Earlier this week, Jerry Kill announced he was stepping down as the Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach due to health concerns. His exit isn’t like Steve Spurrier’s at South Carolina, or Steve Sarkisian’s at Southern California, and no where close to Al Golden and Randy Edsall being sent their walking papers – all of those guys suffered from self-inflicted problems within their programs, whether it be not winning enough or personal struggles with the rigors of coaching.
Kill had to make this decision: live out your dream and deal with life-altering health problems, or get healthy and give up your dream. We’ve seen press conferences and statements from coaches that show little to no emotion, and then we get a farewell presser like the one Kill issued.
“Last night, when I walked off the practice field … I feel like a part of me died.” – Jerry Kill https://t.co/IkhBcc3K8X
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 28, 2015
Right there, is pure, raw emotion in it’s physical form. You get teary-eyed watching his presser because you can feel in his voice the sadness of giving up the only thing he knew: coaching football.
When you dig into the coaching career of Kill, you find out why he was beloved in the college football world: he worked hard to move up the ladder.
There was no stop as a coordinator at a powerhouse program like Ohio State. The ascension to FBS head coach was a process that took over 20 years to complete – and that was just to get to Northern Illinois.
Stops at Pittsburg State paved the way for Kill to go to Saginaw Valley State, which then led to a return to Kansas at Emporia State. Notice how none of these schools are remotely close to being an FBS school; and Kill spent 15 years fighting upriver in the coaching world.
Let’s look at some other coaches and their climb up the ranks:
Nick Saban started out at Kent State, an FBS school, in 1972 as a graduate assistant. Within 18 years, he made stops at Syracuse, Ohio State, the Houston Oilers in the NFL and Toledo as a head coach.
Randy Edsall spent the first 10 years of his coaching career at Syracuse. Edsall had the advantage of formally being the quarterback at ‘Cuse, and was taken under the wing of Tom Coughlin, who was one of the coaches of the Orange.
Those are just two examples, but they highlight the important example of life: it’s not what you know, but who you know.
Jerry Kill is college football. A heartbreaking day all around.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) October 28, 2015
However, Kill took that concept and threw it out the window. From one dusty road in the middle of the country to the next, Kill kept on trucking along, and finally hit paydirt with an FBS coaching gig in 2008 with Northern Illinois – but this was after a stop at Southern Illinois for seven seasons.
If you’re doing the math, that’s about 14 years of head coaching at small colleges before the FBS came calling. Not regular coaching, but head coaching. Tack on the other, roughly, nine years worth of high school and coordinating coach positions, and you finally have the picture of what it took to make it to the top division of football coaching.
Now, let’s look a little closer at the numbers.
While at Southern Illinois, this was the production Kill had:
||Result in I-AA/Division 1 Playoffs
||First Round Loss
||First Round Loss
||Second Round Loss
||Second Round Loss
Steady improvement, that’s what Kill had going for him. Every year, his teams got better – or stayed consistent. The dream scenario for any program is the formula Kill had created over the course of 20 years. A formula of getting better year-in and year-out. It may seem obvious, but that formula is hard to obtain – you have a better chance of finding out the secret formula to the Krabby Patty, or trying to understand what the secret ingredients are for KFC chicken.
Talk is cheap, what Jerry Kill gave you were solid results that you would be proud of.
Fast forward to Minnesota , the Gophers were on a trajectory that could’ve rivaled what they had in the 1960’s. I’m not kidding, given four more years following the Kill formula the Gophers would’ve been in a situation to be vying for a Big Ten title and possibly a Rose Bowl.
But, like anything, the universe will step in and taketh away. All the sleepless nights spent looking over film, recruiting, driving around, and strategizing are taken away in the snap of a finger.
And it sucks. The guy who fought to get to where he is has to step down due to something out of his control. Even after cutting out the sugary drinks and doing everything he could to get better, the universe basically said, “yea… we are still collecting dreams, Jerry. Time to pay up.”
We won’t see another Jerry Kill caliber coach for a long time. He truly is a one-of-a-kind coaching gem that was pulled up from the rural dirt in Kansas.
Combine Kill’s sudden departure with the even more sudden death of Minnesota Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, and the state of Minnesota has plenty of reason to grieve.
Like any sudden event, ordinary people rise up and become extraordinary. Whether it’s a team effort – like Ohio State clicking on all cylinders in both football and wrestling after the death of Kosta Karageorge – or an individual effort, people rally. Yes, the Gophers head coach isn’t there, but the values and beliefs instilled on the players by Kill will still be there. The imprint left by Kill will be there for as long as the players and coaching staff allow it to be there. Looking at Kill’s track record and the subsequent years after leaving a destination, the imprints left shine; there aren’t smudges.
The way Jerry Kill rose up the college ranks through hard work is lyrical. There was a chorus, hard work; a verse, consistency; and a melody, anchored by being successful. But like any great song, it ends too soon.
Kill’s final press conference ended his career on a minor chord. However, that won’t take away from the major chords he had throughout his career. If there is anything we learned from Jerry, it’s this: hard work will get you to the top. It may take time, but you’ll get there if you truly want it.
I talked about how the universe takes away, but it can also give you the objects of your desire. You have to ask for it, though.
Coach Kill used hard work as the language to the universe, and he received. While just for a short amount of time, he got the dream.
At the end of the day, that’s what we all are chasing. Let’s look to Jerry Kill as the example of how to finish the chase.