It's getting tougher to believe anything anyone in sports says these days. Athletes, coaches, and agents all know how to play the game of saying something without saying something, about answering questions without answering them, or giving one answer one day, and then doing the complete opposite the next. We as Gopher football fans can be especially testy when it comes to what those inside and outside the program say about Gopher football. We've been the "Little Brother" to rivals Wisconsin and Iowa forever (well except for that time in 2010 when Jeff Horton led Minnesota to victory over Iowa), watching as those programs have coaches and systems in place for decades while we go through coaches like a four pack of Surly Coffee Bender.
We've had former coaches talk about how much they love it here and what they plan to do here, all the while having one foot out the door for the next big job. We've been a "stepping stone" program for awhile now, a place where coaches come to build a resume and move on. Former coach Tim Brewster was full of bluster and bravado, promising Rose Bowls and national titles, talking up every recruit like the second coming of Bronko Nagurksi. Of course anytime he got close to success, rumors would start about him leaving for places like Tennessee in his second year or even for the vacant Kansas opening at the end of 2009 (I will always believe that rumor was started by none other than Brewster himself).
Speaking of Kansas, the Gopher coach before him, Glen Mason, had turned around the Jayhawks before coming here. To his credit, he DID turn us around, made the program respectible, and made the Gophers a perennial 6-7 win bowl team. While he was doing that, he talked out of both sides of his mouth, saying on one side how committed he was to Minnesota, while on the other openly pining for Ohio State. He turned a blind eye to high school players and coaches in this state, and eventually, once he was passed over for the OSU job, seemed to turn a blind eye to recruiting in general (see his last three recruiting classes). And even more than those two, Lou Holtz probably epitimizes the phrase "stepping stone job" from his VERY short time here in the 1980's.
So to go from that to Jerry Kill has been, well, it's been fantastic. I totally understand if there's Gopher fans out there who are still in "I'll believe it when I see it" mode. As a fanbase we've been burned far too many times, and have had hopes dashed far too often. We're almost afraid to set expectations because they're never met. Optimism has become a dirty word, and a risky state of mind in Gold Country (by the way, are we still "Gopher Nation" now that Brewter's gone? Back to Gold Country? Something else?). But when I read comments that Doogie of 1500 ESPN posted from Coach Kill's talk at the Southwest Florida U of Minnesota Alumni Association last Friday, well, call me a sucker but I just can't help myself ...
Kill said a lot of great stuff, but the one that's getting most of the attention (and is the title of Doogie's post) is Kill saying that he's not going anywhere, and that this is his last job. I'll speak for myself, but I love hearing that. Love it. Spurned and guarded Gopher fans (as well as Realists, I suppose) might not believe him. "We've heard this before" they'd say. Sure, at the age of 49 Kill is still young enough to turn the program around, win here as he has everywhere else he's coached, and move onto another job with some good years of coaching still left in him. He's said in a few different interviews that he thought NIU would be his last job, but he left it to take this one. I get that, and I do not blame the fans who don't believe him. We've been burned before.
Still, two things make Kill different than Brewster, Mason, or Holtz: one, and I am willing to be proven wrong on this, but I don't believe any of those other guys came right out of the gate saying this would be their last job. Kill has said it a few different ways to a few different people, but he's been adamant this an opportunity he never expected to get, and this is where he wants to be and wants to stay. The other thing is Kill is not a bull****er. He's been a straight shooter from day one, to the point that some people feel he's been a little TOO honest thus far about how much work the players and program needs to be a winner. I listen to Brewster or Holtz for 10 seconds and I smell BS. Mason it takes me maybe 15. With Kill, his complete lack of polish as a speaker ( I don't mean he's a bad speaker; I just mean he doesn't have that politician-like polish, charm, and "smarm" that Brewster and Mason and so many other coaches have. Nick Saban is a charmer and has that polish. Kill does not. And I don't think it's a bad thing) makes him so honest he's almost transparent. Some people might not like that, but I love it, and it makes me believe in what he's preaching even though he hasn't even run a practice yet, let alone won a Big Ten game.
I'm also such a big believer in what Coach Kill is preaching because I believe the biggest reason for the success at places like Wisconsin and Iowa isn't as much because of the systems they run (I'm going to puke if I hear one more time that you can only succeed in the Big Ten with a ball-control, run-oriented, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense, and THAT's why Sconnie and Iowa win), but moreso because they've run THE SAME systems forever. Or seemingly forever. Barry Alvarez came in, changed the culture in Madison, and installed an offense and defense that has remained, even after he retired. I don't care enough about Iowa to look, but if Kirk Ferentz isn't running identical systems to what Hayden Fry ran before him, I bet it's pretty damn close. Norm Parker has been running the defense in Iowa City since before football was even invented. It gives those programs the advantage and knowledge of being able to go after certain types of kids to fit their system, and it shouldn't be a surprise that both of them turn more lightly-or non-recruited kids into contributors than any other Big Ten programs. It's because they know what they're looking for, and they know what works in their systems because they've been doing it forever.
Jerry Kill hasn't been in Minnesota forever, obviously, but he's been running the same systems with the same coaches for more than a dozen years, and it's worked everywhere he's been. We finally have a coaching staff with the continuity and common-knowledge of recruiting and coaching a certain way and knowing it'll get results. If you don't believe the words coming out of Coach Kill's mouth, how can you not believe the track record?
Again, I'm not saying I blame any Gopher fans who have a wait-and-see approach with Jerry Kill. I'm just saying that for a change (I've always been the pessimist/realist when it comes to Gopher football), I'm not one of them. I love what Coach Kill and his staff have done, I love what he's saying, and I can't wait to see what he's going to do. Jerry Kill had me at hello. Maybe he's a charmer after all.