Nobody knows whether Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill will be on the sideline Saturday against Illinois. But nobody wants to count him out either.
Kill has been in the hospital since Sunday, when he suffered a setback to surgery he had earlier in the month. He remained there Wednesday. Kill has requested his medical condition be kept private, although he did say it has nothing to do with the cancer he fought in 2005.
If Kill cannot be there Saturday, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will coach the team.
"I would be shocked if he’s not there on Saturday based off of past experiences," Claeys said. "I know I’m not going to be the one that recommends to him what he does."
Players found out about Kill during a team meeting Sunday and went through practice Tuesday without him. It is obvious what is happening with their coach is in the back of their minds, but the players refuse to allow that to be a distraction.
“We need to keep everything going that we’ve been doing," linebacker Alex Kube said. "We just need to keep doing what we’re doing whether coach is there or not. He’s going to expect us to keep up the leadership. I know that he trusts us to know that we’re going to get the job done. We’re not going to change anything. We’re going to get the job done still. We’re not going to change anything. We’re still going to work hard and make sure everybody around us is working hard.”
Kill had his surgery the day after the team lost to Iowa State and was back the following week. He admitted after his team beat North Dakota on Saturday it had been a tough week for him. A day later, he was back in the hospital.
Whether he is in Champaign or cheering his team on from someplace else, the Huskies (1-1) go into the game off uneven performances to start the year. The quarterback competition went down to the wire, and DeMarcus Grady won the job. But he had a bad outing in a 27-10 loss at Iowa State, going 14-of-29 for 93 yards and three interceptions.
Chandler Harnish started last week against North Dakota and played better, most notably getting 178 yards on the ground off 21 carries. But still, North Dakota hung around longer than anyone anticipated, getting as close as 16-14 in the third quarter before the Huskies pulled away.
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said Harnish would most likely get the start against the Illini. Harnish had been battling a knee injury that many thought would require surgery, but he opted against it. He is now completely healthy. Though he was surprised he ran as much as he did against North Dakota, he was fine with it, considering Chad Spann was shut down after he scored on a 79-yard touchdown run to open the game.
“I definitely felt like I wanted to prove myself again, which sometimes is a good thing," Harnish said. "Competition is always healthy for a team and I felt like I definitely had to do that and now this weekend I’m going to feel more comfortable and confident."
Northern Illinois is also hoping to pull an upset the way it did last year, when it won at Purdue 28-21 in Week 3. In three previous meetings, the Huskies have never beaten the Illini.
If Kill is unable to be there, winning it for him would no doubt feel much sweeter.