There are two scenarios that I believe could have kept Jerry Kill from lining up on the Gophers sideline on Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium for one of the biggest tests of his coaching career, when his team opens the 2015 season against No. 2-ranked TCU.
No. 1 has to do with Gary Patterson, who interviewed for the Gophers job after going 11-2 in the Mountain West Conference in 2006 with the Horned Frogs but then didn’t want to be considered for the position to replace Glen Mason. However, at some point in January 2007 with the position still unfilled, Patterson changed his mind and contacted university officials, and I am told he would have taken the job had it been offered. But the Gophers had already either offered Tim Brewster the job, or had somebody else in mind. It was another six years before TCU became a high-major conference program by joining the Big 12 in 2012.
An interesting aspect of not hiring Patterson at the time is that it eventually opened the door for Kill to be hired in 2010. Kill and Patterson have been great friends since Patterson joined the coaching staff at Division II Pittsburg (Kan.) State in 1988, where Kill had served as defensive coordinator the year before.
No. 2 is from the 2013 season, when Kill missed the Gophers-Michigan game after suffering a pregame epileptic seizure and was left essentially unconscious for three days. And if Kill hadn’t been able to find a way to stay healthy, which he has, he might have had to make a decision between his health and his coaching duties. And if that had happened, Patterson might have been in the picture again.
Kill had not talked publicly about the seriousness of his health issues at that time but did recently say that he collapsed and was unconscious for some time.
“I was in a situation a year and a half, two years ago, that you know I was, shoot, I was basically unconscious for about three days,” Kill said. “But since then, and seeing the right doctor, I have been great. I have been driving for a year and a half and seizure-free for a little over a year and a half.”
Kill’s health issues have been well-reported, but it’s amazing how the right treatment has completely turned around a problem he has battled since 2005, when he suffered a seizure at Southern Illinois and was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
His epilepsy became a much more public issue for the Gophers when he suffered two seizures on the sidelines during the 2011 season, and also suffered another in 2012 and again in 2013 against Western Illinois. Still it wasn’t until the seizure before the Michigan game that Kill missed a whole game because of a health problem.
It was that seizure that led him to take a leave of absence, and he surprised his team when he showed up to their victory at Northwestern two weeks later. Kill would coach the rest of the season from the press box until returning to the sidelines for the team’s bowl game against Syracuse in Houston.
Kill hasn’t missed a game since, and the last year and a half have seen him make a remarkable recovery.
Friendly with Patterson
As for his relationship with Patterson, Kill said: “Gary is a guy I got to know through coaching. We’re both from Kansas, but I got to know Gary, he took my place at Pittsburg State when I went on to be a head coach. He took my place and I got to know him and we just stayed in touch for a long time. I was in his wedding when he got married to a gal there in Texas. We respected each other.”
Kill joined Patterson on a recent trip sponsored by Nike, and they talked.
“We’re competitors and we both want to win, but like I said, neither one of us scheduled that game [Thursday], but it is what it is,” Kill said.
Kill said Gophers defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys has also known Patterson for some time and has made several trips to TCU to talk defense with Patterson and his staff, but that communication had to stop a few years ago when the teams landed on each others’ schedule.
From walk-on to No. 1 receiver
The Gophers secondary is being hailed as one of the best in the country, and it will get a test Thursday against TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, a Heisman Trophy front-runner who passed for 3,901 yards last year, and wide receiver Josh Doctson, who went from being a walk-on two years ago to a preseason All-America.
Doctson started his college career at Wyoming and had 35 receptions for 393 yards and five touchdowns. But his mother, who has worked at TCU since 2000 in various roles, told USA Today that he came back to his home state of Texas after his grandfather became seriously ill.
That led Doctson to walk on with the Horned Frogs. He sat out the 2012 season and then had 36 receptions for 440 yards and four touchdowns in 2013 before his breakout season last year, when he had 65 catches for a school-record 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Patterson said that at first he didn’t recruit Doctson because he simply wasn’t as quick as some other players, but he is obviously happy how it’s worked out.
“He’s very serious about football,” Patterson told USA Today. “He’s smart player, on and off the field. He has an unbelievable drive to be great.”
• There seems to be some great news for former Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who began playing for Class AA New Britain on Friday in a rehab assignment as he tries to come back to the Rockies after suffering a concussion May 13. In New Britain, he is returning to a place he played at from 2001 to ’03 when the Rock Cats were a Twins affiliate.
• John Sullivan is one Vikings player who has the respect of every teammate, as noted by guard Brandon Fusco, who was quoted as saying about the center: “John Sullivan is a great, great player. He’s probably the smartest guy I have ever met in the game of football. I’m sure there’s not a center in the league who knows more than he does. It makes the game so much slower for me, mentally. It slows the game down and makes my job a lot easier.”
• ESPN recently released its preseason All-America list for college football, and of the 22 players listed the Gophers will face six this season: TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins, Ohio State guard Pat Elflein, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa and Ohio State safety Vonn Bell.
• Whatever else happens with this Twins season, they did manage to break an eight-year run of futility vs. the American League East. The Twins hadn’t had a winning record against the East since going 22-13 in 2006. Over the past eight seasons their combined record was 102-167 against that division. This year they went 19-14 and even swept the Orioles in all seven games.
• Carter Coughlin, the Eden Prairie linebacker who has already committed to the Gophers, got a bump from the new Rivals.com rankings as he was named a four-star linebacker and is ranked as the No. 18 outside linebacker in the country.