There's a reason why FireJerryKill.com posts stuff about sports teams other than the one Jerry Kill coaches: they have nothing to talk about.
You would think that a site completely dedicated to the termination of Jerry Kill as Minnesota's head coach would at least offer an opinion on how the Gopher season has progressed--and predictably spin it in a negative way: Well, the Gophers are going bowling, but it'll be a mediocre bowl for a mediocre team, hur hur fire Jerry Kill. Instead, what do we get? Analysis of the Minnesota Vikings and general laughing at the state of the Big Ten.
Why can't FireJerryKill.com find ways to make fun of Jerry Kill? Because Kill's kicking major ass in his second year, that's why.
Well, okay, so "kicking major ass" may be a bit of a stretch, but make no mistake, under Kill the Gophers have significantly improved from their woeful days under Tim Brewster and their we-can-haz-defense? days of 2011.
The win over Illinois has clinched Minnesota in bowl eligibility. For the first time since 2009 (three whole years ago), the Gophers will be able to have a post-season, complete with the crucial extra practices it provides to further the development of a program.
What's more, I'm pretty sure Jerry Kill will win the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award.
The only other coach this year that has done better is Urban Meyer, and though the Buckeyes are undefeated (due in part to a few well-placed lucky bounces), their postseason ban should outweigh the "progress" Meyer has made. Sure, what he's done is impressive, but he did with a fully-stocked Buckeye cupboard, an already-stellar reputation, and a fanbase that got behind him 400% since day one. For Urban Meyer to go under .500 would be a shocker. If Meyer has accomplished anything, it's that he's met expectations. Woo.
Kill's team, on the other hand, has scrapped their way to six wins, which might not seem like much, but Gopher fans know that any type of postseason is better than none at all. Two years ago the Gophers were so irrelevant they were losing games to FCS teams. They were the laughingstock of the Big Ten.
Look at them now. They are 6-4 and have nowhere to go but up. Any more wins, either by knocking off Legends leader Nebraska or by keeping grumblin' Mark Dantonio's Spartans out of postseason play, would only sweeten the deal. And of course a bowl win would be seen as a major accomplishment, even against a non-elite opponent, considering where this team has been.
Unless Meyer is given the award (a disappointing possibility), there is simply no way that any other coach comes closer to what Jerry Kill has done. Illinois's Tim Beckman is making Ron Zook look like a genius. Purdue's Danny Hope has fans' brain matter covering the streets of West Lafayette. Kirk Ferentz is showing Iowa the dark side of tenured coaching. And Mark Dantonio has MSU fans starting fights in middle school.
Hoke, the winner of the award last year, has Michigan fans optimistic about everything in the future except the rest of the 2012 season, and seems likely on a path to 8-4 and a loss to Ohio State. That hardly matches the surprising Sugar Bowl run he had in 2011.
O'Brien has weathered Penn State's scandal aftershock and postseason ban well, despite losses to Ohio University and Virginia, and the departure of Silas Redd. However, because the sting of the Paterno-Sandusky scandal and cover-up will linger for at least another year, it's unlikely the Big Ten will risk giving Penn State even more publicity by naming O'Brien coach of the year, even if that publicity is positive.
Giving Bret Bielema the award would be like giving AIG another bailout. The Badgers have practically coasted to the Big Ten championship game thanks to the ineligibility of two better teams in their division. Wisconsin has weathered no adversity other than the shocking truth that Danny O'Brien is not Russell Wilson and that Montee Ball was somehow inexplicably not awesome for three weeks. Those poor Badgers.
There can be a serious case made for Kevin Wilson, who brought the Hoosiers from losing to Ball State to then coming within a hair of upsetting Urban Meyer. Indiana has turned more heads in the last five weeks than they have for the last five years, but they're not likely to make a bowl game (they're already at 4-6), and Jerry Kill bringing his own struggling team to the postseason is the bigger accomplishment.
"What about Bo Pelini?" lurking Nebraska fans ask. He may just win it if the Cornhuskers go all the way to the Rose Bowl instead of predictably losing to Wisconsin. The strides made by Taylor Martinez are notable and stand as Pelini's best chance to claim the award, but Big Red has escaped nearly every game against serious opponents, as well as benefiting from Denard Robinson's spontaneous injury. It's hard to stack up Pelini's squeak-through victories against Kill's hard fought ones.
Pat Fitzgerald may be the Big Ten's most lovable coach outside of Jerry Kill or Brady Hoke. He constantly talks integrity, values academics more than most, and is the epitome of young coach enthusiasm. More of substance, however, is the fact that no other coach besides Kill has defied expectations this year the way Fitzgerald has.
The Wildcats blazed to 7-3 when their fans expected meltdowns to result in a more typical 4-6, where the 'Cats would have to scrap as always to break even and squeak into a bowl. Instead, they're on course to finish at least 8-4 (or even 9-3), which would mark their best season since 2008. Even though Fitzgerald is almost certainly not going to win the conference championship this year, the season has been a far cry from the usual, given the void left by Dan Persa and stringent stonewalling of Northwestern's admissions department, which makes Fitzgerald's job even tougher.
Fitzgerald may have a better shot to win the award than most Big Ten coaches, but Northwestern has become accustomed to going to bowl games. Going to yet another one with a slightly better record is not as impressive as leading a program to a bowl game for the first time when more than eighty percent of the players have spent the holidays sitting at home watching their rivals, hoping the next year would be better.
Last year some analysts on the Big Ten Network were arguing that Kill was a possible candidate for Big Ten Coach of the Year even when his season record was atrocious. They argued that his message was strong, his schedule was more unfavorable than any other first year head coach had, and he was rebuilding slowly but surely even when faced with the adversity of a struggling program with skeptical supporters and the cumbersome stress of a seizure disorder.
If any of the voters thought those arguments carried weight, imagine what they'd think now. Kill's practically a shoo-in.