The news conference Wednesday morning at which Jerry Kill announced he was retiring as Gophers football coach because of health concerns was one of the rawest, most emotional displays I have ever seen from a public sports figure. Red-eyed throughout, Kill laid himself bare. Here were the five things he said that I found particularly heartbreaking:
* "People are going to ask, ‘What are you going to do now?’ I don’t know. I’ve never done anything else." That came early on in his opening remarks, and it underscored his long battle to stay in the game in spite of multiple health problems — most notably at Minnesota in his fight with epilepsy. He’s been a football coach for more than three decades. When that’s all you know, you do whatever it takes to keep doing it. When it’s suddenly gone, it’s painfully hard to imagine life without it.
* "Last night, when I walked off the practice field … I feel like a part of me died." Again, a sense of just what the game means to him.
* ”Some stuff I had to take, I took myself off of, because I couldn’t think the way I wanted to think." Here, Kill was talking about medication he was on to treat his epilepsy and that he felt was detracting from his ability to coach — underscoring the awful choice he was left with between being healthy and living a fuller long-term life or having the job he loved.
* "You’d be lying to say if you didn’t think about that." Kill, 54, was talking here about Flip Saunders, who died Sunday at the age of 60. As Kill’s own health declined (he said he went to practice Tuesday after having had two recent seizures), life-and-death issues came into sharper focus.
* "That ain’t no way to live." Perhaps the defining quote of the day. Kill here was breaking down while talking about how he hasn’t slept more than three hours any night in the past three weeks and how his wife, Rebecca, stays up watching him.
I could probably pick out 20 more. It was just that kind of morning and it’s been that kind of week. While it doesn’t bring the same level of sadness as the death of Saunders, in some ways it felt eerily like watching a man speak at his own funeral. The positive is I’m sure there will be better days ahead for Kill. Today was not one of them, even if he handled it all the best he could.