Minnesota starts to sell fans on Kill

Published 11:43 pm Monday, December 6, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Jerry Kill landed in the Twin Cities late Sunday night and quickly realized Minnesota’s disillusioned fans were largely disappointed they didn’t get the big-name football coach they were promised two months ago.

Athletic director Joel Maturi admitted that Kill, who spent the previous three seasons at mid-major Northern Illinois and led the Huskies to 10 wins this year, wasn’t his first choice for the job.

Kill, a short, stout man with a bald head, mustache, glasses and large cheeks that actually make him look something like a gopher, knew the questions were coming at his introductory news conference on Monday. So in his opening remarks he asked his wife, Rebecca, to stand up.

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The striking brunette stood and smiled sheepishly.

“I want to let ya’ll know now, I know there’s just been a big search,” Kill said to the crowd. “I wasn’t her first choice. I was second or third down that line. I had to work at it.

“So this isn’t the first time maybe (that) I haven’t been the first choice. I can live with that.”

The well-orchestrated line was a home run, eliciting laughs from across the room. He went on to promise that he will work as hard to revive the downtrodden Golden Gophers football program as he did to land Rebecca more than two decades ago.

A little cutesy? Sure. But it was something Gophers fans needed to hear after Maturi vowed to deliver “somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in, and people are going to bring instant credibility and notoriety to the football program.”

Kill went 23-16 in three seasons at Northern Illinois, leading the Huskies to three straight bowl games. He also went 55-32 in seven seasons at Southern Illinois before that, but he clearly doesn’t have the power-packed resume that Gophers fans wanted.

Maturi took the blame for that. He said Monday he knew all along that Minnesota wouldn’t be able to make a “Tubby Smith-type” move, referring to the high-profile basketball coach he got from Kentucky.

“I wish I had those words back. There’s no question about that,” Maturi said of his grandiose promise on the day Tim Brewster was fired. “That’s somebody saying more than he should and speaking loudly.

“Very honestly, I knew from Day 1 there was not going to be a BCS coach coaching at the University of Minnesota, at least a successful BCS head coach. It’s a little different in football than it is in basketball. I should’ve known that.”

Kill is used to being doubted, at the dinner table and on the sideline. He spoke Monday with a self-assuredness and also an awareness of the program’s struggles. The Gophers haven’t been to the Rose Bowl since 1962 and again find themselves near the bottom of the league despite a shiny new stadium on campus.

Many thought it would take a high-priced, high-profile coach to turn this program around. But Maturi was rebuffed by several bigger names and turned to Kill in hopes he can become the latest Mid-American Conference coach to make the jump to a BCS school and win.

“There may have been some negativity in the air, but there were lots of coaches who wanted this job, and good coaches who wanted this job,” Maturi said. “I just felt that Jerry Kill was the best of those good coaches.”

Quarterback MarQueis Gray and the rest of the Gophers players met with Kill early Monday morning and came away impressed.

“Just give him a chance and see what he does,” Gray said. “I know he’s going to make people happy.”

Gray, who said he had to Google Kill to find out about him, said their new coach made the same joke to them as he did to the media about landing his wife as an ice breaker.

“When I want something and I want it bad enough, I’m going to get it,” Kill said. “I told her I was going to marry her right next to her boyfriend at her momma’s table, so I am aggressive.

But Rebecca Kill insists that is no joke.

“That’s a true story,” she said.

Jerry Kill was college roommates with Rebecca’s brother. The two met for the first time when Jerry accompanied her brother home from college while Rebecca was still a senior in high school.

“We were at the dinner table and I had my boyfriend and my mom, my dad,” she said. “We were just sitting there and just talking and he looked at my brother and said, ’I’m going to marry your sister someday.’

“Two years later, there we were.”