When former Gophers football star Ray Hitchcock met privately with new head football coach Jerry Kill recently, it was only supposed to last for 30 minutes.
After an hour and a half in Kill’s office, it became clear to Hitchcock that the coach was committed to bridging the gap between former players and the program. On Wednesday morning, Kill made the first step towards doing just that.
Hitchcock, a lineman at Minnesota in the mid-1980s and current offensive line coach at Cretin-Derham Hall, and Director of Football Operations Dan O’Brien organized a meet and greet between about 25 former players and the new coach at the Gibson-Nagurski football complex, and many of them came away impressed.
“This guy gets it,” Hitchcock said. “We just need to get these 25 guys out on the streets as being advocates for the program.”
Hitchcock said he hopes to have an hour-long bimonthly meeting called “Coffee with Kill” for increased transparency within the program, something that some players felt was missing under previous coaches. Kill also invited the alumni to spring practices.
“We haven’t had the open-door policy to come in and be able to meet the head coach and to be interactive with the players,” former quarterback Rickey Foggie said. “So I think this is a great step in the right direction just to have some of the older guys to get reacquainted with the University.”
Foggie added that welcoming back alumni will help recruiting.
“You look at Bo Jackson on the sideline with the Auburn Tigers, and that’s a plus for the program,” Foggie said. “Guys that are getting recruited there, their parents know who Bo Jackson is.”
For Kill, the meeting was a educational experience for a coach who has been only been with the program for a matter of weeks.
“We need to know what happened in our history before we can go on to our future sometimes,” he said.
The meeting with alumni came on the same day that Kill announced that he filled out the rest of his new staff, which featured many old faces.
Jay Sawvel, the defensive backs coach under Kill since his days in Southern Illinois in 2001, will serve in the same position with the Gophers as well as special teams coordinator. The Huskies tallied 16 interceptions last season, 21st most in the nation.
Kill also brought along Eric Klein, who has been coaching with Kill for the past 17 years, as new head strength and conditioning coach. Most recently, Klein oversaw all 17 sports at Northern Illinois as the director of sports performance.
Brian Anderson will serve as a quality control coach on defense, while Nate Griffin will perform the same duties on offense. Anderson has been on Kill's staff for the past ten years, coaching the tight ends at Northern Illinois for the past three years. Griffin was a graduate assistant under Kill in 2008 and 2009. Most recently, he was the defensive line coach at Truman State.
Taking over the director of player personnel position will be Adam Clark, who was the director of football operations under Kill before being promoted to assistant athletic director at Northern Illinois earlier this year. He will oversee recruiting activities.
Billy Glasscock will take over the director of recruiting operations role, where he will oversee official visits and other aspects of recruiting. He was a recruiting operations assistant and assistant strength and conditioning coach at Northern Illinois for the past two seasons.
Of the 13 new staffers Kill has brought in, 12 have previous coaching experience with Kill. Bill Miller, who will serve assistant head coach and linebackers coach for the Gophers, is the lone newcomer to have no experience under Kill, but the two grew up just 30 minutes from each other and have become very familiar during their coaching careers.
Kill said it's important to have the continuity with his staff coming into Minnesota.
"It helps us hit this thing running, because they've all been through this process at other places," Kill said, adding the importance of keeping Thomas Hammock and Dan O'Brien on from the previous staff. "We have a nice mixture [to] go where we need to go."