Daily Egyptian

Kill calls it quits after three decades of coaching

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

For Jerry Kill, football is life.

“I know somebody will ask, ‘Coach, what are you going to do?’ I don’t know,” Kill said in a press conference Wednesday announcing his retirement as coach at University of Minnesota. “I ain’t done anything else. That’s the scary part.”

He said he doesn’t have anymore energy, per ESPN. Kill is retiring because he has suffered epileptic seizures for more than 15 years.

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Kill, 53, formerly coached SIU football from 2001 to 2007.

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Roger Lipe, volunteer chaplain for Saluki football and friend of Kill, said the two talked about his retirement for weeks, weighing the pros and cons. He said Kill was unsure of leaving in the middle of the season.  

Lipe said the decision is best for Kill’s long-term future.

“I used to shout at him, ‘Hey! Do you want to be around long enough to see your grandchildren?’ We need to make hard decisions here about your health,” he said. “If this occupation is going to kill you, it is not worth it. We’re more interested in Jerry than coach Kill. We want him to do well long term.”

During the 2005 season Kill was diagnosed with kidney cancer after coping with epilepsy for years before his diagnosis. He had surgery in 2005 to treat the cancer. He was cured in the same year.

“He refused to take time off, even though we wanted him to take care of himself,” said Sharon Lipe, Kill’s secretary from 2000 to 2007. “He knew the moment he found out, [the cancer] wasn’t going to defeat him. He was going to fight it with everything he had.”

After the cancer diagnosis Kill and his wife Rebecca started the Coach Kill Cancer Fund, which is administered through the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation. It is now known as the Coach Kill Fund.

Since its inception the fund has helped more than 1,000 patients and receives three to five applications a week according to Woody Thorne, Vice President of Community Affairs for SIH.

Funding goes to southern Illinois patients with cancer and childhood diseases. Thorne said applicants often use the money for transportation, lodging and to offset the cost of care.

Although money goes to those in southern Illinois, Thorne said financial support comes from across the country.

In May, the Kills created a Chasing Dreams fund through the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota to support seizure-free initiatives in schools, according to the StarTribune. The Kills started the fund with a $100,000 donation.

As a coach, Kill turned three programs around and brought SIU football back from near extinction.

Mike Reis, SIU director of external and broadcast operations, said Kill is the reason SIU still has football.

“He got a talented group of players to buy in and rebuild Southern Illinois’ football program when they had no business buying into it,” he said. “Southern was the pits when he took over. They didn’t have enough scholarships. They didn’t have enough good players.”

In seven seasons at SIU, Kill’s Dawgs were 55-32. In the seven seasons before Kill, the Salukis were 24-42 and did not have a winning season since 1991. Kill led the Salukis to back-to-back 10-2 seasons in 2003 and 2004.

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Kill coached current SIU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Nick Hill for four seasons at SIU. Hill said Kill had the perfect touch as a coach.

“I wouldn’t be a college coach if it weren’t for him,” Hill said. “He made me believe in myself. Without Jerry Kill, I am not the person I am today.”

Kill also coached current running backs coach Larry Warner for one season at SIU. Warner said Kill’s impression is lasting.

“Coach Kill is like a father to me,” Warner said. “He gave me an opportunity. Just to see the hurt in his heart, it hurt me.”

Outside linebackers coach Travis Stepps is the only coach remaining from Kill’s time at SIU. Stepps said Kill taught him how to coach, live the lifestyle of a coach and how to recruit. He said Kill always told him to find a hobby outside of football.

For Kill, it was fishing. He and his wife Rebecca, along with daughters Krystal and Tasha, have a home on Lake of Egypt, located six miles south of Marion.

Sharon said Kill never got far away from football, but he was happy if he could go fishing.

“He loved to spend time with his daughters, but football was his family and his life,” she said. “It’s hard to say what he was like after football, because you never really witnessed too much.”

Roger said the Kills bought the home for two reasons: vacation and retirement. He said he hopes Kill will find his way back to southern Illinois to enjoy time with family.

“[Their] dad is no longer coach Kill … they only know him as coach,” he said. “It will only be a plus for them. He’s more available at certain hours than he ever was before. That’ll be a great thing for Rebecca, she really enjoys Jerry’s company. They’re a tremendous couple.”

After leaving SIU, Kill coached Northern Illinois from 2008 to 2010. The Huskies were 24-16 under the tutelage of Kill. They were 16-21 in the previous three seasons.

Former NIU quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch said Kill was a blue collar coach who cared about developing relationships with his players. 

“That’s what college football coaches should be like,” he said. “They need more coaches like him.” 

Lynch said Kill was the first coach to offer him a scholarship for college and the reason he chose the Huskies. 

“He was a player’s coach,” he said. “But at the end of the day he cared about building relationships. There’s not a player who played for coach Kill who disliked him.” 

Kill’s final coaching stretch was with Minnesota. In four and a half seasons, Kill led the team to a 29-29 record. The Golden Gophers had a record of 17-33 in the previous four seasons.

“He likes to build programs who have fallen on hard times,” Stepps said. “That’s what he thrives at. It’s not surprising he can do it at different levels. That’s kind of his blueprint.”

Kill has a record of 156-102 in a 21-year head coaching career at Minnesota, NIU, SIU, Emporia State and Saginaw Valley State.

He was on staff at Pittsburgh State as a defensive coordinator from 1985 to 1987 and then offensive coordinator from 1990 to 1993. Kill coached Webb City High School in 1988 and 1989 to a combined 25-1 record and a state championship in the second year.

Now, doctors told Kill to resign for the sake of his health.

“It’s time that he started thinking about himself,” Reis said. “He clearly thought more about others than he did about himself, almost to a fault. That’s what drove him to work as hard as he did and put his health at risk.”

Kill, who was introduced into the Saluki Hall of Fame in 2014, has had four recorded seizures on the field during his coaching career, beginning with one near the end of a 61-35 SIU loss to then-No. 1 Illinois State on Oct. 15, 2005.

Sharon said the outpouring of support extended past SIU and southern Illinois after the seizure.

“The Illinois State coach at the time, Denver Johnson, ended up not going back with his team and came to the hospital to make sure [Kill] was OK,” she said. “You couldn’t have asked for any better support for him and his family.”

Kill had recorded seizures in three other games at Minnesota: Sept. 10, 2011 vs. New Mexico State, Nov. 3, 2012 vs. Michigan and Sept. 14, 2013 against Western Illinois. After the 2012 seizure, Kill took two weeks off to treat his epilepsy. During the 2013 season, he missed seven games during a leave of absence.

Roger said Kill’s epilepsy has many triggers including sleep deprivation, stress and dehydration.

Kill said he had two seizures this week and had not slept for more than three hours on any night in the last three weeks.

“I went through a bad situation two years ago, and I’m headed right back there,” he said.

Roger told Kill whenever he made the decision to step down, to take a month off and disappear for a while.

“I’m hoping he does that.”

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @brentmeskeDE

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