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Monday, December 6, 2010
Kill not big-splash hire, but who cares?

By Adam Rittenberg

Jerry Kill wasn't Minnesota's first choice. From what I've been told, he might not have been the school's fifth or sixth choice.

But don't be surprised if Kill ends up being the right choice for a Minnesota program that needs to start winning again in what will be a tougher Big Ten.

Northern Illinois Huskies head coach Jerry Kill
Jerry Kill went 23-16 in Northern Illinois, and recorded two wins against Big Ten teams the last two seasons.
Minnesota's exhaustive coaching search ended Sunday as the school tabbed Kill as its new head man. His hire was greeted mostly with skepticism and even anger on the part of some who had been convinced Minnesota would land a big fish. There even was some buzz Saturday that Boise State's Chris Petersen would leave for the Gophers job.

Get real.

If you're upset, don't blame Kill. If you weren't impressed with him at Monday's introductory news conference, you likely will be a few years down the line.

If you're still peeved, feel free to blame Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi. I'm all for good quotes and candor from key athletic officials, but Maturi went too far at his Oct. 17 news conference to announce the firing of coach Tim Brewster and the start of the search.

Some Maturi sound bytes from Oct. 17:
Maturi left the impression that Minnesota was aiming high. He talked a big game, and in the eyes of many, he didn't deliver.

Wasn't that the No. 1 problem with Brewster?

Minnesota tried to pursue higher-profile coaches than Kill, but Maturi and right-hand man Dave Mona encountered some hesitation. As colleague Bruce Feldman and others reported, candidates expressed concern about Maturi's future as athletic director and the fact Minnesota had a retiring president. Coaches want stability, and Minnesota couldn't really offer it.

The drawn-out search ended with Kill, who lacks flash but boasts a strong track record. Saturday night, I caught up with Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who hired Kill at Northern Illinois, and told him it looked like Kill would be the guy at Minnesota.

"Why not?" Phillips said. "The guy has won everywhere he's been."

Kill went 23-16 in Northern Illinois, a program that had flat-lined when he took over, and recorded two wins against Big Ten teams the last two seasons. He went 55-32 at Southern Illinois and helped the Salukis become an FCS power. He's 127-73 in 16 seasons as a head coach, he turns around programs and he understands what it takes to run a program.

"I can't promise you wins and how fast it's going to happen and all those things," Kill said Tuesday. "I promise you we'll get better every day."

If you listened to Kill on Monday, you realize he's genial, genuine and has beaten the odds his entire life.

He's the first member of his family to graduate college. He was a walk-on player at Southwestern College before beginning an extensive coaching career in the high school and small-college ranks. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which is now in remission but scared some schools away, Kill said.

"I have no problems with people judging me," Kill said. "I look forward to that challenge. I've always had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder."

Kill understands how he's being viewed right now, and he doesn't mind one bit. He joked that his wife, Rebecca, had other choices, too.

"I was second or third down that line and I had to work at it," he said.

Kill will do the same at Minnesota.