Reporting Mike Binkley
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (WCCO) – Two days after his latest seizure on the sidelines, Gopher football coach Jerry Kill was back at work. And the U’s athletic director said he supports the coach “100 percent.”
The coach was taken off the field at halftime of Saturday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium. It was the third time in three years that he’s had to miss part of a game because of his epilepsy.
It’s uncharted territory for a major college sports program, having this happen so frequently and so publicly.
Some fans, and a Star Tribune columnist, questioned whether Kill should continue coaching. But athletic director Norwood Teague said the coach’s value goes beyond those 60 minutes on the field on game day.
“What he provides to these young men in terms of leadership and development on an ongoing basis is immeasurable,” Teague said. “Three million people have epilepsy throughout the country. It’s not his fault.”
It’s unclear whether it’s stress, diet or a combination of factors triggering the coach’s seizures.
Experts say each patient is affected differently.
Vicki Kopplin is the executive director of the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota.
She was at the game on Saturday as a guest of Kill’s wife Rebecca, who’s become her friend.
“People with epilepsy live with the unpredictability of seizures and they live with that every day,” Kopplin said. “The best that any of them can do is to have a seizure plan or an action plan of what to do if a seizure were to happen.”
The Gophers’ assistants do have a plan, which they implemented again during Saturday’s game.
But in Sunday’s Star Tribune, columnist Jim Souhan wrote that while he’s sympathetic to the coach’s condition, there’s too much at stake.
He wrote: “The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference.”
He continued, “No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.”
On the other hand, Teague said recruits and their parents are actually inspired by the coach’s battle.
“If I had a major anxiety, I would let you know,” he said, “and I’m not saying it’s not a big deal but I’m so confident in him, so confident in him attacking the condition that he has.”
Teague said it takes Kill a while to recover from each seizure, but then he’s fine. He said this is not a life-threatening situation.
Meanwhile, Souhan wrote in his blog that a few thousand emails came in, many of them angry.
He stressed that he’s not calling for the coach to be fired, but he still believes Kill should step aside, for the good of the program.
Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes wrote an apology to a few dozen readers, which is posted on the site JimRomenesko.com.
She wrote: “On behalf of the Star Tribune, I apologize. In no way did we intend to suggest that people with epilepsy, or other disabilities, should be hidden away. Nor did we intend to be callous or insensitive to their struggles.”
Barnes goes on to say if nothing else she hopes the controversy can bring attention to the struggles that people with epilepsy face.