LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State head football coach Jerry Kill doesn’t want Thursday’s football game at Minnesota to be all about him.
But that simply isn’t possible given Kill’s level of success at Minnesota, the health concerns that led to his resignation, his return to coaching and his previous comments regarding current Gophers head coach, PJ Fleck.
“I had a great time when I was there, we did a good job when I was there, we turned the program around when we were there, the guy who is there now kept it going where it needed to be and that looks good upon us,” said Kill, whose 0-1 Aggies team play Minnesota at 7 pm, on Thursday on the Big Ten Network.
Kill said following the Aggies 23-12 Week 0 loss to Nevada on Saturday. “I’m going to get to see my grand daughter and I’m excited about that, and a lot of people that I know. It will be tough, but I don’t want the game about me. I want it to be about our players.”
New Mexico State was less than two minutes from a road win over Minnesota in Kill’s first year as the Gophers head coach in 2011, when the game was stopped for a half hour as Kill suffered a seizure on the sideline and was carried off the field on a stretcher.
“I wrote a book about it (Chasing Dreams), but I don’t talk about that moment,” Kill said. “It was a dark moment and a dark place. Nobody knows how dark it was other than one person.”
The Gophers finished 2011 3-9, but despite the epilepsy that would cause him to eventually resign in 2015 as the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year, the Gophers were 20-13 in his last three seasons with three bowl appearances during his time at Minnesota.
“I would still be coaching there,” Kill said after practice on Monday. “It sent me on a path. I’ve stated several times that I’ve never been the same since what happened to me in Minnesota in 2015 and I never will be.
“You just march on and gradually work yourself into getting right and getting the right medication. They call it the right chemistry. They took me off chemistry one and put me on chemistry two. I was pretty much inactive for a while.”
Thursday’s game is a return game from a 2013 game when Kill’s Gophers came to Las Cruces and beat the Aggies 44-21. Fleck’s Gophers beat NM State 48-10 to open the 2018 season.
Build up to a handshake?
The Gophers are 36.5 point favorites on Saturday and Fleck has his best team in his sixth season after going 9-4 last year. So naturally, the buildup this week needed something extra and that’s just what happened when Kill said in a recent interview on a Minnesota television station that, “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,” when asked if Kill would shake Fleck’s hand on Thursday.
It’s the most recent statement that Kill has made toward Fleck, who was Kill’s assistant coach at Northern Illinois. This week, Kill told the Sun-News that he would shake Fleck’s hand if he’s approached, but only time will tell. He’s also aware enough that he doesn’t expect a warm reception from some Minnesota fans, but that some will also remember the success that he had with the Gophers.
“I think I’m very well respected in the profession,” Kill said. “When we went there, they were at rock bottom and they had struggles and the same problems we have here (at NM State). “We built it up and kept it on the rise and I was part of raising money for the facility that they are in. I had an epilepsy foundation there and a camp there. I loved Minnesota and I will always love Minnesota.”
In 2017, after Kill’s longtime assistant coach, Tracy Claeys, was fired at Minnesota and Fleck was hired, Kill defended Claeys while telling a radio station that he would never step foot in the stadium again.
In 2019, Kill defended his results at Minnesota on a national radio station, while taking aim at how he perceived his former staff was treated when Fleck was hired.
“And when he went into Minnesota and treated the people the way he treated my guys and telling ‘them he had to go in and completely change the culture, and it was a bad culture and bad people, you know, he made it sound like We didn’t know what we were doing, and I took it personally.You just don’t treat people that have been with you and helped you career and you don’t even talk to him, you know, once you get the job .”
Social media has ways of turning smoke into fire, but Kill also doesn’t back away from he believes were slights against his former coaches.
“That’s my best friend (Claeys) so what am I supposed to do,” Kill said on Monday. “I stuck up for my guy. Everybody else in the country stuck up for him, too.
“When (Fleck) got the job, he talked about that he had to rebuild and the program was in shambles so of course there was a reaction and I made a statement at that particular time.”
During his media availability last week, Fleck indicated that he would indeed shake Kill’s hand at some point on Thursday.
“Listen, I’ve been a head coach for 10 years. I’ve never shook the hand of a head football coach,” Fleck said. “I think there’s a there’s a tradition of 100 years ago of coaches meeting at midfield…but I’ve been head coach 10 years guys, and haven’ t not shake one head coach’s hand in my entire career. I might have to go find a guy.”