Jerry Kill had a jaunty look about him at his formal session with the local media this week. He’s lean, there’s a healthy color in his face and the confident air of someone who knows he’s good at his job.
That was Tuesday. On Wednesday, reporters covering practice noticed a small scratch on Kill’s face.
A year ago, Kill came to the weekly news conference on Sept. 10 with a bandage on his forehead, and soon Kill’s issue with seizures would be the overriding story with Gophers football for six weeks.
This time? Relax, folks.
The scratch came when the head coach joined the parade of people walking into a glass door at the Gophers football building. The minor remodeling of the office area looks spiffy, but the unmarked glass door has been claiming foreheads at the rate of one or two a week.
Rumors from inside the building are that defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was moved to announce, “Anyone who runs into that door is an idiot.”
Sure enough, the next victim was his boss.
Put aside this obstacle for distracted walkers and the feeling an outsider gets on a visit to the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex could not be more of a contrast than was the case in mid-September 2013.
You don’t want to jinx anything, especially with a steamy afternoon in Fort Worth, Texas, on the docket in one week, but the healthy look of this football program starts with Kill appearing to be on top of his game.
It’s obvious that Kill has taken care of the diet portion of the recommendations received from epilepsy specialists. As far as handing off some responsibilities … well, that’s dang near impossible for a head coach in the Big Ten, but there was at least a symbol that Kill has let go a bit at this week’s media session.
Kill answered questions until they ran out after 15 minutes, then was followed to the podium for 10-minute hits from Claeys and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover.
The Gophers say this is being done to take care of interview requests for Claeys and Limegrover. It also is unusual in the world of big-time college football — home to more control freaks than any sports sphere in America — to have the boss say, “I’m done. Go ahead and put the tape recorders in front of my guys.”
Claeys and Limegrover are certainly that for Kill. Claeys has been with Kill since 1995 at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan. Limegrover has been with Kill since Emporia State in Kansas in 1999.
It’s clear that Kill has Eric Kaler, the university president, sold on him for life. It only took a nod from Kaler and athletic director Norwood Teague got busy negotiating a new deal with Kill last winter.
Kill was bumped from $1.2 million to $2.1 million. And he didn’t leave his guys hanging, getting Claeys a raise from $350,000 to $600,000 and an added title of associate head coach, and Limegrover a raise from $341,000 to $550,000 and an added title of assistant head coach.
Claeys remains a big country boy who now has sizable popularity with Gophers fandom after his turn as “acting head coach” in 2013. He was in charge on the sideline during the four-game Big Ten winning streak — including Nebraska — that changed the entire perception of Gophers football.
This is football, a game of tough men and graphic conversation, and the greatest moment in the Gophers’ upset of Nebraska was when Claeys said in the on-field, post-game interview that his players had fought part of their anatomy off.
How can you not love that guy?
“We do love Coach Claeys,” defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said. “And that fought part … he was right.”
Botticelli said there was no surprise when Claeys turned down opportunities to interview for head coaching jobs last January.
“He loves it here,” the fifth-year senior from Milwaukee said. “He’s committed to this.”
Limegrover has lost more than 150 pounds and has the look of a power forward these days. He also had a day of genius vs. Nebraska — and now the task of trying to get Mitch Leidner to master the forward pass as the schedule intensifies.
Kill, Claeys and Limegrover. It’s been decades since the Gophers had a football brain trust with this look: stable, confident, wise … and wealthy.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 weekdays on AM-1500.