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Minnesota Football: The Jerry Kill Era In A Historical Context #TBT

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Since 1883 Minnesota has had 31 head football coaches. Let's examine how Jerry Kill stacks up with the other 30.

It's History
It's History

In 1883 the Philosophy Professor Thomas Peebles, a former football player at Princeton, became Minnesota's first coach. He coached only 1 year and won only 1 game before leaving the U of M to practice law. In its 132 year history Minnesota has had a number of interesting coaches. Edward W. "Dad" Moulton was considered the fastest man in the world in 1891 when he took the Gopher job. Wallie Winter coached for the 1893 season only on the condition he could also referee the games, unsurprisingly his team went undefeated. Alexander Jerrems (1896-1897), born in Sydney, Australia, coached for two seasons and occasionally would sub in for the opposing team to play against the Gophers when he thought his team could use the challenge. The common link to all of these strange 19th century coaches is their stay at Minnesota was short, perhaps too short and left us all wondering what would have happened had they kept coaching.

"Dad" Moulton won every footrace he ever ran, including racing against horses.

Coach Peebles, Dad Moulton, and Winter are one of the 11 Gopher coaches to have had the job for a year or less. Four coaches have been at Minnesota for a decade or more (Doc Williams, Bernie Bierman, Murray Warmath and Glen Mason). Only 8 Coaches have stayed at the University of Minnesota for 5 or more years, unfortunately Jerry Kill is not among that number.

Coach Doc Williams holds the honor of being Minnesota's longest tenured coach, and the team's only coach/doctor. Via MNHS

Coach Kill came to Minnesota with a winning record from his previous coaching stops, he was the first Gophers coach to do such a thing since Murray Warmath was hired in 1952. Kill's record at Minnesota over the last four years is 29-29. His 29 wins puts him in a tie with John Gutekunst (head coach from 1986-1991) for sixth most wins in program history. Obviously though wins aren't everything, in the stands on Saturday will be thousands of people wearing shirts that replace half of the state's name with Jerry. Think about that statement.

Jerry's accomplishments go far beyond his record. What I really want to do is compare him to Gopher greats like Doc Williams (coached from 1900-1921 and amassed a record of 136-33-11), Bernie Bierman (coached from 1932-1941, 1945-1950 for a 93-35-6 record) or even Murray Warmath (1954-1971 and 87-78-7). While I fully believe Coach Kill is the equal of these men in every respect, he just wasn't here long enough.

Retiring is not something that happens often in this town. Since 1970 only a handful of coaches of prominent teams in this state have not been fired. Others who have retired weren't fired are Bud Grant, Murray Warmath, Lou Holtz, Tom Kelly, Doug Woog, and Rick Adleman (I suppose Flip too, sadly). There might be others but that's an amazingly small number of coaches who left by choice in a market with 4 professional teams and a Big Ten university.

Perhaps its best for Kill's legacy that he retires on his own terms. We will forever remember him as our coach, and as a great guy. Doc Williams, the winningest coach in the program's history was run out of town after a couple of bad seasons. Bernie Bierman returned to coach Minnesota after World War II but the game had passed him by, and his last season he won only 1 game. Even Glen Mason who has the programs 4th most wins and most bowl wins (5) and some people still hate that guy.

Bierman carried off the field after his last game. Via MNHS

Jerry didn't win the Big Ten Championships or the National Championships like Doc Williams and Bernie Bierman. He didn't even win a bowl game while coaching Minnesota, but hell this program hasn't ever been great at winning bowl games. Perhaps the best quote I can find to sum up where the program was before Jerry Kill took over is from then Athletic Director Joel Maturi:

You're not following Vince Lombardi here. This is a situation where, you know what, somebody can come in and win some games and people are going to feel good about him and they win a few more games and they're going to feel really good about him. And if we go to the Rose Bowl, we might even put a statue of them outside of TCF Bank Stadium.

His legacy won't be fully apparent for awhile longer. Would we like Glen Mason more if Tim Brewster had been more competent, or is it the other way around? Unfortunately it's been a long time since there have been two good coaches in a row. Murray Warmath and Cal Stoll were the last Gopher coaches to have back to back .500 or better records, and that was almost 50 years ago.