Jerry Kill begins his journey as Gophers head coach today as he leads the team into the first of 15 spring practices. Kill will attempt to turn around a program that has struggled for consistency since the Glen Mason era. The Gophers have not won a bowl game since 2004 and finished a miserable 3-9 last year.
This is Kill’s fifth head coaching job. In Kill’s 17 years as a head coach, he has a 127-73 record with only 4 losing seasons. The teams he coached before the Gophers: Saginaw Valley State (MI), Emporia State (KS), Southern Illinois, and most recently Northern Illinois. Saginaw Valley State and Emporia State are Division II schools. Kill’s teams have had a reputation for exerting toughness and discipline, characteristics that may be attributed to Kill’s playing days as a linebacker at Southwestern College (KS).
During a pre-spring press conference Wednesday, Kill said he plans to have open competition for all positions, meaning players will have to earn their playing time. The spring practices, which are held at the Gibson-Nagurksi Football Complex, will give Kill a chance to look for players who he said will “play hard, finish, be consistent, and have a mental toughness and intelligence.” The practices will also give Kill and his coaching staff, which includes his offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and special teams coordinator from Northern Illinois, a chance to teach the team their philosophies and schemes. Kill also stressed the importance of being aggressive on defense and finding players who can rush the quarterback.
While Kill won’t name him starter, Kill said he plans to have Marqueis Gray playing at quarterback this season, a decision which I applaud. The 6 foot 4, 230-pound junior has not played quarterback full-time in 3 years. However, he brings a great deal of versatility to the position. Gray has produced from multiple positions during his career with the Gophers, compiling 645 yards receiving with 6 TD’s, and 396 yards rushing with 1 TD in two years. Gray’s athleticism makes him an immediate threat. Think a bigger Denard Robinson from Michigan who is not quite as fast, but has a better arm. Gray was ESPN.com’s #13 QB in the nation coming out of high school in 2008. He now has a great opportunity to earn the Gophers starting quarterback job. If Gray can get off to a strong start in spring practices, it will be his job to lose. Gray was the #2 quarterback last year behind outgoing senior Adam Weber.
Kill, a kidney cancer survivor, has his hands full this season. The once-controversial hire has said all the right things since being hired as Gophers head coach, and I feel he is the man for the job. Kill inherits a team and program in bad need of rejuvenation. Lets face it, he’s cleared larger hurdles.