Editor’s note: Derek Wetmore is the sports editor at the Minnesota Daily and this piece includes some of his own opinions. Views expressed here are not to be interpreted as fact, but all statements are true.
New Gophers head coach acknowledges he has a long road ahead of him to build Minnesota’s football program back to respectability. He held a press conference Thursday afternoon just after meeting with his players. Fall practices begin Monday, when he can take up to 105 players and run them through practices.
Here are a few highlights I took from the press conference:
-Kill was very frank in assessing the talent he has on his roster. When he was asked what he sees of his team entering Monday’s practice, the first of the season, he said: “We have a team that’s got to get a lot better than they did from the spring…I challenged them at the end of spring that they had to be a lot better than what they were.”
Such a statement may seem obvious for a team that finished 3-9 last season, but the stark contrast in assessing reality between he and his predecessor Tim Brewster has defined Kill’s tenure in Minnesota so far. Keep in mind, having a “defined tenure” is not all that important considering he hasn’t begun his first season yet, but in the seven full months he’s been here, he’s been consistently blunt in assessing the situation of his football team.
-On that note, he refuses to set expectations high. He’s frequently been asked since he took over what would constitute a successful season in his mind for the program. He echoed the same idea he’s said since he arrived: “If we get better every day. Everybody wants to put [stock in] wins and losses but where we’re at with our program now, we’re starting from the ground up…It’s much more than the football players themselves, it’s the whole program. We’ve analyzed it and we’ve got a vision, now we’ve got to go to work.”
It’s interesting because there aren’t a lot of people on the outside think about the other moving parts that go into a functional program. Sure, the behind-the-scenes things may need an overhaul, Kill certainly would know that better than I would. With that said, the players are a part of what makes a winning football program and Minnesota’s just haven’t been very good in recent years.
-He was asked if all his positions were up for grabs, something Brewster used to say often and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema recently said about his transplanted star Russell Wilson. Kill acknowledged that there were probably some spots locked up because of a lack of depth but added: “I don’t get into what’s open and what’s not. We’re going to put the best damn player on the field…If somebody comes in and he’s the best player, we’re going to play him. This isn’t intramurals, this is college football.”
Once again, he’s being honest and not feeling forced to put up a coach speak facade.
-Marqueis Gray, who will start at quarterback, is over 240 pounds now. Kill said he will find out Monday whether that’s a good or a bad thing. I saw him in Chicago last Friday and he looks like a strong 240, so it’s not as if he’s just gained weight — it appears to be mostly in muscle. Just a guess here, but I think the added weight and strength will be a boon for Gray. Kill’s offense is sure to have Gray scampering down the field on more than a few occasions this fall. If the bulk hasn’t taken away considerable agility or speed, Gray could be hard to bring down once he vacates the pocket and heads down field.
Kill did warn, though: “I’ve seen guys lift a lot of weights that can’t play football. I’ve seen guys who are 10.4 [seconds 100 m dash] track guys that can’t play football. You’ve got to translate it to the football field.”
-J.D. Pride will remain at wide receiver, according to coach Kill. The position is one of the shallowest on the team, so the receiving corps can use all the re-nforcements it can get.
-105 players can begin practicing with the team Monday. Kill said deciding which kids to take is the kind of decision he gets “paid the big bucks for.” He’s concerned with injuries prior to the season, like all coaches. He’s especially worried about injuries to an already-thin receiving corps. At some schools, it would be difficult selecting which 105 student-athletes would come to the end-of-summer camp. The Gophers are on the reverse end of the spectrum, to the point where Kill said he’s more concerned with whether or not he’ll have enough bodies to do what he’d like in camp.
It’s an interesting year because the Gophers open on that road at USC prior to the first day of school. Typically if an athlete gets injured, he’s replaced in camp and when rosters can expand again (the first day of fall classes), he’s added back to the mix. This year, however, if a player is hurt and needs to be replaced on the roster for the remainder of camp, he will be ineligible to compete in the USC game. That restriction may inhibit Kill and his staff. To replace a player they’d likely want to be almost certain he can’t compete in the opener against the Trojans on Sept. 3, otherwise they may just have to drag some injured players along until the end of camp.
-The final quote that struck me was last thing he said when addressing the rebuilding effort: “There’s no quick-fix in life. This is not a quick fix thing. This is not deal where, ‘hey, let’s win immediately, let’s quick fix it and get the hell out of there.’ I want to be here. I want to build a program. Everywhere I’ve left, I’ve won and I want to continue that. It’s about building a program and doing it right. We’re going to do it right. I might get hit in the head the first few years, I don’t know, but I’m not going to bend off of what works and I know what works.”
The Minnesota Daily prints its final summer issue Aug. 10 and begins printing again when school is back in session. Continue to follow @mndailysports for updates throughout camp. Sports editor Derek Wetmore also keeps his ear to the ground on the Gophers sports scene. His twitter handle is @DWetsocks.