When trying to write this piece, I had trouble finding the right words to say to give Jerry Kill a proper farewell as very little vernacular would give him justice. He inherited a program that Tim Brewster doused into a dumpster fire and turned them into a legitimate contender in the Big Ten West in only four short years. But he was so much more to that to each and every member of his Gopher Football team and fan base.
This morning's heartbreaking press conference was excruciating to watch because it was clear that the man sitting at the podium had been stripped of one of the few things he loves most in this world. Being a football coach, but most importantly, being a second father to a bunch of young men trying to figure out where they fit in this hectic world. Take walk-on Cavonte Johnson for example.
Not many college football coaches, let alone head Big Ten football coaches would have given Johnson a thought, but he welcomed him into the Minnesota football family and for that, Cavonte is forever grateful.
I could tell you numerous stories about how Kill went out of his way for any and all of his players to make sure they were not only excelling in the classroom, but also maturing from boys, to young men. From personally getting players out of bed to the classroom, to helping them overcome numerous personal issues involving drugs and alcohol, nothing was ever too big of a challenge for Kill.
One quote in particular from Kill this morning really struck a chord with me, "I've never stole from anybody and I'm not going to steal now."
Kill wasn't going to give anything less than 100% to the game and his health was going to force him to do that. For a profession that he cherished more than anything except his family, he wasn't going to cheat the game that he respected for more than 32 years, so he had to retire. The problem was, it wasn't on the terms he believed it would be one day.
This is much worse than a football coach being fired for not winning games. This is a man being forced to give up what he loves to live a long and fruitful life with the people that he loves. That is no choice anyone should have to face and for that, I commend his for making the decision that will help him experience a lifetime full of memories with his family and the people he loves.
Coach Kill accured a slew of accomplishments during his four plus years as the coach of the Golden Gophers including:
- Back-to-back 8-win seasons in 2013-14 for the first time since 2002-03.
- Four straight Big Ten games in 2013, the Golden Gophers' first four-game conference winning streak since 1973.
- 2nd in the Big Ten West in 2014. The Golden Gophers' 5-3 conference record in 2014 was also the program's first winning Big Ten record since 2003.
- Took the Golden Gophers to the Citrus Bowl in 2015, their first New Year's Day bowl game since 1962.
- Four players selected in the NFL Draft in 2015 -- Maxx Williams, David Cobb, Damien Wilson, and Cedric Thompson -- the most from Minnesota since 2006.
- Beat Penn State in 2013 to re-claim the Governor's Victory Bell for the first time since 2004.
- Beat Nebraska in 2013 for the first time since 1960. Beat them again in 2014 for back-to-back wins over the Cornhuskers for the first time since 1954.
- Beat Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2014 for the first time since 2005 to re-claim the Little Brown Jug. That was also the Golden Gophers' second win over the Wolverines in 24 years.
- Beat both Michigan and Iowa (to re-claim the Floyd of Rosedale) in 2014, the first time the Golden Gophers have done that in the same season since 1967.
Minnesota also recorded a 994 Academic Progress Rate (APR) under Coach Kill in each season from 2011-12 to 2013-14. That 994 score is the highest single-season score that the Minnesota football team has ever recorded and the Gophers' multi-year rate of 975 is also a school record, proving that he not only improved on the Gophers winning percentage on the field, but also off it as well.
Jerry Kill said somberly this morning on a dreary day in Minneapolis that when he left the practice field yesterday for the last time, he felt like a part of him died. Put yourself in his shoes. Something he's loved doing everyday for the last 32 years and knowing that it's the last time you'll ever be in that position again. Ever. Puts things in perspective on how precious life is knowing that things you love can be taken away at the blink of an eye.
To sum things up, I haven't always agreed on certain decisions that Jerry Kill has made on Saturday's these past four and a half years, and you know what, that's okay. His time as the Golden Gophers head coach not only gave Gopher Football fans a team they could be proud of, but the entire state of Minnesota. A team that has numerous success stories in the NFL and in the real world. A team that values their time in the classroom as much as their time on the gridiron. A team that keeps their nose clean and works hard to maintain that standard that Jerry Kill set when he walked in the door on December 7th, 2010.
There are a lot of questionable characters that work in college sports, which is why losing Jerry Kill, one of the sports "good guys", makes this so much tougher on everyone.
I'll leave you with this quote from Coach Kill before he left for his life after football and it's something each and everyone of us should take to heart.
"If I can give anybody any advice, count on your health instead of your wealth and count on God instead of yourself."
Best of luck Coach Kill and thank you for everything.