Gopher Coach Kill gets solid backing from U of M

7:36 AM, Sep 17, 2013   |    comments
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Jerry Kill in KARE interview

MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota athletic director Monday voiced strong support for head football coach Jerry Kill, in the wake of a blistering newspaper column suggesting Kill is unfit to coach because of his epilepsy.

Kill suffered a seizure on the sidelines at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday during half time of the Gophers' home game against Western Illinois University.  It was the third seizure he's had at a game during his coaching tenure at Minnesota, prompting a Star-Tribune columnist to call for Kill to step aside.

"I support him 100 percent," Norwood Teague, the university's athletic director told reporters.

"He's an epileptic. He has seizures. We deal with it and we move on."

Teague rejected the columnist's contention that Kill's seizures could become a drag on recruiting and player morale.

"Jerry's job isn't just about Saturdays. He's evaluated on multiple criteria, including academic progress and the character development of our student athletes," Teague said.

"I believe more than ever that he truly represents what's best about college athletics. And he is a tremendous role model for our student athletes."

Teague conceded people who don't understand epilepsy can become uncomfortable around a person experiencing a major seizure.

"But his vitals are always fine. It's not life threatening whatsoever. It's just something that he deals with."

Epilepsy Foundation

The Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation took strong exception to the Star-Tribune column, especially a paragraph that suggested football fans shouldn't be subjected to witnessing a seizure.

"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," Star-Tribune columnist Jim Souhan wrote Sunday, a day after the game.

Brett Boyum, the president of the Minnesota Epilepsy Foundation Board, submitted a lengthy letter to the Star-Tribune in response to the piece.  He also told KARE that Souhan's comment suggests that persons with disabilities should hide themselves from the general public.

"The verbiage and the judgments that Mr. Souhan made in the article hearken back to 50, 60 or 70 years ago when there was a lot less known about epilepsy."

Boyum, a high ranking executive with Marvin Windows, was already involved in the foundation before he suffered his first seizure. He first became involved because his son was diagnosed with epilepsy.

He said people there's a wide spectrum of symptoms, and every patient requires a different treatment strategy. Boyum said he's able to successfully manage his epilepsy with medications, but the same drugs aren't as effective for everyone.

"There are plenty of people today in the sports, entertainment and business world who have epilepsy and are very successful."

And, Boyum asserted, the column contributes to a damaging stigma.

"It was disappointing. It was hurtful," he said.

"If you're anyone with any sort of disability you work hard to prove yourself. You feel you have to go that extra step to prove yourself. And I think Coach Kill has done more than that."

Kill in Good Health

Kill has been seeing a new epilepsy specialist for the past six months, getting more exercise and eating a healthier diet.  In a recent interview with KARE's Randy Shaver, Kill said he's been working hard with his doctor to minimize his seizures.

"He's done a good job of understanding what I need to do, to stay seizure free as much as possible during games and practices," Kill told Shaver.

"But I think there's a false illusion out there that this is something that happens only during football season. That's not true. It's happened on and off for eight years now."

Kill said that he had good care from specialists in his previous posts at Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois, but he was preoccupied by the establishing a new program when he first arrived in Minnesota in 2011.

"Really some of this is my responsibility and I didn't do a really good job when I first got here," Kill explained.

"I buried myself all into the job, and really didn't worry about it. And then the situation happened."

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