Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Gophers AD confident Kill can continue
By Adam Rittenberg
Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague knows the numbers.
Jerry Kill has coached 14 home games with the Golden Gophers. He has gotten through only 11 of them seizure-free.
Kill suffered a seizure of halftime of last Saturday's game against Michigan State and didn't return to the sideline. He also had a seizure following an Oct. 13 game against Northwestern. His most severe -- and, unfortunately, public -- seizure came during the fourth quarter of his home debut as Gophers coach last September against New Mexico State.
"I'd be lying if I said it doesn't concern me with it being involved around a game," Teague told ESPN.com on Monday. "And it concerns Jerry."
But Teague isn't concerned about Kill's ability to remain Gophers coach. Although the 51-year-old will seek more opinions on his seizure disorder and why the seizures seem to be occurring on game days, he's expected to be on the sideline at Minnesota's upcoming bowl game and when the Gophers open the 2013 season at TCF Bank Stadium. His latest seizure wasn't severe, and he walked out of the stadium Saturday.
Jerry Kill's latest seizure wasn't severe, and he walked out of the stadium.
"I'm 100 percent confident he'll be back," Teague said, "and I'm glad he's going to have a chance to look deeper into this. He'll have some time to do that in the offseason. It's like anything else with a medical condition, you really have to go and get second opinions.
"We all believe and hope that with time he's going to get it under wraps a little bit better."
Factors like stress or lack of sleep could be contributing to Kill's more frequent seizures, but as Teague notes, "No one really knows." Kill's overall health is strong, according to Teague.
"I personally think it probably does have to do with stress, and that's OK," Teague said. "He's got to drill down and explore it more from a medical standpoint."
Like many of his coaching peers, Kill is extremely intense during practices and games. He and Teague had discussed a stress-management approach, but Teague wants to take things a step further in the wake of Kill's latest episode.
"Jerry Kill, he'll take everything on himself," Teague said. "Part of it is our job to help build more support around him. He needs more out of me, he needs more out of our athletic staff and others to be managing things he doesn't need to be managing."
Kill's longtime staff of assistants understand how to manage the team without their boss and did so again during the second half against Michigan State. Teague said he spoke with some players who didn't even know Kill wasn't on the sideline after halftime.
For the players, "it’s not something that causes them a lot of pause," Teague said.
But what about recruits?
Gophers freshman wide receiver Jamel Harbison, one of the team's top recruits in the 2012 class, took his recruiting visit to Minnesota when Kill had his sideline seizure against New Mexico State. Harbison was struck by how Gophers fans responded to the scary situation, chanting Kill's name.
Harbison and his father researched Kill's health history before he committed to Minnesota, and Kill called Harbison after he had returned home from the visit.
"Coach Kill gave me a call saying don't worry about it," Harbison told ESPN.com. "He's going to fight back like he always does. Coach Kill, he's a great man. He knows how to push those things and keep the team's head right."
Harbison has talked with Gophers' 2013 recruits who are aware of Kill's health situation. Although opposing teams could use Kill's seizure issues against Minnesota, Teague isn't concerned.
"Recruiting is about the relationship between the recruit and the assistant and Coach Kill," Teague said. "You get in a room with Jerry Kill, he'll ease any recruit’s fears or parent's fears about a condition like this. Those relationships are strong.
"If I felt in my gut that it was going to hurt recruiting, I'd be a whole lot more worried than I am now."
Kill has orchestrated an impressive turnaround at Minnesota, which won as many games this fall (six) as it has in the previous two seasons. Few pegged the Gophers for a bowl game this season.
He's extremely well-respected in the coaching ranks as a program fixer. Kill recorded 10 wins in his third season of each of his last two stops -- Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois -- so good things could be ahead for the Gophers.
But the recurring seizures are "a perception issue," Teague said, and it'll be an important offseason for Kill to get some answers.
"It's hard to drag Coach Kill away from the game," Harbison said. "He loves it. Every day, he's ready to work. If he could come back right after he had the seizure, I’m sure he would."