Kill’s leadership will endure

The athletics department should treat coach Jerry Kill’s illness with both dignity and transparency.

by Daily Editorial Board

University of Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill’s fourth game-day seizure provided a media frenzy far greater than the coverage of the first three.

Perhaps the fact that Kill had a seizure so early in the new season played a role in drawing the attention of so many from around the state and the nation, but other factors contributed to the swelling news coverage as well.

The athletics department’s PR blunder

University athletics director Norwood Teague and Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan both fanned the flames of an already sensitive issue, but in different ways.

While Souhan drew criticism for questioning Kill’s ability to coach the Gophers, it was Teague’s initial silence that threw his own leadership into question.

Teague did not speak on the very public incident until later in the week.

Instead, Teague’s game-day absence deferred questions to acting head coach Tracy Claeys and several student-athletes. When he finally spoke to the media Monday morning, Teague gave few answers.

It’s Teague’s job to handle the media, especially when the issue isn’t going away. Kill’s seizures called into question his coaching ability, which is a decision to be made by the leadership of the athletics department.

Teague should not burden those questioning Kill’s ability to coach with guilt. The decision to keep Kill as head coach may be a good one, but those who disagree should certainly be free to do so without being accused of criticizing Kill as a person.

There are legitimate concerns that needed to be addressed after Saturday’s incident, and Teague did not provide many substantive answers during Monday’s press conference. 

Going forward, the University athletics department must handle Kill’s seizures with more transparency and expediency. Instead of creating chaos across the media and having those who work for Kill answer for him, Teague must show that he has the situation under control.

Kill is a role model

It is undeniable that Kill, a cancer survivor, is a tremendous role model, not just to student-athletes but to the entire University community.

According to the Star Tribune, Teague said that Kill’s epilepsy is an “ongoing process” and that he has “full faith that we can move forward with the program.” Teague also noted he believes Kill is a role model for University athletes.

Despite his series of very public game-day seizures over the past decade, Kill courageously continues to do his job.

In November 2012, Teague told the Star Tribune that Kill would be “drilling down deeper into his condition” before the 2013 season and would work with more doctors “in order to make this more manageable and put this in his rear-view mirror.”

Last year, the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board expressed its full support for Kill and was hopeful that his seizures would not persist.

Kill has had to work harder than most to get where he is today, and Teague is right to praise and support him.

“You can’t be the head football coach and miss half of a game. I mean, I’m not stupid, I realize that,” Kill said in an August story in the Star Tribune.

Unfortunately, the issue was not resolved during the offseason, and it appears Kill’s seizures may be unavoidable. Some epilepsy patients still have seizures despite medication and treatment.

The reality of being a head coach is that you are also a figurehead for recruiting — perhaps the most important part of coaching in the Big Ten. Time will tell if Kill’s health issues affect the University’s ability to recruit top players or talented staff, which may be grounds for new football leadership.

The coach and his medical staff will decide when it will be the right time for him to step down. In the meantime, fans and the media deserve to know what Teague’s expectations are for Kill going forward — including his thoughts on the likelihood of more game-day seizures occurring.

While the athletics department needs to act with more transparency, students and fans around the state should be proud of Kill and continue to show him support throughout the season.