FOOTBALL: Kill: Gophers need to reflect state’s people
Jerry Kill’s shoes have barely touched the ground since being hired as head football coach at the University of Minnesota roughly six months ago.
The Wichita, Kan., native has been on a whirlwind tour of the state the last two months. He has visited Hutchinson, Willmar, Mankato, Red Wing, Rochester, Owatonna and more before finishing his “On the Road with Coach Kill” tour Thursday night in the Pavilion at Cragun’s Legacy Courses.
“I actually had a couple stops along the way,” Kill said before Thursday’s event that was attended by more than 100 people and hosted by the Brainerd Sports Boosters Club, “but it’s been good.
“I think the people of the state been great. We’ve just got to get a football team that reflects the state of Minnesota, I’ve said that all along. The people aren’t the problem. We’ve got to get our football team to reflect them.”
Kill has seized the reins of a program that finished 2-6 in the Big Ten, 3-9 overall, and fired coach Tim Brewster seven games into the 2010 season. Kill’s not sure what to expect from his first Gophers team, or what to expect from a program that hasn’t played in a Rose Bowl since 1962 and hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967.
“That’s a good question, I’m kind of wondering myself,” Kill said of his first team. “Until you get out there for 2-a-day practices, you get in a game and see how kids are going to react to different situations, to a different coaching staff, you really don’t know.
“We’re short on talent. We’re not blessed with a lot of things but I’ve always said if you work hard, and you play hard, you’ve got a chance at anything. Hopefully, we can teach them that in a short time and see what happens.”
Kill said the pace since he became head coach of the Gophers has been “busy” but he knew that it would be when he was hired. He has been through the grind in previous head coaching stops at Saginaw Valley State (Mich.), Emporia (Kan.) State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois.
“I think that’s a challenge, any time you’re trying to change a culture it’s time consuming, which we understand,” Kill said. “We’ve been through it.
“Is it challenging? Yes, but you can’t change something overnight, and we understand that. We’ve just rolled our sleeves up and we’re giving every day our best. And, hopefully, if we continue to do that, we’ll make some strides.”
Kill owns a .635 career winning percentage and has had 14 winning seasons in 17 years as a head coach. He won a national championship as offensive coordinator at Pittsburg (Kan.) State, was national coach of the year twice, and beat three Big Ten teams (including Minnesota in 2010).
During his brief tenure at Minnesota, Kill has tried to establish a healthy relationship with the Minnesota Football Coaches Association. Brainerd’s Ron Stolski, who has won more games than any coach in Minnesota State High School League football history, is executive director of the MFCA.
“It’s essential,” Kill said of a relationship with the state’s coaches. “We need to keep the best players in the state. We let a lot of kids get out. It’s not easy to keep your home-state kids in. A lot of times they want to venture out and see something different.
“We’ve worked very hard, and I think things are going well at this point in time recruiting, but a lot of it has to do with relationships with coaches. Ron Stolski has been tremendous, he’s a high school legend. He’s a great coach, but he’s a better person, and he’s been great to me and getting me off to the right start, the right direction, and I’m very appreciative.”
Stolski said at Cragun’s that he’s had the opportunity to get to know Kill and watch him in action.
“He works as good as he says he does,” Stolski said. “I’ve seen him with his staff, I’ve seen him at practice. His message is a message that he lives. He doesn’t have one message for the press or for the public and another message on the field. Maybe most people don’t but that’s the thing that really impresses me about him.
“I think the other thing is how much he believes in his system. It’s a proven system for him. He has said that a number of times. He says that on the field, he’ll probably say it this evening, that ‘I’m not changing.”
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.