As I looked down at the sideline last Saturday at halftime, I was stunned by what I saw.
Shortly after his team ran off the field to the locker room as the second quarter expired, University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill remained on the sideline — only he didn’t stick around to talk to an official or speak with a player.
He was having a seizure. Again.
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It was the second time in three years that Kill had an epileptic seizure on the field at TCF Bank Stadium. The previous time occurred in 2011 and happened late in the fourth quarter — when all eyes were on the action, which soon came to a screeching halt. At the time, few people knew Kill suffered from epilepsy. It was his first season as coach and his first home game of his Gophers tenure. Everything was still new, including the shock of seeing Kill on the sideline.
When Kill again had an on-field seizure Saturday, the mood was much different. There was no hush from the fans, as they had unfortunately witnessed this before. In fact, the University of Minnesota marching band continued its halftime show as if nothing was wrong.
The part that stunned me wasn’t that Kill had another seizure; he’s suffered many since his first public one in 2011, including one in the locker room at halftime last year and another in the locker room after a game. Instead, I was stunned by the calmness of those around Kill as he writhed on the ground. The coaches and medical staff knew the drill and never panicked. Neither did Kill’s wife, Rebecca, who has been by the coach’s side through all of this. She serves as his driver since his epilepsy prevents him from driving himself.
Kill’s players took everything in stride, too. In fact, they went out and played an inspired second half to pull away from Western Illinois to improve to 3-0, all while their head coach was in the hospital.
That’s when it hit me: if those closest to Kill don’t panic when this happens, why should we?
Of course, I’m not downplaying Kill’s epilepsy. It’s a disorder that he and millions of Americans have to live with every day, and also one that can have long-term health ramifications. I am, however, saying that I don’t believe Kill’s epilepsy is preventing him from doing his job as the head football coach at Minnesota. After last Saturday’s seizure, there were some calling for Kill to resign, arguing that a coach who can’t stay on the sideline shouldn’t be leading a team.
I disagree. If anything, seeing Kill overcome adversity again and again — he’s also a cancer survivor — should be an inspiration to many, including his players.
It’s important to remember just how much of a coach’s job takes place away from game day Saturdays. Kill works around the clock — perhaps working too hard, some would argue — to prepare for the Gophers’ next game. He’s studying film, running practice and holding meetings. These are the hours in which the true coaching is done, not on the sideline on Saturdays.
While I do believe that Kill needs to continue to work with his doctors to find the right medications to limit his seizures so that he can be present on Saturdays, I don’t think his coaching duties should be stripped from him. Having gotten to know Kill over the past three seasons, I’ve seen how frustrated he gets when he has another seizure. He’s not so much embarrassed as he is mad that it happened. And after every occurrence, Kill absolutely hates talking about his health. That was the case Tuesday at his weekly press conference, when he refused to answer questions about his latest seizure. He wanted to instead focus on football.
That’s what the rest of us should do, too. Kill’s health has overshadowed the job he has done in his third year at Minnesota. The Gophers are 3-0 for the second straight year and have a legitimate chance to start the season 5-0 before the schedule gets tough. When Kill came to campus, the cupboards were bare thanks to his predecessor, Tim Brewster. Slowly but surely, the program is turning around and heading in the right direction. It’s the same thing Kill did at Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois, transforming struggling programs into winners.
The number of wins and losses, not the number of seizures, is what should determine Kill’s fate as the Gophers’ coach.