Harty: Saturday’s historic doubleheader has everything but Jerry Kill
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Jerry Kill deserves to be a part of Saturday’s rare night game at Kinnick Stadium.
He deserves to be the leader of the Minnesota Gopher football team and to be a representative of the University of Minnesota because you won’t find any better than Jerry Kill.
The respect and admiration that he’s earned as a football coach is exceeded only by the respect and admiration he’s earned as a person.
I feel comfortable saying that without ever having the privilege of meeting Kill because so many others who know him personally and professionally have said it with conviction since Kill abruptly retired as the Gopher head coach on Oct. 28 for health reasons.
“I think everybody involved with college football was certainly sad when Coach Kill made his announcement a couple weeks ago, and from my standpoint at least, I think it’s very easy to say he’s clearly been great for the University of Minnesota,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said at his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I think he’s been great for the Big Ten, and I would say for the entire game of college football, and has been for quite some time.
“He’s a tremendous man, a tremendous football coach, and our game is going to miss him. Certainly the players that had an opportunity to work with him I think would echo that, as would his staff. Just all of us were very, very saddened by that news, and give our best to him certainly.”
Kill having to step down in his prime at the age of just 54 is a huge loss for the Gophers and for college football in general.
It just shows that life can be cruel and unpredictable.
Kill made the Gophers respectable again, but he won’t have a chance to build on what he already has accomplished.
That’s very sad because Kill deserves to match wits and strategies with Ferentz on Saturday night under the stars.
Kill deserves another chance to take Iowa to the woodshed, as the Gophers did last season, winning 51-14 in Minneapolis. It seems unlikely that would happen again this season, considering how well Iowa is playing. But without Kill, win or lose, there will be an empty feeling.
His sudden departure keeps all the stuff that is bothering Iowa fans about their team in perspective. It’s maddening and frustrating to fans when Iowa’s legitimacy is questioned or ridiculed by the national media.
And you can’t say these are just games because one loss ultimately could mean a huge financial difference, somewhere in the millions.
But there is nothing more priceless than a person’s health.
Kill was drained from the toll epilepsy had taken on his body. He had suffered multiple seizures during his time as a head coach, including two recent episodes that led to his decision to retire.
“I don’t have any more energy,” Kill said at a press conference announcing his decision. “None.”
Kill’s decision to retire was a selfless act because he could’ve stuck around and made everybody deal with his condition while earning a fat paycheck.
But that’s not Jerry Kill.
Coaches stress to their players that the team always comes first and now Kill is proving it by stepping down.
"I don’t want to be a liability,” Kill said at his press conference. “I don’t want somebody to have to worry if I’m going to drop on the field. I don’t want to coach from the press box. I want to coach the way I’ve coached my whole life."
I salute the Gophers for promoting Kill’s long-time defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys to head coach because it’s a sign of respect for Kill to put one of his coaches in charge.
It seems strange, though, from a recruiting standpoint that Claeys was only given a three-year contract. But we’re also talking about a school that doesn’t currently have an athletic director. So it’s hard to know who is making the final decisions within the Minnesota athletic department, or who is influencing them.
Minnesota’s most pressing concern right now is trying to figure out a way to do what nine other teams have failed to do this season, which is defeat 9-0 Iowa.
The Hawkeyes are one victory from going where no Iowa team has gone before, which is having a 10-0 record. Iowa is also ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings and getting healthy for the stretch drive, with senior running back Jordan Canzeri expected to play Saturday after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury.
The media tried on Tuesday to get the Iowa players to look just briefly at the big picture, but had little to no success. The all-too-familiar phrase of "taking it one game at a time" was said over and over and over by the players on Tuesday.
Some even apologized before saying it, while defensive end Nate Meier barely said anything when asked if he was going to get extra juiced-up for the night game being that he’s a senior and with Iowa wearing alternate black uniforms.
“It’s just another game, I guess,” Meier said.
The reporter pressed for more, but got nothing but a blank stare from Meier.
He did acknowledge the fact that Minnesota thumped Iowa last season.
“It was kind of an embarrassing game, but it’s a different year, so we’ve just got to take it one step at a time,” Meier said.
Not even one game at a time, but rather one step at a time. That shows just how focused and grounded the Iowa players are at this stage, even with the team on the verge of making history.
Players often talk about seizing the moment and taking it one game at a time, but they don’t always practice what they preach. The players on the current Iowa team have backed up everything they’ve said with positive results on the field.
There is a concern that the Minnesota players will be extra juiced-up from having Claeys promoted from interim head coach to head coach. That might be true, but the injury-riddled Gophers won’t have Kill on the sideline leading the way.
From a competitive standpoint, I would take that trade every time if I’m an Iowa fan.