Gophers coach Kill stresses program stability

Jerry Kill hasn’t given himself much of a break since taking

over as the new Gophers football coach.

”We’ve tried to load that calendar and not waste any time,”

Kill said. ”I certainly haven’t tried to cheat the university on


Kill has had but one full evening of free time – some Sunday a

while ago, he recalled – since he was hired in early December.

Meeting with all the returning players took two weeks. Pitching

high school prospects on Minnesota is a never-ending task. Meetings

with donors and alumni and media are fit into the remaining blocks

of time, as he pushes a relentless work ethic throughout the

football facility and the athletics department.

In assessing the program he was hired to rebuild, the critical

piece of the process became clear: Continuity. The Gophers haven’t

had much of that in recent years, with plenty of shuffling on the

staff of former head coach Tim Brewster during his four seasons.

That followed a wholesale change from the Glen Mason regime to

Brewster’s in 2007.

”Those kids have just seen changeover after changeover after

changeover,” Kill said.

Stability is a familiar concept to Kill. As a head coach at

Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Emporia State and Saginaw

Valley State, he has collected assistant coaches and tried hard to

keep a staff intact. Both of Kill’s coordinators have worked with

him since the 1990s.

Kill said in an interview in his office Thursday with The

Associated Press that if his players ”see the same people” over

the next five years then the Gophers have ”got a good


Maintaining that consistency of philosophy and communication,

even in the weight room or with academic support, is of utmost

concern to Kill.

”I gave a lot of people their chance, and they maintained

loyalty to me,” he said. ”Some of them had a chance to leave, and

we were able to keep them in there. We try to make our working

conditions good, and we work together. I think probably we’ve been

just a little bit lucky, but I think we’ve all liked the way we’ve

worked our way up in the profession.

Kill said he has stressed this to athletics director Joel


”We’re at a BCS school now, you do good and people are going to

come after your people,” Kill said. ”Everybody knows we’ve got a

good coaching staff. It’s going to be tougher and tougher, and

we’ve got to make sure we keep ’em.”

With organizing help from former players Ray Hitchcock and

George Adzick, Kill has met with all sorts of alumni. Recent stars

like Matt Spaeth and Eric Decker are among those who have stopped

by the Gibson Nagurski building to chat with the new head


”His door is always open, and you can already tell that he

wants past players and current players to feel very involved with

the program,” said outgoing quarterback Adam Weber, who learned

from four offensive coordinators in five seasons on campus.

Talent is of course that precious ingredient that can’t be

coached, but the next-most important ingredient – as Kill and Weber

each noted separately – is to have some stability to build


”That’s how you create a winning program,” Weber said in a

phone interview on Thursday afternoon. ”When new coaches come in,

it’s a full-on change and it takes a long time to adjust.”

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys joined Kill at Saginaw Valley

State in 1995 and has been with him since, at Emporia State,

Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. Offensive coordinator Matt

Limegrover’s partnership with Kill dates to 1999. Most of the rest

of the other assistants came from his time at Northern Illinois and

Southern Illinois, too.

Coaching at Division II and the lower tier of Division I, now

known as the FCS, has given Kill a well-rounded experience. He’s

worked in housing and dining on campuses and been an athletics

director. He’s had a hand in marketing, proudly pointing visitors

to the tailgating section on the Pittsburg State website that

depicts a packed parking lot stemming from his time as a

coordinator there.

Personal investment in people and in the program’s success is

also a high priority here. Mass e-mails? That’s a pet peeve. One of

Kill’s directives to his assistants is to pick up a pen and

hand-write that note to check in on a recruit.

”If we want to turn our program around here, you’ve got to have

a personal touch,” Kill said.