Minnesota Golden Gophers' Motivation: Win One for Jerry

By Phil Clark


Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

A team playing for a coach isn’t something that is supposed to be a big deal. I mean, the coach is the guy who these players answer to on the field, right? However, when a coach suffers some kind of major setback that doesn’t involve football, a team playing for their coach takes on a more significant meaning. Such is the case with the Minnesota Golden Gophers heading into the Meineke Car Care Bowl on December 28.

Jerry Kill, coach of the Golden Gophers, has had numerous health-related issues over the last seven years. Sadly, many of those issues were on the field rather than something his players and friends would hear about later.

It all started for Kill when he was coaching the Southern Illinois Salukis. In October 2005, Kill suffered a series of seizures with one being on the sidelines during a game against the Illinois St. Redbirds. Kill was subsequently diagnosed with kidney cancer, though that has been in remission. In 2010, while coaching the Northern Illinois Huskies, Kill was hospitalized for dehydration after a loss. Following that regular season, Kill was hired as coach of the Golden Gophers, where he remains to this day.

Unfortunately, that didn’t stop Kill’s health issues. Last September, Kill needed to be rushed to the hospital after suffering a seizure and then collapsing on the sidelines during a loss to the New Mexico St. Aggies. He suffered another seizure not too soon after and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic for testing. Kill had no other issues during the 2011 season, but problems started right back up for Kill in the 2012 season. On October 13, Kill suffered a minor seizure during the Golden Gophers’ game against the Northwestern Wildcats and then missed the second half of the Golden Gophers’ regular season finale against the Michigan St. Spartans after suffering a seizure at halftime.

It does make you wonder whether or not this man should be on the sidelines or in a stress-inducing job like coaching with his issues with seizures, especially with them occurring more often than not during a football game. At the same time, Kill has made no indications that he plans to retire or leave his current position.

Another thing that has been constant in Kill’s coaching career is the inability to win the big games. Kill took the Salukis to the FCS playoffs in each of his final five seasons with the team. The furthest they made it was to the semifinals in Kill’s final year, but lost in that round. With the Huskies, Kill coached in two bowl games, both losses before leaving the school to take his current job. The irony is that the bowl game Kill didn’t coach the Huskies in due to his departure was a 23-point win for the Huskies. The Meineke Car Care Bowl will be Kill’s first bowl appearance in his two seasons as Golden Gophers head coach.

And there it is: no major post-season victories and health issues that tend to present themselves on the football field. Talk about motivation for a team. This is a college football version of the Indianapolis Colts and Chuck Pagano. And that is a fitting comparison with the Colts defying all the odds and all but securing a playoff spot this season while the Golden Gophers are in a bowl game after back-to-back 3-9 seasons.

It would be a tremendous late-Christmas gift for Kill if his team earned him his first bowl win as a head coach. Many of these players have been around for both of Kill’s seasons as coach. In other words, they’ve been witness to all of the recent issues that Kill has had health-wise. Those are the players that need to be the ones to make it happen and get that bowl win for their coach.

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