Reusse: ‘Changed’ Jerry Kill is a head coach again, and we’ll see him in Minnesota soon

·5 min read

Rebecca Kill was at the wheel, husband Jerry was in the passenger's seat, and they were driving from New Jersey to their home in Illinois lake country a few days before Christmas in 2017.

Jerry had resigned after one season as Rutgers offensive coordinator. Once again, he had a challenging season with his epilepsy, this time triggered to some degree when he was run over on the sideline in the second game of the season.

There was no sadness in his voice during a lengthy cell phone conversation that day. He had flown to Illinois a couple of days earlier to meet the Kills' new grandchild, Emery Ann, and he was excited to see the baby again as a reward at the end of the long drive.

Emery Ann will turn 4 this month and Friday, again on a cell call, Kill said: "She's a beautiful little girl and she loves her 'Pa Pa,' I can tell you that.''

Then, Kill paused and said: "She's a little confused, though. Emery said to me, 'Why are you a Aggie, Pa Pa? You're a Horned Frog.' "

Jerry Kill has been a variety of items since he stopped being a Gopher on Oct. 28, 2015: a Wildcat, a Scarlet Knight, a Saluki, a Hokie and, most recently, a Horned Frog.

And now, there's a segment of the college football world aiming the same question at Kill as did his granddaughter:

Why are you an Aggie?

"There's not going to be many coaches my age [60] and with the epilepsy situation to get hired as a head coach,'' Kill said. "It's not like I was wanted all over the country. One school wanted me: New Mexico State.

"That's because the athletic director, Mario Moccia, believes in me, and the history for building up programs.''

He paused and said, "We have a long way to go here,'' stretching that "long'' with extra vowels.

That day in 2015, when Kill ended his tenure with the Gophers in its fifth season, it was announced as a retirement, not a resignation.

"I didn't think I would ever be back, for sure not as a head coach,'' Kill said. "The seizures had my memory messed up, everything messed up. I was so sick. I had nothing left in the gas tank.''

Pause. "That cost me a lot of things, but I wasn't going to cheat Minnesota. I left $8 million on the table, and the person I blame for that is myself.

"The doctors told me I had to change, that I had to try to stop controlling everything. I tried, but I failed. Offense, defense, recruiting, talking to donors. I couldn't stay out of it. I brought it on myself.''

Pause. "I've never been the same since I left Minnesota.''

That sentence was left for interpretation. From here, Kill was suggesting he always had been ascending as a head football coach, from Webb City (Mo.) High School, through four college stops and finally the Big Ten.

And then it was over, and what he was left with was only his coaching addiction.

That was Kill's most memorable quote from our conversation in 2017: "Football is an addiction, and I'm an addict.''

He was a volunteer assistant to Bill Snyder at Kansas State in 2016, Rutgers' OC in 2017, assistant at Virginia Tech in 2019 and offensive analyst for his friend Gary Patterson at TCU starting in 2020.

In between, Kill spent 18 months (2018-19) as athletic director at Southern Illinois, where Moccia had previously served as AD.

"I hated that job,'' Kill said. "I'm not an administrator. I'm a coach.''

Patterson was fired with four games left in TCU's 2021 season. Kill became the interim, and the Frogs upset Baylor in the first game. They went 2-2 in those four games.

That had nothing to do with Kill's hiring at New Mexico State. Doug Martin's attempt to bring competitiveness to a team playing as an independent in the mountains of New Mexico was ending. Moccia's preferred candidate was Kill.

"I wouldn't have taken the job if we weren't getting in a conference,'' Kill said. "We're going into Conference USA in the fall of 2023, which will give us a chance with scheduling.''

In Kill's other head coaching stops, he brought a crew of faithful assistants with him — Tracy Claeys, Matt Limegrover, etc.

"The assistants still will be mostly coaches from my 'tree' … just different coaches,'' Kill said. "That starts with Tim Beck, my assistant head coach. We go back 30 years to the Pittsburg, Kansas Gorillas."

Much ado will be made about New Mexico State's second game of the 2022 season: at Minnesota on Sept. 1. A decade ago, in 2011, Kill's first Gophers home game was an upset loss to the Aggies.

"That's the day I had a seizure on the sideline," Kill said. "That was not a good Saturday."

What used to be an on-campus crowd that included dozens of fans with "Jerrysota'' T-shirts figures to greet Kill rudely next September, based on some criticism aimed at Gophers coach P.J. Fleck a couple of years ago on a national radio interview.

"I'm done with all that stuff," Kill said. "I have my team to worry about."

The Aggies are coming off 2-10 and the 2022 schedule includes "money'' games at Minnesota, Wisconsin and Missouri. Really, Coach? You needed this?

"I'm healthy, I'm eating right, I've lost 25 pounds," Kill said. "And this time I'm not going to try to control everything. I've changed."

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