On Wednesday morning, Minnesota head coach announced that he was retiring for health reasons, effective immediately. Kill, also a cancer survivor, has a well-known and well-documented history of epilepsy, especially during his nearly five-year tenure with the Gophers, but his announcement today, in a heart-rending press conference, was something of a shock.
Although Kill hadn’t had any seizures, on-field or otherwise, since taking a leave of absence and coaching seven games from the pressbox in 2013, he said Wednesday that his doctor had advised him to step down for coaching duties. As Kill said, it was “not the way he wanted to go out.”
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who’s been with Kill for 21 years after starting as Kill’s defensive line coach at Saginaw Valley State, and who served as acting head coach in 2013, will take over as interim coach. Kill has several other longtime assistants, including offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, who’ve been with him through stops at FCS Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, and Minnesota.
Kill’s overall record is 152-99 and 29-29 at Minnesota. At each of his stops, he and his staff turned around moribund programs, starting 1-6 and finishing 30-18 at Southern Illinois, and nearly leading Northern Illinois to its first championship since 1983. He led Minnesota to back-to-back 8-5 seasons and, in 2014, its first New Year’s Day bowl since 1962.
The Gophers are presently 4-3 and will need to win two of their last five games, those against Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, to get back to a bowl game. However, the Gophers presently have a committed recruiting class for 2016 ranking in or near the top 30 in the country.
With a prematurely active coaching carousel this season, with that recruiting class and overall positive trend of the program, Claeys and the current staff have a good a chance as anyone stay on after this season. The chances are even stronger after the unfortunate August ouster of former athletic director Norwood Teague and ongoing major capital projects, and the chances look even stronger.
The outpouring of support for a coach who did the “right way” has been expectedly strong. Kill’s departure is a loss for Minnesota, but also a loss for the Big Ten, which became a better place in proportion with the renewed interest in Minnesota football. Kill is himself is sure to stay busy with the Chasing Dreams Fund he and his wife Rebecca founded to support opportunities for children with epilepsy and greater awareness of the condition.