It’s a sad time for a lot of Jerry Kill’s friends, including myself. I regard Kill as the best thing that happened to Gophers football in a long time, but after Saturday, he will no longer be a local resident.
Kill’s medical complications from epilepsy forced him to give up coaching. Now that the house he and his wife, Rebecca, have been living in has sold, they are moving to their summer home in southern Illinois, where they will reside while he makes decisions about his future.
Kill believes he and his staff laid the foundation for Gophers football to be successful long-term, after taking it over in December of 2010 when it was at rock bottom.
At lunch Thursday, Kill said he will never be a head coach again, even though he has been approached about the possibility, but said he might consider being an assistant coach or doing something else involved with football.
Kill has had several offers from colleges for various positions, but nothing so far from the University of Minnesota — an institution that could make more use of the great public relations work and fundraising he did with local business people and the relationships he developed with high school officials and coaches all over the state.
Kill is not yet ready to accept any job offer, but he will have a lot of good options when he is.
Meanwhile, he is in demand as a motivational speaker. In fact, Kill will speak in Florida in the near future to a group involved with the NFL at the request of former Vikings center Matt Birk, who was named the league’s director of football development in 2014.
No doubt, he can tell the group how to handle people and how he has made so many friends all over the country. He said his phone never stops ringing and receiving text messages.
Kill recently suffered a couple of seizures, but he continues to do a lot of walking and works with his medical people to limit any problems.
Thielen no surprise
If there is one person who isn’t surprised by the continued improvement of Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen, it is Todd Hoffner, his college coach at Minnesota State Mankato.
It’s hard to know how the future of both men would have changed if Hoffner hadn’t seen the former Detroit Lakes, Minn., standout play in the Minnesota All-Star football game in 2008.
“Nope [I was] not recruited,” Thielen said. “… The only offer was from Mankato — and it was two weeks before camp started — for, I think, it was $250.”
What did Hoffner see in Thielen in that All-Star Game?
“Well I think he had tremendous hands, great route runner, and just a quality person,” the coach said. “He got really fast when he came to Minnesota State. I thought he worked exceptionally hard. He had some raw tools, but I think our strength and conditioning staff definitely helped him and accelerated him throughout his journey here at Mankato.
“[Thielen] had plans to go to another institution. … He changed his mind and decided to come to Mankato for basically a very small scholarship or as a walk-on, and obviously earned his way up to a substantial scholarship. From the day he arrived and [including] now, I think he has done nothing but improve every year that he has played football.”
The numbers bear that out. Thielen redshirted his first year at Mankato; caught 21 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown his freshman year; caught 41 passes for 686 yards and six scores and was named the team’s offensive player of the year as a sophomore; caught 62 passes for 715 yards and five touchdowns his junior season and was named to the All-NSIC South Division second team; and in his senior season caught 74 passes for 1,176 yards and eight touchdowns and was named to the Daktronics Super Region #3 second team.
Thielen said Hoffner has been one of the most influential people on his football journey.
“He brought me in there, he was the guy who saw me and wanted me to come,” Thielen said. “I mean, he was my coach for four out of the five years, and he did a lot for me.”
Makes key plays
In 2013, Thielen made the Vikings’ practice squad as a rookie minicamp tryout invitee. He made the roster the following year, catching eight passes for 137 yards and a touchdown while also returning two kicks for 33 yards and recording 12 tackles on special teams. This season he has 12 receptions for 144 yards and four carries for 89 yards — with all four runs going for first downs — and he’s made seven tackles on special teams.
But easily his biggest pro game was Sunday in the 20-13, NFC North title-clinching victory against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Thielen had a 41-yard run on a fake punt, another run on a sweep for 26 yards and caught a pass for 16 yards for 83 yards of total offense.
Thielen said he was ready for the fake punt, and the team had been waiting to run it.
“We work on it at practice, we knew we’d call it at some point, but we had a lot of practice,” he said. “You know whenever coach called it, we were just waiting for him to give us the OK and then we have to execute.”
Was he surprised it came so early in the game?
“No, never surprised,” he said. “When you have something like that, you have to be really good at it at all times and we were excited.”
Thielen, who is on the last year of his contract, has loved playing in front of family and friends, even though he knows his opportunities come in spurts. Still he doesn’t mind that aspect of being an up-and-coming player.
“It’s always good to get your name called and you have to be ready to go when it is, because you never know when it’s going to happen,” he said.
• Kill said Matt Limegrover, who is no longer with the Gophers, turned down the Southern Illinois head coaching job.
Meanwhile, former Gophers quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, like Limegrover, has had offers but he is more interested in becoming a Division II or Division III head coach.
• The only former Gopher in the playoffs, besides Vikings players, is Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth. Spaeth caught two passes for 10 yards this season primarily as a blocking tight end. Since Spaeth was drafted by Pittsburgh in the third round in 2007, the Steelers have made the playoffs in six out of his nine seasons, winning a Super Bowl in 2008 and losing one in 2010.
• USA Today has the Hopkins boys’ basketball team at No. 6 in the country in its most recent rankings. The Royals are 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class 4A.
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