Sad news today that Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is retiring effective immediately due to health reasons. There are few coaches I respect more than Kill. He had to take the long way to the Big Ten. He succeeded at the high school level, Division II (Saginaw Valley State and Emporia State), FCS (Southern Illinois), group of five (Northern Illinois) and power-five (Minnesota). Nothing was given to Kill. He had to work his ass off to get to the top. He wasn't flashy, but few have been better at building college football programs. I mean, he made SIU -- a rundown program when he arrived -- into an FCS title contender.
Kill was always fair. He always thanked the media for covering his team. He always told me -- when I covered NIU in 2010 -- that without the media, college football coaches wouldn't make so much money and student-athletes wouldn't have so many opportunities. He got it. Kill wasn't always happy to talk to us. He had a short-temper with me -- covering my first college football beat -- some days, especially when talking about injuries. But that never lasted long and he was always a professional willing to help and promote his players and staff. I've seen Kill at every Big Ten Media Days since, and he always remembers me and exchanges pleasantries.
Kill doesn't like talking about his health. He hates that he has a weakness. He doesn't like pity. But he always answers questions about his health with, "...but thanks for asking. During the last decade, Kill has battled kidney cancer and epilepsy. It's taken a toll on him and his family. Kill told me that his wife, Rebecca, understood that he wouldn't be happy if he wasn't coaching. That makes this news concerning. Wishing nothing but health and happiness for Jerry and Rebecca.
Kill's secret to success? He has a fantastic staff and most have been with him for 15-25 years. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys takes over as interim coach, just like he had in the past when Kill had health issues. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover is one of the best developers of offensive linemen. Many of the assistants have been with Kill for more than a decade and they have built physical, smart fotball teams wherever they go. When I covered Kill for a season at Northern Illinois, he told me that strength coach Eric Klein was his most important staff member because he spent more time with the players than anyone. Kill just gets it. But I wonder what happens to this staff now. Does Claeys get a shot at the head job? He hasn't been a candidate for many head jobs and doesn't have a splashy personality. But neither did Kill. They are just great football coaches. Wherever Kill's staff goes, they will likely have success.
Already, there are eight FBS coaching openings. And Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel speculates that the list could grow to a ridiculous 30 by the end of the offseason -- 30!
It feels unprecedented to have six power-five conference openings with five games left in the season. When Illinois fired Tim Beckman, one positive was that Illinois seemed like it would get a head start on the coaching market. With Southern Cal, Miami, South Carolina and Maryland already in the demand side of the market, that benefit is all but gone for Illinois -- which is at the bottom of the totem pole of those five teams.
Thamel also reports that the high quantity of early open jobs could dissuade other programs from making a coaching change this season -- programs like Indiana and Purdue. It's not crazy to think either would delay entering a crowded marketplace. Indiana's Kevin Wilson could go bowl-less over his first five season, but Indiana has been competitive. And any coach that takes on that task and shows competitiveness should probably get more than a half-decade to try to correct decades of bad football. And if Purdue fired Darrell Hazell, it'd have to pay him a $6 million buyout over the next three years. But if Purdue leadership knows Hazell isn't the right guy and thinks someone else -- like Illinois State head coach Brock Spack -- wants the job and can do the job well, it should make a move.
Will Illinois have its hire in place within a few days after the regular-season finale against Northwestern? If it's up to Illinois, it should. If a guy you want wants the job, lock him up to a verbal agreement in the week leading up to the final game and announce it in the days after. That would allow the new coach to waste no time and try to hold on to and finish an OK recruiting class. But what if -- and this is a kind-of-unlikely hypothetical -- the Illini's top two candidates each want to explore their options? Do you move on to the third option -- who may not be as strong or as flashy -- just because he'd sign on a few days earlier? The life of an athletic director.
This already is an intriguing mix of openings. There are some historically great jobs (Southern Cal and Miami), intriguing jobs (South Carolina and Maryland) and historically tough jobs (Illinois and Minnesota).