an immediate upset win over Baylor as a highlight, and blowout losses to Oklahoma State and Iowa State as a return to the harsh realities of head coaching.

Three days after the 48-14 loss to Iowa State, New Mexico State athletic director Mario Moccia announced that Kill would be the Aggies' new head coach.

Why, Country Jer, why?

"Mario was my athletic director at Southern Illinois,'' Kill said. "He wanted me. And I want to give it one more shot. If I can't do it, can't coach differently than in the past, if I can't keep delegating so it's not as hard on me physically, then I can't do it.''

Health? "I'm good,'' Kill said. "My weight's down. My blood pressure is good. I've only had two, three seizures — real little ones — in the last year.''

Kill's head coaching career started at Webb City High School in Missouri in 1988, led to success at Pittsburg (Kansas) State, Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State, Emporia (Kansas) State, then Southern Illinois (2001-07) in the FCS and Northern Illinois (2008-10) in FBS.

I was unfamiliar with his reputation as a program builder until he brought Northern Illinois to play the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium on Sept. 25, 2010. Night game, good crowd, and Tim Brewster was on double public probation after a home loss to South Dakota.

That was Brewster's last stand, in my view, and Kill's offense ran roughshod over the Gophers. The final was 34-23, with NIU running back Chad Spann exploding for 223 yards on 15 carries.

Brewster was fired a month later, and Kill was hired as the replacement in December 2010.

Country Jer's first home game was a 28-21 loss to a large underdog: New Mexico State. He had a sideline seizure and collapsed on that warm afternoon, late in the fourth quarter.

Minnesotans were unaware that epilepsy was the cause. Full panic ensued.

And by his fourth season, the builder had taken the Gophers from the bottom to the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, 2015. Big Minnesota turnout; tough loss to Mizzou, but there were Jerrysota T-shirts everywhere.

Now, Gophers hard-cores are upset with him for some shots taken at the popular head coach P.J. Fleck, a former Kill assistant at Northern Illinois.

Revenge, if he feels the need, will be Fleck's, when Kill brings in New Mexico State as 37-point underdogs for the Gophers opener next Thursday.

Kill has a higher priority at the moment, that being Nevada, which opens the season on Saturday night at the Aggies stadium. Nevada has a new coach in Ken Wilson, a former Oregon assistant. A year ago, Nevada passed for 463 yards in a 55-28 blowout of the woeful Aggies.

This has to be the No. 1 rebuilding mountain to climb of your several, Coach Kill?

"We're starting at the bottom, so I would say so,'' he said. "Although Southern Illinois, that was a long way to look up, and the Gophers ... we were way down there in the Big Ten, too.''

Yes, but you don't have a conference at New Mexico State, and you're playing three money games as enormous underdogs — at Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri.

"I wouldn't be here if we weren't getting into Conference USA next season,'' Kill said. "I told Mario, 'One money game, that's our limit in the future.' "

Three, four times in this conversation, Kill said, "I haven't been the same since I left Minnesota.''

He was suggesting emotionally, maybe even the belief of truly being wanted. I asked after 20 minutes: "If you had it to do over again, would you have taken a leave of absence in 2015, and let Tracy [Claeys] handle it again as an interim, and tried it again at Minnesota?''

The man addicted to football coaching, 62 as of this past Wednesday, said: "You can never go back in anything, and I was really sick at the time in October 2015 …

"But I've told you, 'I've never been the same since I left Minnesota,' so maybe that answers your question.

"I don't know. I just know I don't think much of the schedule the Aggies' AD at the time, McKinley Boston, came up with years ago — to have us going to Minnesota to play four days after opening at home on a Saturday night."