The timing is curious, to say the least.
Minnesota announced on Tuesday that first-year head coach Jerry Kill had signed a seven-year contract that runs through 2017. The announcement comes just a few days after the Gophers lost their fourth straight game to fall to 1-6 on the season. They have been outscored 144-31 in their three Big Ten losses. And Kill has twice been hospitalized this season already for his seizure problems, which flared up at the end of the New Mexico State game in Week 2.
Kill had been coaching without a signed contract, as the school and Kill's representatives negotiated language in the contract he was offered last winter. So this should be viewed as more like a finalization of a deal than the beginning of a new one.
Kill was originally offered a five-year contract, but the school decided to add two extra years on top of that. That's a pretty bold sign of faith in a coach who has yet to prove he can compete in the Big Ten, and one who has had a history of medical problems. Minnesota hasn't just been bad; it has been one of the worst teams in the BCS AQ conferences, if not the worst. Did the Gophers really need to add two extra years at this time? Why not see how the next year or so goes just to be sure? Athletic director Joel Maturi's own status is not exactly the most secure in the world, and other schools aren't making a beeline to the Twin Cities to try to lure Kill away.
On the other hand, Kill is a proven program builder, albeit at lower levels than the Big Ten. Minnesota looks like a serious rebuilding project, and the best bet for getting this team back to being competitive is to formulate a good plan and stick to it. Kill said recently that he and his staff are monitoring 63 players on the roster to make sure they're attending class. He has also said it will be more than a one-, two- or even three-year process. The Gophers only have 41 upperclassmen on the roster and are carrying 78 true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or sophomores on their 119-man roster (including walk-ons). The painful experience of this year may make those younger players better down the line.
Kill may be exactly what Minnesota needs -- a guy who will approach the rebuilding project in a no-nonsense manner, and one who is not necessarily looking to parlay this into a better job as quickly as possible. The Gophers are banking on Kill being the right guy for the long term.
It's an admirable show of faith. They'd better be right.