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Minnesota Football: Thank You, Coach Kill

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It is a sad morning for Jerry Kill and the Minnesota Golden Gophers. But let us not forget how far this program has come in the past four and a half years under Coach Kill and his staff.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Kill is retiring.

Years from now, after Coach Kill had closed out a long and successful career as the head football coach at the University of Minnesota, writing the words "Jerry Kill is retiring" would've had a much different feeling. But with the shocking announcement this morning that Coach Kill has decided to step down out of concern for his health, I -- and everyone else associated with the program -- feel nothing but sadness.

Coach Kill Speaks About Retiring

Coach Kill Speaks About Retiring

This morning's heartbreaking press conference was difficult to watch because it was clear that the man sitting at the podium had been stripped of one of the things he loves most in this world. This is much worse than a football coach being fired for not winning games. This is a man being forced to give up what he loves to live a long and fruitful life with the people that he loves. That is no choice anyone should have to face, and I can't even begin to imagine what Coach Kill must be going through now.

All we can do now, as fans, is offer two important words: "Thank you."

With respect to his predecessors, Jerry Kill is without question one of the best football coaches to ever walk the sidelines for the Golden Gophers. Hands down. His overall record of 29-29 is misleading and not indicative of the work he has done to make Minnesota relevant again in the Big Ten. When he was hired back in December of 2010, he inherited a program that had bottomed out under Tim Brewster, compiling an atrocious 17-33 record over four years and a myriad of embarrassing losses to lesser programs. In the next four and a half years, Coach Kill would rebuild the Golden Gophers from the ground up, amassing an unparalleled list of accomplishments:

  • Won four straight Big Ten games in 2013, the Golden Gophers' first four-game conference winning streak since 1973.
  • Beat Penn State in 2013 to re-claim the Governor's Victory Bell for the first time since 2004.
  • Beat Nebraska in 2013 for the first time since 1960. Beat them again in 2014 for back-to-back wins over the Cornhuskers for the first time since 1954.
  • Beat Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2014 for the first time since 2005 to re-claim the Little Brown Jug. That was also the Golden Gophers' second win over the Wolverines in 24 years.
  • Beat both Michigan and Iowa (to re-claim the Floyd of Rosedale) in 2014, the first time the Golden Gophers have done that in the same season since 1967.
  • Finished 2nd in the Big Ten West in 2014. The Golden Gophers' 5-3 conference record in 2014 was also the program's first winning Big Ten record since 2003.
  • Took the Golden Gophers to the Citrus Bowl in 2015, their first New Year's Day bowl game since 1962.
  • Posted back-to-back 8-win seasons in 2013-14 for the first time since 2002-03.
  • The Golden Gophers also saw four players selected in the NFL Draft in 2015 -- Maxx Williams, David Cobb, Damien Wilson, and Cedric Thompson -- the most from Minnesota since 2006.
These are but a few of the achievements Coach Kill and his staff were able to accomplish on the field. But their achievements off the field also merit mention. Coach Kill has run a clean program, through and through. Over the past 5 years, the football program has had less than 5 arrests. I can't even recall the last player to be arrested, if I'm being honest. I tried to find an exact number, but came up with nothing.

The program also improved in the classroom after being plagued with academic problems under Brewster. The Golden Gophers recorded a 994 Academic Progress Rate (APR) under Coach Kill in each season from 2011-12 to 2013-14. That 994 score is the highest single-season score that the Minnesota football team has ever recorded and the Gophers' multi-year rate of 975 is also a school record. Jerry Kill is nothing if not a man of respect and integrity, and the fact that he has also been able to maintain the same coaching staff -- for the most part -- for decades now speaks volumes about him as a person. That kind of loyalty is rare in college football.

I was in the stands at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, October 17, when Minnesota lost 25-48 to Nebraska. I had no idea I was witnessing Jerry Kill's final game as head coach, and neither did anyone else in attendance. I am sad that a coach who has accomplished so much was not able to leave the field a winner one last time after such a storied career, but a head football coach's career is not defined by one game. If it was, it'd be Iowa in 2014. Or Nebraska in 2013. Or Michigan in 2014. Or maybe Penn State in 2013.

For a fan base with more than their fair share of traumatic memories from seasons past, Coach Kill was able to create positive ones in his four and a half years here that none of us will ever forget -- for all the right reasons.

When Coach Kill was first hired at the University of Minnesota, he had a reputation as a program builder --  a head football coach that left places in better shape than when he arrived. The same can be said for the Golden Gophers now. He was the right coach at the right time. And for that, we'll always be grateful.

Take care of yourself, Coach Kill. Your work here is done.