MINNEAPOLIS — “Minnesota was great to me and I've never been the same,” says former Gopher football coach Jerry Kill. “My whole life changed.”
Kill still insists landing in Minnesota in 2010 to coach at the U of M was his dream job, and walking away mid-season in 2015 for health reasons related to epilepsy crushed him.
“I don't think people there know how devastating it was, and not the college football. It was the people,” says Kill. “My life has never been the same since I left.”
The coach recently got back into the head coaching game by landing at New Mexico State University, possibly one of the worst division-one programs in the country. Kill says he took the job in November not realizing it would mean a return to Minnesota in September to face the Gophers inside Huntington Bank Stadium. It is a place he promised in 2017 he would never step foot on again.
“I won't be stepping foot back in (that) stadium, stepping back at the University,” Kill shared during a 2017 radio interview.
That radio comment by Kill sent shock waves through Minnesota. The once- beloved coach was beside himself after the firing of Tracy Claeys, his long-time assistant and at the time head Gopher coach. Extremely ticked off at Gopher Athletic Director Mark Coyle, Kill swore he would not return.
True to his word, Kill stayed away... until now.
“How do you feel about the those statements that you made at the time?” asked KARE 11's Randy Shaver during a Zoom interview recently.
“You know, maybe I came out too strong at that time. Emotions get the best of you,” Kill admitted. “I don't know if I can regret it or not because I'm just loyal to people that have helped me.”
The bad blood with the 'U' didn't stop with the firing of Claeys. Not even close.
On a national radio program in 2019, Coach Kill launched a series of personal attacks on Gopher coach PJ Fleck, apparently stemming from Fleck's comments about having to rebuild a Gopher program that was in Kill's eyes, a gold mine.
“I just think sometime ego gets carried away,” Kill said during a 2019 radio interview. “Do I still root for the Gophers, I do. Do I enjoy him running up and down the sidelines, no,” Kill revealed during radio interview. “Do I think he's about the players? He's about himself.”
“I assume that you guys (Kill and Fleck) have not talked?” Shaver asked the coach during their interview.
“No, we haven't. You know, we haven't talked, “ said Kill.
“Will you shake his hand, when you walk on the field in Minnesota?” Shaver wondered.
“I wish I knew what was going to happen when I get there and everything and, you know, we'll let it play out and so forth," Kill shared. "But, you know, hey, I'm not going to... you know, I'm proud of Minnesota, “ Kill said.
In other words... stay tuned.
And just know, PJ Fleck has taken the high road in all this, he has not publicly criticized Kill or responded to the radio attacks. Who knows... Fleck may very well be the one to extend his hand first.
Meanwhile, at his opening press conference at New Mexico State, Kill said this about Gopher fans: “I'll get booed out of that stadium I don't know.”
“Do you really believe that?” Shaver asked
“Oh, I don't know,” replied Kill. “I don't know what's going to happen or anything like that. And I'm willing to accept anything.”
It will be curious to see what the reaction will be, and what unfolds both pre-game and postgame on the field. What matters most is the numbers on the scoreboard, and the Gophers are currently 38-point favorites.
“Going back to Minnesota, I guess, I guess the good lord tests me, see how tough I can be,” says Kill. “He's (Fleck) got a great football team coming back and he's... like I said, I mean, you're not going to hear me say he hasn't done a good job. He's done a good job.”
“What would you like to say to Gopher fans?” said Shaver, providing an opening for the coach to pour some water on the fires he has set.
“I miss it. And I work too hard. I work too hard. I didn't work smart. I guess that's the best way to do it," Kill shared. "I didn't work smart and I lost it all.”
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