Jerry Kill tours southern Minnesota

Jerry Kill hit the road Monday for the southern leg of his tour of Minnesota.

Coach Jerry Kill talks about his plans for the Gopher football team Monday at the Somerby Golf Club in Byron, Minn.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Coach Jerry Kill talks about his plans for the Gopher football team Monday at the Somerby Golf Club in Byron, Minn.

Andrew Baker

 

When Jerry Kill rose to address a banquet hall full of Gophers coaches, alumni and supporters Monday at the Somerby Golf Club in Byron, Minn., he opted not to stand behind the podium.

The first-year Gophers football coach from rural Kansas said he felt more comfortable using his âÄúfootball voiceâÄù to address the gathering the old-fashioned way, without a microphone or note cards. It was the second of three speeches he gave in southeastern Minnesota during the day as part of his âÄúOn the Road With Coach KillâÄù tour of the state.

âÄúIâÄôm not a coat-and-slack guy,âÄù Kill said in the opening minute of his speech. âÄúI wasnâÄôt raised that way. If I was back home where all my familyâÄôs at, IâÄôd be baling hay today. ItâÄôd be about 105 degrees, [so] thank God I got hired to coach football here [at Minnesota].âÄù

Since University of Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi named Kill to succeed ousted coach Tim Brewster in December, Kill has used that football voice âÄî a booming baritone with a thick drawl uncommon in this part of the country âÄî to court a restless fan base to which Maturi pledged a well-known, proven winner to take over the schoolâÄôs free-falling football program.

While Kill has posted a winning record in 14 of his 17 seasons as a college head coach, he was not exactly a household name at the time of the December announcement.

Since then, though, his folksy appeal, frank demeanor and mastery of oration and humor seem to have energized Gophers fans eager for a fresh football start.

âÄúWe have great fans here,âÄù Kill said. âÄú[But] we have to get a football team that relates to you, and thatâÄôs what weâÄôre working on. IâÄôm not going to tell you something that I canâÄôt back up. I donâÄôt know where weâÄôre at right now. WeâÄôre working at it, but weâÄôre not where we need to be.âÄù

For a football community weary of failure and wary of lofty, unrealistic promises, KillâÄôs blunt assessments of the state of the team and his refusal to guarantee anything besides hard work and dedication have been a refreshing change from Brewster.

âÄúThatâÄôs one thing I liked right away,âÄù 1958 Minnesota graduate Dave Wernecke said with a laugh about KillâÄôs reluctance to set the bar too high too quickly. âÄúBut he seems to be enthusiastic as far as taking on the job.âÄù

If anyone has a stake in that enthusiasm translating to success, itâÄôs Maturi, who hired Brewster and bore the brunt of fansâÄô and boostersâÄô ire over BrewsterâÄôs failure to live up to expectations.

After vowing to bring in a Tubby Smith-caliber replacement for Brewster and delivering the successful but relatively unknown Kill, Maturi braced for a fresh onslaught.

âÄúI became very nervous during the hiring process,âÄù Maturi said, âÄúpartly because [of] some of the criticism and concern. But in the end I knew that we needed a good football coach âĦ To be honest with you, I told President [Bob] Bruininks, âÄòI donâÄôt think weâÄôre going to win [KillâÄôs first] press conference and I think thereâÄôs going to be some challenges.âÄô That has absolutely not happened.âÄù

âÄúCoach Kill not only won the press conference, he won it big time.âÄù

Winning press conferences is a start.

In his capacity to ensure the Gophers win football games as well, Kill so far has conducted 15 spring practices, which wrapped up in April.

Per NCAA rules, Kill and his staff âÄî with the exception of strength and conditioning coach Eric Klein âÄî cannot have any football-related contact with players until August practices begin.

Kill said that while he noticed significant improvements from the team in spring practice, particularly from the defense and quarterback MarQueis Gray, his players have their work cut out over the summer.

 âÄúItâÄôs going to be the self-discipline now,âÄù Kill said of his hopes for his players this summer. âÄúIf they donâÄôt train and do what theyâÄôre supposed to do and work at it like they should, then weâÄôll be in trouble.âÄù