Kill steps down as head football coach

Jerry Kill announced his retirement on Wednesday, citing health concerns.

by Ben Gotz

Raw with emotion and fighting back tears, Jerry Kill stepped away from the only career he’s ever known.

Kill retired as the head coach of the University of Minnesota football team at an emotional press conference Wednesday morning, citing long-term concerns about his health.

“I know somebody will ask ‘Coach, what are you going to do?’” Kill said. “I don’t know. I ain’t done anything else. That’s the scary part.”

Interim Athletics Director Beth Goetz named associate head coach and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys the interim head football coach.

Kill, who has battled epilepsy throughout his tenure at Minnesota, said he suffered two seizures before the team’s practice on Tuesday.

Kill said he has been averaging less than three hours of sleep per night for the last three weeks. He said his doctors told him to step away, and informed his players of his decision Wednesday morning.

“Last night, when I walked off the practice field, I felt like a part of me died,” Kill said.

Goetz said the University will begin the search for a new head football coach after the Gophers season is over.

The University hired Kill on Dec. 7, 2010 and he starting working to rebuild a program that finished 3-9 the year before he was hired.

Kill’s overall record at Minnesota is 29-29 with three bowl appearances, including the program’s first New Year’s Day bowl game since 1962 in 2015.

He suffered seizures during games three separate occasions at Minnesota, and took a seven game leave of absence in 2013 to focus on treating his epilepsy.

Claeys filled in as interim head coach for the Gophers in those seven games, going 4-3.

“I went as hard as I could,” Kill said. “I was on a mission. Probably part of the problem is I’ve hit my head against the wall too many times, too many years.”

Kill’s retirement comes on the heels of the approval of a $166 million Athletes Village at the University of Minnesota. The groundbreaking for the new facilities project is scheduled for Friday. Kill was one of the projects’ biggest supporters.

“No doubt coach Kill was instrumental in selling that vision and as we break ground on Friday and when that’s building’s constructed and for years in the future our student athletes are working out there are studying, that’ll be a piece of his legacy,” Goetz said.

Kill’s first major coaching job was as the defensive coordinator for Pittsburgh State University in 1985, leaving to become the head coach of Webb City High School in Missouri for two seasons.

He went back to Pittsburgh State as their offensive coordinator, before jumping to Saginaw Valley State University in 1994 and beginning a slow climb up the ladder of college football.

Kill moved to Southern Illinois University in 2001 and to Northern Illinois University in 2008 before coming to Minnesota.

In his final season at Northern Illinois, the Huskies defeated the Gophers 34-23 at TCF Bank Stadium.

The next year Kill got to work on rebuilding the Gophers, starting with a 3-9 season in 2011. The team became bowl-eligible the next year, and in 2013 the team went 8-5.

The Gophers won eight games again in 2014, which was only the second time since 1906 the team won eight games in back-to-back seasons. Kill was named the 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year for his efforts.

“There’s no question in my mind that the program’s better and it’s been a group of people that made it better,” Kill said.

Outside of football, Kill started the Chasing Dreams Fund created by his family through the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, which runs a week-long camp for children with epilepsy and supports training programs in schools.

“I’m just the old ball coach, that’s just who I am,” Kill said. “I don’t write no speeches, I just tell it like it is. Sometimes that ain’t so good but that’s just who I am. And I [will] tell you this, I’ve given every single ounce to the game and the state of Minnesota I could.”