Thursday, February 2, 2012
Q&A with Minnesota coach Jerry Kill
By Brian Bennett
Minnesota went just 3-9 in coach Jerry Kill's first season, and Kill experienced health problems that landed him in the hospital a couple of times. Despite those obstacles, the Gophers managed to sign a class of 31 recruits on Wednesday that many experts described as a strong group. I caught up with Kill to talk about the work he and his staff did on the recruiting trail.
What were some of your main goals with this class, besides just adding more talent to the roster?
Jerry Kill: The most important thing for us was to make sure we got kids that fit in here at the University of Minnesota and the system and the things we expect. I think we did that. And then of course we needed to improve the athleticism and speed in our football program and I think we did that too. Most of these kids we've had in camp and had a personal evaluation on. There's nothing like having them in your camp and seeing what they can do. That makes a huge difference because you know more about them than anybody when you can get them at your place and work with them at your camps.
You guys won only three games last year. So what were you able to sell to recruits this offseason?
JK: I think the big thing was, last year we came in and we didn't really have a chance to put a recruiting class together. When I took the job, our athletic director wanted us to honor the existing scholarship offers, which we did. So this is our first recruiting class. As far as selling it, we have a great state here in Minnesota and we are the state school. We don't share it with anybody, and the Twin Cities is a great place to live and go to school. And as a coaching staff, we've all been together for a long time. We've turned programs around, and this is not the first one we've been a part of. I think our staff is probably in the top 5 in tenure in the country. So I think the stability of our coaching staff and the direction we're going, I think it was a good fit for us to go and recruit kids.
You got what many people feel are three of the top four or five players in the state of Minnesota. How important was that not only for this class but moving forward as you try to keep top talent home?
JK: To be honest with you, I think we got everybody -- there's only one person I can think of that I wish we could have gotten. But other than that, I think we did a great job in our state, and that's where it all starts. When I first got here, I picked up an article that said 38 kids from Minnesota were playing in bowl games, but they weren't going to the University of Minnesota. So we needed to do a great job of locking our state down this year, and I think we did a good job of that. But you've got to do it year in and year out.
Two of the top-rated players in this class are at receiver, with Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison. Was improving your overall playmaking ability a big priority with this class?
JK: Absolutely. There's no question that we felt we had to get better in the skill positions. We've got eight kids who are already here and have started school this semester, and I think six of them are among the faster kids on our football team. So there's no question we've improved our speed and athleticism and playmaking ability, and that gives you chance to win. I always say speed makes up for a lack of coaching, so hopefully we can get a player or two who can make a play and make us look good.
You also signed six junior college players. How much of an immediate impact are you expecting from them?
JK: A lot of people talk about how we took some junior college kids, but there's about three or four of them that have got three years left. We've known about them through the years and were a part of putting them in some places. When you build programs, you've got to be somewhat uncommon. I use Tony Dungy's book all the time -- he's one of our guys here at the University of Minnesota. We have to be a little bit uncommon on how we do things. I think the kids we picked up are unique and will really fit in, and there's no question they will make an immediate impact.
Offensive lineman Isaac Hayes is an ESPNU 150 player and one of the top prospects to sign with a Big Ten school this year. What can you tell us about him and his recruitment?
JK: First of all, his mother has done an outstanding job. He's got a brother who went to Stanford. I wish I could have gotten here a little bit earlier and maybe we could have gotten him, because he's a good-looking young man, too. But Isaac's a young man who's tremendously smart, comes from a great program has a great mother. I think he has a great chance to do good things early in his career, because I think he's farther along than most. He's a very athletic, very physical player and we were very fortunate to get him. He was courted pretty well. I think already having one brother away from home and having his mom here certainly helped us.
Overall, by signing a class 0f 29 players that you had time to evaluate, how much does that improve the overall depth and competition on your roster?
JK: I think it has already helped. I think there's a huge difference from walking in here a year ago to take over a football team and what we're doing right now. Players are doing the workouts and listening to the strength coaches. It's a different mentality than it was a year ago. And the more competition you have, there's no place to hide. I've always said that. We didn't have enough competition last year, and we'll have more this year. Hopefully, through another recruiting class a year from now we'll have more. But competition makes you push yourself and become excellent instead of average. So hopefully we've created a little competition.