Kill still on leave, still around his team

Coach Jerry Kill was at the game Saturday and called recruits Sunday afternoon.

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill expresses his discontent with a review of a Gophers touchdown against Wisconsin on Oct. 20, 2012.

Daily File Photo, Mark Vancleave

Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill expresses his discontent with a review of a Gophers touchdown against Wisconsin on Oct. 20, 2012.

by Jack Satzinger

Hours after surprising his team at halftime of the Gophers’ 20-17 victory at Northwestern, head coach Jerry Kill went to work.

The third-year head coach is still technically on leave, but he is being eased back into coaching while focusing on his epilepsy treatment.

Working on Sunday, Kill called a number of recruits, including Frank Ragnow of nearby Chanhassen, Minn. His message was clear — epilepsy won’t get in the way of his long-term coaching.

“He just let me know he would never recruit me if he wouldn’t be able to coach,” Ragnow said. “Or if the University didn’t back him.”

Kill also isn’t letting epilepsy keep him away from his team in the short term, even though he’s been absent from the sidelines. On Saturday, he burned the midnight oil by driving to Evanston, Ill., last-minute to watch the game.

Current players have been adamant that Kill’s absence from games doesn’t impact the outcome. But some players say the lift that Kill gave his team Saturday at halftime was undeniable.

“He’s just as responsible for that win as anybody,” senior defensive back Brock Vereen said. “That’s a moment I will leave this University with. … For him to come in, it was impossible not to go give your all in the second half.”

Gophers defensive coordinator and acting head coach Tracy Claeys said he spoke with Kill on Monday, and the head coach is doing well.

Leidner sick

Redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner is feeling under the weather, Claeys said.

On Sunday, Claeys told members of the media he hoped to pick a starting quarterback — Leidner or sophomore Philip Nelson — by Tuesday for this weekend’s game against Nebraska.

That process has been delayed by Leidner’s unspecified illness, because Claeys is unsure whether he can practice.

Claeys said the Gophers have a policy that if a player is unable to practice during the week, he will not play in that weekend’s game. If Leidner is too sick to practice by Thursday, all signs point to Nelson getting the nod.

Minnesota has taken steps to manage Leidner’s illness, including medication.

“We’re going to put him on some meds and then visit with the offensive guys. So we’ll see how much he can practice,” Claeys said. “Sometimes you get better as the week goes on. Sometimes you get worse. So we’re going to wait here a little bit later in the week and see how much practice Mitch can go through.”

Claeys said the Gophers generally decide which players will start the week’s game on Thursday but said they try to choose a starting quarterback on Tuesday, so he can prepare in practice and get in the right mindset.

Working up to a yell

Nelson acknowledged the positive impact of having Kill with the team Saturday and went as far as saying he misses hearing the Gophers’ head coach yell at him.

“During the season, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, coach Kill’s yelling at you again,’” Nelson said. “But after him not being there for a while, I think we all kind of miss it now.”

Kill is easing back into being head coach.

Current players heard his voice in the locker room at Northwestern on Saturday, and recruits heard him over the phone Sunday, and his message is clear.

“He’s been in the office for a couple days here for a few hours,” Claeys said. “I’m sure he’ll be in the press box for this game. … If he’s got some advice that’ll help us win the football game, I’ll gladly listen to it.”