Big Ten

Jerry Kill fights tears during emotional exit, and so do we

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Jerry Kill fights tears during emotional exit, and so do we

We’ve been witness to many press conferences announcing the end of a coach's tenure.

But rarely has there been one quite this sad.

Coaches leave college football programs so often, it barely registers on any kind of emotional scale any more. We see coaches announce their departures after losing seasons, winning seasons, scandals or better opportunities. It’s a part of daily life.

But it’s daily life — and the realization that football isn’t the most important thing — that made Jerry Kill’s press conference Wednesday morning such an outlier. Daily life and the need to continue it is what made Jerry Kill’s press conference so sad.

Wednesday, Kill announced his immediate retirement from the position of head football coach at the University of Minnesota, his ongoing battle with epilepsy forcing him to quit doing what he loves.

“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."

Kill fought back tears through the entire thing Wednesday morning. And he surely had many others doing the same.

“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. 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.”

Kill’s epilepsy has been no secret, and how could it have been? The head coach had multiple seizures on the sideline during games before and since taking over at Minnesota prior to the 2011 season. During the 2013 season, multiple seizures forced him to the press box during a “leave of absence” which he revealed Wednesday still included 10 to 12 hour days working, even if he wasn’t on the sideline on Saturdays.

But the same thing that kept him working through those few weeks two years ago — a desire to not change his ways, to keep on doing what he loved no matter the cost — is what ended up bringing him to the realization that he needed to stop. The seizures have continued, he said. He refused to take doctors’ advice, he said.

Eventually, he couldn’t keep doing that any more.

“A lot of people thought I didn’t coach when I had the situation two and a half years ago, but I will clarify everything. I missed one game, and I went to the Northwestern game. But I came in 10, 12 hours a day, I coached. What I’m saying is I felt in a position to help our guys out more, I wanted to be more — I wanted to be myself. I wanted to be Jerry Kill. I wanted to coach the way I want to coach. And so that’s all I’m saying. I don’t want to be a liability. 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 coached my whole life.

“I was at practice yesterday after having two seizures. I probably wasn’t supposed to go there, either. But I didn’t give up. I made my decision, but I said, ‘Maybe not. Let me go out here, give her one last shot.’ But walking off the field, I think Tracy (Claeys, named interim head coach) and our staff can do a better job than I can because the kids don’t need to see some guy coming out there — they know when I’m not myself, and then that reflects the team.

“I don’t have any more energy. None. I’ve left it all right here in the great state of Minnesota, and I have no regrets. But I’ve never listened to a doctor ever. And when I had cancer, I was cut open and was on the road recruiting in five days. But I want to listen this time because (my wife) and my two kids, my brother and my mom, they need me more down the road. I’ve got (players) from all over the country, but at the end of the day, it’s not worth what I put my wife through.”

The most emotional moments came when Kill discussed his relationship with his wife and what she’s had to endure while he’s dealt with these issues.

“I went through a bad situation two years ago, and I’m heading right back there. I haven’t slept. My wife, two nights ago, was up with me all night and I slept one hour and came to work. Probably the most sleep I’ve gotten over the past three weeks is probably three hours or less. And she stays there and sits in a chair and watches me. That’s what she did last night. That ain’t no way to live. I’ve taken years off of my life and her’s. But we both say we’d do it again, wouldn’t we? Damn right.”

Even in describing all the negative effects the job has had on him, Kill said he’d do it all again. And it’s entirely understandable.

We all have things we’re passionate about, and if for some reason you didn’t know that this job was Kill’s passion, you found out hearing him speak Wednesday. Kill’s taken that passion and turned it into a mighty successful career, changing things for the better wherever he’s gone. He took Southern Illinois from one win to 12. He took Northern Illinois from sub-.500 to 10 wins and an appearance in the MAC title game. He took Minnesota from three wins to eight, reaching levels of success few coaches have in the program’s history.

But that passion now has no outlet. It’s been taken from him. Kill spent more than three decades doing what he loved. And though the struggles have been many in recent years, perhaps signaling a day when he wouldn’t be able to keep going, what he’s dedicated the majority of his life to ended in an instant.

“We don’t know what we’re going to do. That’s in the big man’s hand. I don’t have a clue. I’ve had a bomb dropped on me.”

Kill’s coaching career is over. Not because he wants it to be, not because administrators wanted him gone, not because he cheated, not because bigger and better football opportunities are calling. It’s over because his health dictated it, because there was nothing anyone could do, nothing he could do to save himself but stop.

And that’s why this is all so sad.

“I feel like I can beat anything. I hate losing. I feel like I’m losing today.”

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?