MINNEAPOLIS — University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill suffered another seizure during Saturday’s game against Michigan State and did not return to the sideline for the second half.
A team spokesman said Kill had a seizure during halftime of Minnesota’s 26-10 loss to the Spartans. He will rest at home and will not be hospitalized, according to athletic director Norwood Teague.
“I know this will bring up questions about him moving forward, but we have 100-percent confidence in Jerry,” Teague said.
Kill, 51, has a history of seizures. He suffered one on the sideline of the Gophers’ game last year against New Mexico State and another in the TCF Bank Stadium locker room after Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern earlier this year. He was hospitalized after both episodes.
Despite his seizure disorder, Kill has never missed a game due to seizures. The Gophers’ second-year coach prefers not to talk about his medical condition. After his seizure this October, Kill downplayed the situation. His only comment on his health following the Northwestern game was, “I’m back to work, going full speed.”
In Kill’s absence, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys assumed the role of head coach. Claeys has been on Kill’s staff since 1995, when he was the defensive line coach for Kill’s Saginaw Valley State team.
Kill, a cancer survivor, has suffered seizures prior to his tenure in Minnesota, including instances in 2001, ’05 and ’06 while he was coaching at Southern Illinois. Claeys was Kill’s defensive coordinator then, so he and Kill’s staff have plenty of experience dealing with his seizure disorder.
“It’s very organized. It’s very structured. When something like this happens, everybody knows their job and what to do,” Claeys said. “There’s no panic in the staff or the kids or anything. … It’s not a big deal. He’ll be fine.”
Since Kill’s seizure on the sideline last season, his players have learned how to handle those situations. On Saturday, the Gophers said Kill’s absence in the second half wasn’t a distraction.
“To be real with you guys, I didn’t even think about it,” said senior defensive lineman D.L. Wilhite, who finished the regular season with 8.5 sacks. “When things hit you, you’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Added senior wide receiver MarQueis Gray: “I had no idea he wasn’t on the sideline until one of the players pointed it out. I had no idea what happened to him.”
Even though the Gophers have now had to deal with their coach’s seizure disorder for two years, an episode like Saturday’s can still be scary.
“I feel more confident since the first time it happened,” Gray said. “But any time you see him go down, you still have that scare in the back of your head of what’s going to happen. Coach Kill, he’s been through this more than once and he’s battled back.”
Concerns have been expressed by some that Kill’s condition may make it hard for him to recruit players. Perhaps other schools could point to Kill’s health as a red flag.
That’s not the way the university sees it, however. Kill has dealt with the condition for years and has had success turning around struggling programs at pretty much every stop he’s made during his career — including Minnesota, which won three games last year and is now bowl eligible.
“It doesn’t really concern me that much,” Teague said. “Regardless of Jerry’s health, we’re making progress in this program. Does it (hurt) the perception of recruiting? I don’t think so. The way that Jerry phrases it . . . it’s something that millions of people deal with.”
Teague added that he expects Kill to be back at work on Monday. Minnesota finished the regular season 6-6 and is bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. Teague said Kill is expected to coach in the Gophers’ bowl game.
Without Kill on the sideline in the second half, Minnesota was outscored 13-3 by the Spartans. The Gophers players said their lack of success against Michigan State in the second half had nothing to do with Kill’s absence.
“Whether coach Kill was out there or not, our jobs don’t change,” Wilhite said. “We’ve got to attack it just like nothing happened. … I don’t think too many people were focused on him not being out there. We were just focused on moving on with the rest of the game.”
During the season, Kill addresses local media in a weekly news conference every Tuesday. The team said his weekly conference is not scheduled for this Tuesday because the Gophers’ practice schedule is still unknown leading up to their bowl game.
When Kill finally does talk about his latest seizure, it’s likely he’ll want the focus to be on his team, not on him.
“You don’t want to downplay it, but you get to the point where you start realizing that it’s just something that you have to deal with at times,” Teague said. “You don’t want to say it’s not that big of a deal, but in a way, it’s easy to deal with in a lot of ways.”