The University of Minnesota redraws the lines of success for Gophers football.
Since the state’s introduction to Jerry Kill’s persistent problems with seizures (in what was only his second game, no less), the topic of the health of Minnesota’s football coach has been near verboten by both the University and a complacent media. That may finally change following a turbulent week which saw the team’s leading offensive player quit with a Tolstoy-length screed, the team lose badly to a very beatable Michigan State, and Kill suffer a seizure which forced him to miss the second half:
After Minnesota fell 26-10 to Michigan State, athletic director Norwood Teague said Kill was comfortable and all of his vital signs were fine. Kill was cleared to go home after resting for a few hours.
“I know this will bring up questions about him and moving forward, but we have 100 percent confidence in Jerry,” Teague said, adding: “He’s as healthy as a horse, as they say. It’s just an epileptic situation … that he deals with. He has to continue to monitor all the simple things in life that we all have to monitor, in that you watch your diet, watch your weight, watch your rest, watch your stress.”
The seizure is Kill’s fourth since taking over the Gophers’ program in 2011 and the third during a season (one seizure occurred in the off-season). Newly installed AD Norwood Teague is certainly correct – Kill’s seizures are not the sign of deeper health concerns, nor is there much Kill can do to lessen their occurrence or severity. That fact alone is the main reason why few in or outside the media have taken up the issue.
But can a Division-I football program grow when the man in charge likely can’t make it through an entire season? Kill’s health may not be a concern to the University administration, but it will certainly be an issue in the cut-throat world of college recruiting. Few rival recruiters in Wisconsin or Iowa will have any qualms about raising Kill’s health or the AJ Barker diva saga. Both call into question whether Kill is truly able to handle coaching at a Big 10 level. Kill’s insistence that he treats all players equally sounds wonderful outside of the realities of college athletics where star players expect some deferential treatment. And there’s little question that Kill’s seizures are becoming more frequent He suffered one in 2005 coaching for Southern Illinois. Now, the seizures are a multiple, yearly occurrence.
The University may have few choices in the matter. Kill’s 7-year contract places the U on the hook for $600k each year they buy-out. The U already had to pay $775,000 to get rid of Tim Brewster and is now out a similar amount simply to avoid a home-and-home series against a mediocre North Carolina team. Nor would the University seriously contemplate firing a head coach two years into his stay as his team has improved from 3 wins to 6.
Yet what does the future hold for a Jerry Kill-lead Gophers program? 2012 has revealed a few hints: that Kill doesn’t think his squad can handle an 8-4 team at home in 2014; that he doesn’t know how his best players perceive him; and (fair or not) that his body hasn’t learned to adjust to the stress of coaching a low-level Big 10 team. What exactly about any of those qualities will change in the short-term?
Instead of worrying about such issues, the University seems content to redraw their expectations. $800,000 is a small price to pay for ensure two non-conference victories against Hamline’s intramural flag-football team or whatever cupcake opponents replace North Carolina. Who cares if the head coach is healthy enough to be on the sidelines when you might make the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The University of Minnesota might be better served asking if those short-term hopes are worth mortgaging their long-term goals – and Jerry Kill’s health.