The Jerry Kill hire angered Gophers football fans expecting a bigger name, and perplexed Northern Illinois fans and players still trying to get over an upset loss to Miami-Ohio in the MAC Championship.
Both sides have a fair point. However, it’s not the first time Kill has ditched a school for the next rung on the ladder, and he left all of his previous stops in better shape than he found them. If that pattern continues, it bodes well for the Gophers and Huskies alike.
At Kill’s previous four head coaching positions, his teams’ records improved by an average of 4 3/4 wins between his first and final seasons.
At Southern Illinois, where Kill coached from 2001-2007, the team he inherited his first year went 1-10. Six years later he capped off his Salukis career with a 12-2 record.
Though fans at Northern Illinois, where Kill coached from 2008-2010, are still reeling over his unexpected departure — he won’t coach the team in the Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 18 — there isn’t much bitterness in his wake of former programs.
“You could argue that Kill was at the helm for the best stretch in Saluki history,” said Mike Reis, the Salukis play-by-play radio announcer of 32 years. “I would say it’s not a stretch to say that he saved Southern Illinois football. I don’t think Southern has a program right now if he doesn’t win the league beginning in 2003.”
Under Kill, Southern Illinois won the Missouri Valley Football Conference three straight years, from 2003 to 2005.
Reis said if Kill hadn’t resurrected the school’s football program, it would not have had the support needed to build Saluki stadium, the team’s brand new, 15,000-seat stadium that replaced 73-year-old McAndrew Field.
“He’s the most popular football coach that I’ve seen at Southern,” Reis said. “It’s almost like a Pied Piper effect because he raised the level here.”
Kill’s three-year tenure at Northern Illinois showed his success at Southern Illinois was no fluke.
As the Huskies’ coach, he went 6-7, 7-6 and 10-3 respectively, earning bowl appearances each year.
Even Kent Weiser, athletics director at Emporia State University where Kill had his shortest and least successful tenure as a college coach, called Kill a friend and spoke of his integrity, lack of pretention and ability to win.
“People know that [Kill] is not a self-serving person,” Weiser said. “When he works for you and with you he is doing his best and [he] never really works a job with an eye to get another job. I think those opportunities have come his way and not because he’s tried to parlay one into the other.”
Kill spent two seasons at Emporia State, going 11-11 overall (5-6, then 6-5) before leaving to take the head coaching job at Southern Illinois.
Kill’s track record demonstrates an ability to coach and make the most out of the talent he has. The question now is whether he can change a culture and resurrect a program for a third straight time, and on the biggest stage yet of his career.
Kill’s college roommate and teammate Gerald Young, currently the athletics director at Carleton College, said Kill has always performed beyond expectations.
“He was a very tenacious little linebacker,” Young said of the physically unimposing Kill. Young said Kill was able to play beyond his size because of his intensity and scrupulous attention to detail, to which he credits Kill’s success as a coach.
As for the skeptical Gophers fans who say Kill isn’t a big enough name to resurrect the program, Young echoed the sentiments of the athletics department.
“They have every right to be skeptical,” Young said. “Jerry is not a big-name coach, but Jerry is a successful coach.”