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
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.