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.”