Jerry Kill has said the toughest moment of his life came when his father died of cancer in 1998. The second toughest came one year ago Friday, when he resigned as Gophers coach for health reasons in a move that left Minnesota stunned.
Twelve months after that tearful goodbye, Kill has remade himself as an associate athletic director at Kansas State, where he works closely with coach Bill Snyder as the school’s chief administrator for football.
“I really like what I’m doing now, and think it’s unusual,” Kill said in a telephone interview this week. “I think you’ll see more coaches do it. I might have started something.”
Kill, 55, spends his morning working with the Kansas State administration and afternoons on the football side. Basically, the goal is doing whatever Snyder needs, so the 77-year-old legend can fully focus on football.
After finishing 6-7 last year, Snyder’s Wildcats knocked off Texas last week to improve to 4-3, and one of the losses was a one-point thriller against No. 10 West Virginia.
“We’ve expanded the locker room facility for some support staff and hired someone to do graphics for recruiting,” Kill said. “We’ll be hiring two more recruiting people when the season’s over. We are graphically designing the upstairs of our football area. I’ve been a part of that and restructuring our nutrition situation.”
Kill attends every practice and stands on the sideline for games.
“I know all the players, and I’m patting them on the tail end, and I still feel like I’m a part of it,” Kill said. “The athletic director [John Currie] needed me to build a bridge [to Snyder], so to speak, so it’s been good.
“I feel good. I wish I had felt this good [last year]; I’d still be coaching.”
Kill overcame kidney cancer in 2005, when doctors first diagnosed him with epilepsy. After seizures forced him to take a leave of absence with the Gophers in 2013, Kill fell into another seizure spiral last season. He said he was averaging about 2½ hours of sleep per night.
“My life was spinning. I was in serious trouble,” Kill wrote in his recently published autobiography, “Chasing Dreams.”
After soul searching with his wife, Rebecca, and consulting with Dr. Brien Smith, his epilepsy specialist from Grand Rapids, Mich., Kill walked away from the remaining $8 million on his Gophers contract.
Kill spent seven months between jobs before signing his one-year, $150,000 contract with Kansas State in May. He wanted to stay at Minnesota, but he and university President Eric Kaler couldn’t agree on a new role.
“I miss it, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say it,” Kill said. “And that’s not putting K-State down whatsoever. It’s just that Minnesota was my home, that was my team, and now it’s not. And I’m just going to tell you straight up, I could be helping that program a heck of a lot right now.”
Kill has shed about 25 pounds, exercising and sticking to a low-carb diet designed for epilepsy patients. He works from about 8 a.m., to 8 p.m., these days, and only Kill could view a 12-hour workday as “slowing down.”
Kill still insists his head coaching days are over, though he hasn’t ruled out returning as a position coach.
“I think I need this year to find out how much energy I have,” Kill said. “But I don’t have to worry about it because I’ve got a situation that I enjoy, and I’m still a part of it.”
• Hill Murray grad Jack Cichy was playing like a potential first-team All-Big Ten selection for Wisconsin before suffering a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in last week’s win over Iowa. In seven games, the sophomore led the Badgers with 60 tackles, including seven tackles for a loss. Cichy’s replacement at inside linebacker will be Ryan Connelly, another walk-on from Eden Prairie.
• Another walk-on success story is Northwestern receiver Austin Carr, who leads the Big Ten with 102.9 receiving yards per game. He has 50 catches and nine touchdowns. The 6-1, 195-pound junior from Benicia, Calif., was the Wildcats’ second leading receiver last year with 302 yards. Besides Carr, Northwestern has the Big Ten’s leading rusher (Justin Jackson, 792 yards) and a vastly improved sophomore QB in Clayton Thorson.
• Gophers coach Tracy Claeys predicts the Big Ten West title winner will finish with two conference losses. While unstated, the prediction assumes undefeated Nebraska will lose at least one of these next two games at Wisconsin at Ohio State. This will definitely be a test for the Huskers, whose wins over Northwestern, Illinois, Indiana and Purdue have come by just a combined 44 points.
BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS
1. Michigan (7-0, 4-0): National ranks: scoring defense (1st), total defense (1st), rushing D (4th), passing D (2nd).
2. Nebraska (7-0, 4-0): The Huskers get WR Jordan Westerkamp back for Saturday night’s showdown at Wisconsin.
3. Ohio State (6-1, 3-1): Urban Meyer’s 20-game road win streak was longest for a coach since Walter Camp (1800s).
4. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2): After Nebraska game, the Badgers finish with Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota.
5. Penn State (5-2, 3-1): Before beating Ohio State, James Franklin was 0-18 against teams that finished in the top 25.
6. Northwestern (4-3, 3-1): Clayton Thorson has nine TD passes, three INTs in Wildcats’ three-game win streak.
7. Iowa (5-3, 3-2): The Hawkeyes had won six straight trophy games before losing the Heartland to Wisconsin.
8. Gophers (5-2, 2-2): Rodney Smith leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yardage with 1,001, including 701 rushing.
9. Maryland (5-2, 2-2): Perry Hills returned at QB, and the Terps were a different team in beating Michigan State.
10. Indiana (3-4, 1-3): Since beating Michigan State, Hoosiers have lost to Ohio State, Nebraska and Northwestern.
11. Michigan State (2-5, 0-4): Mark Dantonio quote: “This is not a computer game. You cannot hit reset. This is real life.”
12. Purdue (3-4, 1-3): Interim coach Gerad Parker’s squad plays Penn State before next week’s trip to MN.
13. Illinois (2-5, 1-3): Losses to Nebraska, Michigan (both 7-0), Western Michigan (8-0) and North Carolina (6-2).
14. Rutgers (2-6, 0-5): Is Gio Rescigno a good fit for that offense? He sure looked like it last week at Minnesota.