There definitely will be tears shed Saturday when former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill is announced alongside his players for Senior Day before the Wisconsin game at TCF Bank Stadium.
“Well, it will be tough, because we have been through a lot together as a group and those kids kind of put us on the map, they really did,” Kill said. “To be out there with them will be a privilege. I’m kind of an emotional guy anyway, and it will be an honor to be out there with those young men.”
Kill took over a program in complete disarray, with poor academics and undisciplined players following a 3-9 season in 2010. There was a lot of misbehavior on the team, and Kill corrected that in short order.
“Academics was the No. 1 problem,” Kill said. “We had to go out and recruit better talent and change the culture. We had to change the culture because it had been a losing culture and people were frustrated and the state was frustrated.”
Kill installed more discipline in the program, and the coach heard from police officers on campus and even Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek that felt Kill, his staff and his players had brought about a great change at the university.
“We ran as good a program as anybody in the country, and I can very comfortably say that,” Kill said. “There’s nobody that has had seven semesters of 3.0 [grade-point average], we had very few discipline problems. We ran a hard-nosed, clean ship, and we produced good kids. Every kid has issues, but we ran a good program and we still will with Coach [Tracy] Claeys. We will continue that.”
Kill said he has heard from various former employers and even received a letter from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after Kill was forced to retire Oct. 28 to concentrate on his health and treatment for epilepsy.
He said he has been resting and recuperating. His wife, Rebecca, has him in a rehab program, is walking with him every day and making sure he is eating right. The physical toll from the sheer amount of work he was doing at the university led to his retirement.
“I was exhausted,” Kill said. “I put my whole life, every ounce of my body into the University of Minnesota and its football program. I was just, you know we went through the deal with [the resignation of former athletic director Norwood Teague], I had to do a lot of things, I didn’t take summers off very much, raise money, I didn’t have anything left. When I don’t have anything left, that’s not good for my medical situation and I have to think about my family.
“We went through a lot with our situation from an administrative side that wore me out. I felt like I was doing more than one job. There is no doubt about it, I was doing more than one job. I was doing two or three different jobs, and it wore me out. That’s the bottom line.”
Proud of turnaround
Kill said he has had a chance to consider the accomplishments he and his staff achieved in a short period of time.
“The program, as I got a chance to reflect on it, [has] come along [faster] than I ever thought it would be,” Kill said. “I thought it would be year six and seven. I will tell you very comfortably that the schedule is going to change, and year six  and seven  will be great here at the University of Minnesota because of the talent that is here.
“I feel like we as a group have worked our tail ends off, and I think the program is night and day compared to what it was. I’m very proud of that. I feel like I’ve left it in good shape, good hands. There is a tremendous amount of great people in Minnesota, they deserve a great program, our kids deserve the great facilities and we got that done. There was a lot accomplished in a period of time that you had to do it.”
Kill got the Gophers back-to-back eight-win seasons in 2013 and 2014, took them to a New Year’s Day bowl game following the 2014 season for the first time in 53 years, had four players drafted in the 2015 NFL draft, played a major role in fundraising for the Gophers athletics village and turned the football team into a respected program.
The record of this year’s squad is not what anyone connected to the team expected, but the Gophers have been extremely competitive in what has to be one of the most difficult schedules in the country. And if they beat Wisconsin on Saturday, they will reach their fourth consecutive bowl game and have a great recruiting class and experienced returning players going into next season.
Kill’s accomplishments were considerable for giving the Gophers football program a better reputation around the country, and I am disappointed with the administration that they haven’t found a job for him. He could do an amazing job fundraising or in any kind of athletic administration work if he wanted it.
Kill said he was unsure about what his future holds, but it does sound like he wants to stay around athletics. He will have many opportunities.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Kill said. “I’ve kind of laid low. I haven’t taken a lot of phone calls or things of that nature, but I have had a lot of people reach out. I have eight or nine opportunities that I can do, people have reached out and said, ‘Hey, this is what we’d like for you to do.’ They’re great opportunities and not only here in southern Illinois or Minnesota, but several throughout the country.
“I haven’t heard from our university. … They haven’t talked to me but to be honest with you, I think they’re just leaving me alone right now to get rest and let me relax. Hopefully I’m sure they’ll reach out. I hope so, and we’ll see.”
Kill said the day he retired from the Gophers was the toughest of his career.
“I said I would never cheat anybody,” he said. “That’s how I was raised. I wasn’t going to steal and just work for the money and not do my job as well as I could do it. I was a perfectionist and I wasn’t doing it the way I wanted to do it and as good as I can do it. With the situation I was in at that particular time health-wise, I just didn’t think I could take the university through another situation [like what] happened two years ago.
“I didn’t want it to hurt recruiting. We had a good recruiting class, and they didn’t have to know, ‘Well, is Coach going to be able to do this or that?’ so I just thought it was in the best interest of the school, our football team and to my family.”
The University of Minnesota suffered a great loss when Kill needed to retire. I’ve been covering Gophers football for 71 years, and what he accomplished in four years was something that I thought was impossible.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org