2011 looks a bit like the Order 66 of Coaches. After the sheer amount of coaching vacancies, Gopher fans should be happy that they snagged onto Jerry Kill before better offers came around.
Here's a quick list of some of the schools that fired their coaches this year, or whose coaches had to step down or leave:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Ole Miss
- Arizona State
- Washington State
New Mexico and Arizona fired their coaches mid-season. Jim Tressel resigned at Ohio State, and Bob Toledo stepped down in the middle of Tulane's schedule. The Penn State scandal cost Joe Paterno his job. Only North Carolina fired its coach before the season started. The rest came at season's end.
Of the vacancies, only four are currently filled—as of December 1, 2011. New Mexico and Arizona had a head-start on everybody except North Carolina and Ohio State, and they managed to pick up Bob Davie and Rich Rodriguez, respectively. Ohio State's dreams came true by hiring Urban Meyer, and Washington State hired Mike Leach the day after they fired Paul Wulff.*
All of these jobs except Akron and New Mexico are more appealing or more attractive than Minnesota. Tulane is debatable, but I would argue that for recruits and fans New Orleans beats Minneapolis-St. Paul every day.
In 2010, the only elite programs looking for a coach were Michigan, Miami, Maryland, and Florida. (Depending on your definition of "elite," Minnesota could be listed here as well.) All the other jobs were low-level MAC or rebuilding projects, or the non-AQ conference equivalent. The competition of Michigan cost Minnesota Brady Hoke, many Gopher fans No. 1 to No. 3 choice, and Miami cost Minnesota Al Golden. (Leach was available, but he was never going to fit in at Minnesota.) Maturi wisely snatched up Jerry Kill from Northern Illinois, who is starting to look more and more like a steal.
Kill would be one of 2011's hottest coaching commodities if he were still at NIU. His record with the Huskies was 10-2 and a bid for the MAC championship when he left, and Dave Doeren has maintained Kill's momentum, going 9-3 and making a run at the conference championship. Doeren is being praised for his first-year efforts, but it's largely based on what Kill established. If Kill was still there, he'd be talked about quite a bit.
Instead, Maturi snatched Kill up when he was still very much under the radar. He was a capable coach who had done a lot, and who had rebuilt and won everywhere he had coached, and not many people knew it. The people on this blog give Maturi a lot of crap for hiring Tim Brewster and for making the "promise" of hiring a Tubby Smith, but I'd say he's rectified any mistake because he got Kill before anybody else could. Maturi could not have possibly known that 2011 would see so many coaches fired, but hindsight is 20/20, and Maturi made the right call by firing Brewster and hiring Kill when he did.
If you don't think Kill would be hired somewhere else by now, you'd be wrong. Kill is a born-and-raised Kansas man, and Kansas football just fired Turner Gill. With Kill's roots he'd have been a prime target for the job. There is also Illinois. Kill had already established a good recruiting base in the area, and the appeal of a Big Ten job in which he wouldn't have to move far might have been very tempting to consider.
While I'm not a fan of the Illini, I'm a little peeved at Illinois for making the mistake of firing Ron Zook this year, when this year is starting to look like the worst possible time to fire somebody. Not only that, but Zook's record in 2011 matches his record for 2010, assuming the Illini win their bowl game. So, in a sense, Zook broke even. Yes, he hardly made what Illinois fans would consider "progress," and his overall Big Ten record is atrocious, but he did just well enough to buy himself another year. Zook also took Illinois to the Rose Bowl in 2007. The Illinois fan base and administration really need to take a hard look at themselves if they think they can get somebody better when there are so many better jobs available for the better candidates.
Had Maturi held onto Brewster for another year, Minnesota would have to compete with all the open jobs like Illinois is foolishly having to do now. Ole Miss is in the SEC and in serious need of rebuilding. Kill wouldn't be a hot name but they'd certainly welcome a proven coach over Houston Nutt. Penn State and Ohio State would probably not consider Kill's name, but North Carolina might, and UCLA is desperate for anybody remotely competent. All of these programs are reeling from the coaching search. Yet Minnesota and Jerry Kill don't have to worry, because they got their man, and he can go to work.
Gopher fans might not have been excited when Kill was hired, and they might not be excited about his first season. But if you look outside, you might just realize that you have it pretty good. Kill is on his way to making Minnesota better every day. Other programs are just looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.
*I can only assume the Leach to Washington State was possible because no AD in their right mind would offer Leach a job with the amount of baggage he brings, i.e. lawsuits. WSU's AD had a bad track record already for the Wulff hire, and at this point probably figured he had nothing to lose. It was also likely that Washington State was the only program that ever talked to Leach, which is why he accepted the job immediately.