MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jerry Kill hasn’t given himself much of a break since taking over as the new Gophers football coach.
“We’ve tried to load that calendar and not waste any time,” Kill said. “I certainly haven’t tried to cheat the university on time.”
Kill has had but one full evening of free time — some Sunday a while ago, he recalled — since he was hired in early December. Meeting with all the returning players took two weeks. Pitching high school prospects on Minnesota is a never-ending task. Meetings with donors and alumni and media are fit into the remaining blocks of time, as he pushes a relentless work ethic throughout the football facility and the athletics department.
In assessing the program he was hired to rebuild, the critical piece of the process became clear: Continuity. The Gophers haven’t had much of that in recent years, with plenty of shuffling on the staff of former head coach Tim Brewster during his four seasons. That followed a wholesale change from the Glen Mason regime to Brewster’s in 2007.
“Those kids have just seen changeover after changeover after changeover,” Kill said.
Stability is a familiar concept to Kill. As a head coach at Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Emporia State and Saginaw Valley State, he has collected assistant coaches and tried hard to keep a staff intact. Both of Kill’s coordinators have worked with him since the 1990s.
Kill said in an interview in his office Thursday with The Associated Press that if his players “see the same people” over the next five years then the Gophers have “got a good chance.”
Maintaining that consistency of philosophy and communication, even in the weight room or with academic support, is of utmost concern to Kill.
“I gave a lot of people their chance, and they maintained loyalty to me,” he said. “Some of them had a chance to leave, and we were able to keep them in there. We try to make our working conditions good, and we work together. I think probably we’ve been just a little bit lucky, but I think we’ve all liked the way we’ve worked our way up in the profession.
Kill said he has stressed this to athletics director Joel Maturi.
“We’re at a BCS school now, you do good and people are going to come after your people,” Kill said. “Everybody knows we’ve got a good coaching staff. It’s going to be tougher and tougher, and we’ve got to make sure we keep ‘em.”
With organizing help from former players Ray Hitchcock and George Adzick, Kill has met with all sorts of alumni. Recent stars such as Matt Spaeth and Eric Decker are among those who have stopped by the Gibson Nagurski building to chat with the new head coach.
“His door is always open, and you can already tell that he wants past players and current players to feel very involved with the program,” said outgoing quarterback Adam Weber, who learned from four offensive coordinators in five seasons on campus.
Talent is of course that precious ingredient that can’t be coached, but the next-most important ingredient — as Kill and Weber each noted separately — is to have some stability to build around.
“That’s how you create a winning program,” Weber said in a phone interview on Thursday afternoon. “When new coaches come in, it’s a full-on change, and it takes a long time to adjust.”
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys joined Kill at Saginaw Valley State in 1995 and has been with him since at Emporia State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover’s partnership with Kill dates to 1999. Most of the rest of the other assistants came from his time at Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois, too.
Coaching at Division II and the lower tier of Division I, now known as the FCS, has given Kill a well-rounded experience. He’s worked in housing and dining on campuses and been an athletics director. He’s had a hand in marketing, proudly pointing visitors to the tailgating section on the Pittsburg State website that depicts a packed parking lot stemming from his time as a coordinator there.
Personal investment in people and in the program’s success is also a high priority. Mass e-mails? That’s a pet peeve. One of Kill’s directives to his assistants is to pick up a pen and hand write that note to check in on a recruit.
“If we want to turn our program around here, you’ve got to have a personal touch,” Kill said.
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