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Q&A: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, Part II

12/8/2010

Here's the second half of my interview with new Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. Check out Part I as well.

Why do you think it has been such a struggle for Minnesota to win consistently?

Jerry Kill: I've been asked that question a little bit. A lot of people say, 'Hey, you're not a big-name guy. How are you going to get it done? Nobody's had winning records in the Big Ten for a long time and so forth. What are the weaknesses and strengths?' The big thing, to be honest with you, I have to change the culture. I've got to bring in a coaching staff and they've got to stay committed. I've been able to do that in the jobs that I've had before. You can't have rotating doors, and [the players have] got to understand what you want.

We've got to do a great job in recruiting, and jiminy christmas, with all the things that we have here to offer to young people, and even after they get out of school, all the great businesses and companies and all the things we have here to offer, we've really got to sell what we have. I've been asked about a pro sports town, does that affect you? I think we have to embrace that. That's fantastic to utilize those things in recruiting.

Jerry Kill is not going to turn the program around. There's a lot of people that have come and tried to do it and haven't done it. It's going to have to be a statewide effort, and we're all going to have to get in it together. One person's not going to do it. That's why it's so critical I hire a good coaching staff and we've got to stay positive and we've all got to work together. It's going to have to be a great team effort, and that's the way I've always approached things, and I feel we'll get that done.

When do you expect to have your full staff in place?

JK: I'd like to get it done as quickly as I can. The big thing is in our situation, I'm going to interview the coaches that are here, visit with them and get a feel for where they're at and everything. We have some good coaches back at Northern Illinois that we've spent a ton of time with who have been through this process. We want to be professional there and got to see how that's going to play out, if they're going to hire one of those people. I have to be very selective and do the best thing for the University of Minnesota. If I have to take a little bit more time than I usually would, I'm going to because everything we do is critical.

Every move we make is critical. We don't want to make a wrong move and then have to start over. I'm going to be very careful because when you're excited and fired up and a little bit tired, sometimes you don't make good decisions. I've got to make sure I've got a good, clear mind and I'm making the best decisions for the University of Minnesota and for us to get the program where everybody would like to have it.

Is this as big a challenge as some of the places you've been before, or bigger because it's the Big Ten?

JK: The Big Ten is a tough league. It's a tremendous challenge, no question about that. But I've had all kinds of challenges. They were going to drop that football program at Southern Illinois, and it's a I-AA program, but they were going to drop it. And guess what? They got a brand-new stadium, a brand-new basketball arena and that happened because of what we did. And [former Southern Illinois athletic director] Paul Kowalczyk, a lot like Joel [Maturi], we rolled our sleeves up and we went after it. And a lot of people thought we were crazy. Nobody knew who I was when they hired me at Southern Illinois. People were probably laughing in the press conference. But you don't win games in the press conference. You've got to win games through hard work and proving to yourself that you can do it.

You mentioned at the press conference that your health situation might have scared some people away. How much did you face that in recent years?

JK: Oh, I'm sure. I don't think there's any question about it. I've been fortunate to have a job. When I was at Southern Illinois, I was going to stay there the rest of my life. Shoot, I bought a lake house down there, I was happy, I was content. When I got diagnosed with cancer, I'm sure people said, 'Well, he's done a good job, but I don't know now.' But [former Northern Illinois AD] Jim Phillips and president [John] Peters said, 'Hey, the guy can coach football. He went for two to try to beat us one time, and he beat us the other time. We feel like this guy's a good fit for our job.' So they rolled the dice and I think if you called those people today, I don't think they'd tell you it was a bad hire. We went to three straight bowl games and they were 2-10 when I got the job.

Nobody was supposed to know I had cancer, but somehow everybody found out and I didn't lie to the media. I could have. I told them straight out what the deal was. There are a lot of cancer patients that have survived cancer that are successful. I don't know if they want us to roll up and disappear. Cancer's the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me a better person, it made me a better football coach and I'm more driven because life is short and I'm going to live it, baby. And I'm enjoying it right now.