New Gopher football coach faces skepticsby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Jerry Kill, the new head football coach at the University of Minnesota calls himself a small-town guy who likes to work hard.
The university has signed Kill, currently the head coach at Northern Illinois, to a five-year contract to lead the Gopher football team.
Kill grew up in a small town in southern Kansas. His coaching career started in high school football. He worked his way up over the last 17 years, coaching college ball at all levels.
Kill is also a cancer survivor. In 2005 he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which is now in remission.
Kill, who was introduced to Minnesota during a news conference Monday afternoon, said his illness makes him all the more appreciative of the chance to lead the Gopher football team.
"I'm truly blessed. I've been blessed all my life," said Kill. "It seems like things just fall into place for me, and I'm just a fortunate, fortunate person."
Kill said he has two passions in life: His wife and two daugthers; and coaching football.
He described himself as a "roll your sleeves up" kind of guy, who's ready to start working with the Gophers.
"We will practice fast, high tempo. We will work," he said. "My motto is, 'We're going to outwork people.'"
University athletic director Joel Maturi said Kill is a perfect fit for the school as it works to improve its football program after years of losing seasons.
The biggest complaint on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and elsewhere has been that Jerry Kill is by no means a household name in college football circles.
Brandon Walter, a senior at the U of M, said he's disappointed that a big-name coach didn't take the job.
"It's not the ideal hire that I wanted to see. It's kind of that 'who' factor," said Walter. "Nobody really knows anything about Jerry Kill."
Barry Leavitt was hoping that a more prominent coach would be hired as well. Leavitt is a season-ticket holder and probably will be again next year, even though he's not fired up about the Gopher's prospects under coach Kill.
"Today is not a day to be excited about Gopher football. There's nothing about the hire that says 'We got the man we wanted,'" said Leavitt.
After years of frustration with the Gophers' losing ways, a group of former players and other boosters started a website called "Save Gopher Football."
One of the founders, Steve Nestor, isn't impressed with the choice of Kill. Nestor said the U should have gotten a bigger name after going through a national search costing nearly $100,000.
"You and I could make two $10 phone calls and make that hire," said Nestor.
Jerry Kill said he understands why some fans are frustrated. But he said winning them over is just another one of his new challenges.
"I guarantee -- if we go out and do a job and this program starts going in the direction that it will go, people will say, 'You know, that wasn't too bad.'"
Maturi, the one who ultimately picked the new head coach, said it doesn't matter that Kill is not a big-name coach who comes from a Big 10 school.
"In the end, let's be honest, he's got to win," said Maturi. "And when he wins, it's going to help him and it's going to help me."
That's something of a turnaround for Maturi, who said in October when he fired Tim Brewster that he was seeking a high-profile replacement, much the same way he did when he hired Tubby Smith to take over the basketball program in 2007.
"We're out here to find somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in, and people are going to bring instant credibility and notoriety to the football program," Maturi said in October.
Maturi also said at that time that head-coaching experience was a requirement for the new candidate. He had been criticized for hiring Brewster, who had no college head coaching experience before he came to Minnesota.
Maturi, 64, whose contract with the university ends in two years, said he realizes this is the last coach he'll hire at the University of Minnesota, but didn't offer details about his plans.
The key to turning around the Gopher football team, according to coach Kill, will be recruiting solid players.
Mike Grant, football coach at Eden Prairie, says the Gophers should be able to attract talented new players with the promise of playing on a Big 10 team. But it's up to the coach to seal the deal.
"You want to create the situation where they have such a relationship with you that they just can't tell you no. That's where the head coach comes in," said Grant.
Jerry Kill said he's going to start recruiting players immediately -- staying up late his first day on the job if he has to.
- All Things Considered, 12/06/2010, 5:20 p.m.