Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill is retiring from his position due to health reasons, effective immediately.
Kill's ongoing struggle with epilepsy is forcing him from his position, where he's spent the past five seasons. Minnesota announced that defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will take over as interim head coach.
At a Wednesday-morning press conference, a very emotional Kill told reporters that this is not how he wanted to go out.
“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. .… This is not the way I wanted to go out, but you all know about the struggles. And 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 going to change. I did everything I could. I listened to my doctor two and a half years ago, somewhat, but I did what it took. I knew our team needed some help. I tried some stuff that I had to do because I couldn’t think the way I wanted to think.
“So with that, my doctor told me it was in my best interest for my family, my kids, hopefully grandkids someday, that if I don’t move on with my life, I may be a guy that don’t think too good down the road. I want to be able to think. This is the toughest thing that I’ve ever done in my life, the toughest thing since I lost my dad."
Since arriving at Minnesota, Kill has had well-documented issues with his epilepsy, including multiple seizures on the sideline during games. During the 2013 season, he took a leave of absence from the team after multiple seizures, not coaching and instead watching games from the press box. He returned to the field that later that season, talking about changes he would implement to better deal with things. Those apparently have not worked out as well as Kill and the Gophers had hoped.
Kill did a wonderful job turning around the fortunes of the Minnesota football program and getting it to contender status in the Big Ten West. After going 3-9 in his first season, he returned the Gophers to bowl eligibility at 6-7 the following year. In both 2013 and 2014, Minnesota climbed the ladder again and finished with an 8-5 record in both seasons, coming a win away from a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game. They were two of just 19 seasons in program history to finish with at least eight wins. Kill posted a .500 record of 29-29 in his four and a half seasons in the Twin Cities.
Over his entire career, Kill has been a turnaround artist, taking programs from the bottom to consistent winning. Both his previous stops came in the state of Illinois. He spent seven seasons at Southern Illinois, going from 1-10 in his first season leading that FCS program to five straight seasons of at least nine wins to close out his tenure, the final a 12-2 finish. Then came three seasons at Northern Illinois, going from a sub-.500 6-7 team in his first year to a 10-win team and an appearance in the MAC Championship Game in his third.
His abrupt departure is certainly a sad moment, a sadness shared with that emotional Wednesday-morning press conference.
“I’ve given every ounce that I have for 32 years to the game of football and the kids I’ve been able to coach," Kill said. "I’ve never stole from anybody, and I’m not going to steal now. I know somebody will ask, ‘Coach, what are you going to do?’ I don’t know. I ain’t done anything else. That’s the scary part."