Gophers prepare with Claeys, Leidner

There is still no set timetable for Jerry Kill’s return to the football program.

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner runs against San Jose State on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium.

Daily File Photo, Ichigo Takikawa

Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner runs against San Jose State on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Jack Satzinger

In August, Jerry Kill was the head coach of the Gophers and Philip Nelson was the starting quarterback.

Now, after two game-day seizures for Kill, a hamstring injury for Nelson and impressive starts for redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner, all of that has changed.

The University announced Thursday that Kill will take indefinite time away from the program to focus on his epilepsy treatment. In turn, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will serve as Minnesota’s acting head coach for the foreseeable future.

Claeys said at a press conference Tuesday there’s still no timetable on Kill’s return and he doesn’t expect him to coach Saturday against Northwestern. Claeys added that he spoke with Kill on Monday night, but before then most of his contact had been with Kill’s wife, Rebecca.

“We had a great conversation. He’s doing well,” Claeys said. “We talked about our last game, [and] we talked about Northwestern’s last game.

“He’s feeling good, but we’re still going to prepare, and I don’t anticipate him being at the game at this time.”

Claeys will move from the press box to the field to coach against Northwestern with Kill presumably out.

As a result, Claeys said he’ll have to make some adjustments and reorganize his play charts. He said he’ll have to stop himself from micromanaging position coaches on the field as well.

“The hardest part about being [on the field] as a defensive coordinator is you try to correct mistakes in-between plays,” Claeys said. “In a no-huddle situation, you don’t have time to do that. So I’m going to have to stay pretty disciplined and let the other guys coach.” 

Though being on the field as head coach will be an adjustment for Claeys, his players said the coaching change has been seamless.

Redshirt freshman tight end Maxx Williams said nothing has changed amid Kill’s absence, and “everything has just kept on going.”

Senior kicker Chris Hawthorne said the two coaching styles differ but said both Claeys and Kill expect the same from their players.

“They’re different, and then they aren’t in some regards,” Hawthorne said. “Coach Claeys came and talked to us last week and said he’s not as much of a big screamer, but at the same token, the expectations and standards don’t drop at all.”

Leidner to start

Claeys said Leidner will start over Nelson at Northwestern, and it’s a decision the coaching staff made collectively.

Leidner threw one interception and had a fumble in the Gophers’ 42-13 loss at Michigan on Oct. 5. He also threw for 145 yards, rushed for a team-high 66 yards and had a touchdown pass.

Claeys said that was enough for him to keep the starting job moving forward.

Williams, Leidner’s roommate, said the difference between playing with Nelson and Leidner is minimal. Claeys also said the two quarterbacks have similar styles.

While Leidner could be the Gophers’ starter for the next three-plus years, Claeys knows his job is temporary.

“This is Jerry Kill’s program. It’ll always be his program,” Claeys said. “It’s his football program, and we’re just trying to take care of it and advance it along.”