Jerry Kill did everything he could not to end the fight
Jerry Kill fought like hell.
The Minnesota coach didn’t want to give in. For the last three weeks, he didn’t sleep more than three hours on a given night. His epilepsy had resurfaced. The same condition that plagued him during the first half of his tenure at Minnesota reared its ugly head and Kill saw the writing on the wall.
He’d spent too long not listening to doctors, who urged him to take medication before games. It was no longer worth risking his short and long-term future with his family.
On Wednesday, Kill finally stopped fighting. Fighting back tears, Kill announced his retirement from coaching in the exact fashion he fought so long to avoid.
“This is not the way I wanted to go out,” Kill said. “But you all know about the struggles. I did my best to change. But some of those struggles have returned and I don’t want to cheat the game. And I ain’t gonna change.”
The announcement was as sudden as can be. The reigning B1G Coach of the Year knew that Tuesday night would be his last day leading the Gophers.
“Last night, when I walked off the practice field, I felt like a part of me died,” Kill said. “I love this game. I love what it’s done for my family. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to coach this game.”
Kill didn’t even tell his mom of his decision until Tuesday night. Before he addressed the media on Wednesday morning, he told the players and coaching staff of his retirement.
Still, as Kill said farewell to the game he coached for 32 years, he couldn’t help but get choked up.
“This is the toughest thing that I’ve ever done in my life,” Kill said. “It’s the toughest thing since I lost my dad.”
Kill said he felt like he had a “bomb dropped on him.” He had no plans of a mid-season retirement when he signed an extension to keep him in the Twin Cities through 2019. Three weeks ago, he spoke about the importance of the $166 million Minnesota Athletes Village was for the future of the university. He fought to be a part of it.
His plan was not to quit on his team before it began a three-game stretch against No. 15 Michigan, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 10 Iowa. He had every intention of righting the ship and trying to lead the Gophers back to an eight-win season.
But he didn’t want to be a shell of himself anymore. He didn’t want his condition to affect the way he thinks on the sideline.
He just wanted to coach like Jerry Kill.
“I’ve given every ounce that I have for 32 years to the game of football,” Kill said. “I’ve never stolen from anybody and I’m not gonna steal now.”
Nobody will argue that Kill stole from the university. When Minnesota Athletic Director Norwood Teague resigned from the university amidst a harassment scandal in August, Kill was there. He didn’t lose recruits, he didn’t lose fan support and he held the football program together during its most tumultuous time.
Nobody will ever accuse Kill of stealing.
He gave the program its first New Year’s Day bowl in 53 years. He took down Iowa and Michigan in the same season for the first time since 1967. His eighth win of the 2014 season fittingly came when he led the Gophers back from a 14-point deficit to notch their first win in Lincoln since 1960. It marked just the fifth time since 1906 that Minnesota earned consecutive eight-win seasons.
Kill gave it all to the university.
“I have no more energy. None,” Kill said. “I left it all right here in the great state of Minnesota.”
He didn’t know whether or not he would make a return to the university in an administrative roll. That wasn’t his focus on Wednesday.
After 24 years as a head coach, Kill has no idea what his next step will be.
“I know somebody will ask, ‘Coach, what are you going to do?’ Kill said. “I don’t know. I’ve never done anything else.”
Kill put his health in danger to coach football because it was the only thing he wanted to do. That ultimately, was what drove him to return after he missed seven games while trying to control his epilepsy.
He had to deal with the constant concern from the public about his health. He had seizures on the same sideline that his daughter was walked. But he’s always had the support of his wife, Rebecca, through sickness and health.
As Kill was wrapping up his closing remarks, he made one thing perfectly clear as he turned to Rebecca.
“We both say we’d do it again,” Kill said. “Damn right.”