Wednesday was a shocking and even fairly emotional day. The news of Jerry Kill retiring came early in the morning and lead to a little confusion and wonder for Gopher fans. The press conference began a little after 8:30 in the morning and at least for me the confusion gave way to emotions of sadness and empathy. Its been one of those weeks where I've been processing all week and unable to put my fingers to keyboard to express my thoughts.
On the outside college football has the appearance of being a big money machine. Just a smaller version of professional sports where young kids are exploited for huge financial gain and given a chance a free education (a truly valuable thing that is often minimized, but that is for a different day). Much of that is true but there are the rare occasions when you get a glimpse into what it is like on the inside. It is these times you realize that at the college level it is really about family as much or more as it is about football.
JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!
JERRY! JERRY! JERRY!
As fans we care about wins and losses. From the outside we treat our favorite college teams much like we would treat professional ones. But it is different. And for those who are directly involved in the program it is very different at least for some coaches And this coach, the one we got to experience for four and a half years, he gets it. It is about family, it is about relationships, it is about a lifetime of significant sacrifices and it is having a passion to impact lives. If you are really good (or a bit lucky) you get to win along the way and move up the ranks, the more you win the longer you get to stick around. Jerry Kill is one who gets it and without knowing him well I could truly empathize with just how difficult this decision was for him.
There were two quotes that really stuck with me from Coach Kill's retirement press conference. The entire thing was emotional but there were two quotes that moved me.
"Last night, when I walked off the practice field, I felt like a part of me died," Kill said. "I love this game. I love what it's done for my family. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to coach this game."
I'm going to take a little liberty here and say that I think Coach loves coaching, he loves those kids and his coaching staff above loving the game of football. I participated in small college basketball and was lucky enough to coach for several years after. My final season coincidentally was the season our head coach retired. A man I have deep admiration for and respect as much as anyone on this planet. I vividly remember in the locker room after our final game and he spoke about how he is going to miss being a part of the family, coaching these kids and when we see him down the road it'd be OK if we still call him "Coach."
I imagine Coach Kill is having some of those same feelings. More than games and practice planning and recruiting, I imagine he is going to miss seeing those kids in the halls and them calling him "Coach." Making sure they are doing the right things to better themselves for life after the four years he is able to influence them. And I'll barely touch on his relationships with his coaching staff. But those guys aren't employees, they are family. More so here than at other programs but those guys are lifelong friends
Coaching isn't a profession, it is an identity. It is a passion and it is so much more than Xs, Os, practices, wins and losses. It is pushing a kid to get better and celebrating with them when they do and their hard work pays off. The things remembered of his career are going to be the small things that we as fans never see. My highlight of Jerry Kill's tenure might be certain trophy wins, but for him (I'd LOVE to talk with him about this!) I bet it is seeing a kid get back on track and have great success. That picture used for this story, that pic isn't about the trophy it is about celebrating with his kids. It was the satisfaction of putting together a plan, working hard to achieve and seeing the kids succeed. It is relationships so much more than football.
The other quote that put me over the edge was this one.
"My wife, two nights ago, was with me all night, and I slept one hour and came to work. Probably the most sleep I've gotten over the last three weeks was three hours or less. She stays there, sits in a chair and watches me. That's what she did last night. Hell, that ain't no way to live. I've taken years off my life and hers, but we both say we'd do it again, wouldn't we? Damn right."
As a kid out of college I wanted nothing more than to have a career as a college basketball coach. I was well aware of the effort and sacrifices it would take to get there. I also have some very good family friends where the father is a football coach who has been around the DII, NAIA, DIII levels, bouncing from Arizona to Minnesota to South Dakota and points in between trying to make a career out of it as well. Seeing the sacrifices and stress on the families is incredible. All of that to say that I completely understand how much they as a family have invested in this. Not just Coach but his wife and daughters.
Without knowing specific stories I know the sacrifices made at his stops along the way. Missing things with his kids cause he had to hop in the car, drive for hours to meet with a recruit. Making next to nothing and figuring out the family finances to support Jerry as he works toward a dream. Maybe thoughts along the way of getting a "real job" to support the family and give up coaching. Jerry was relentless and talented so his sacrifices paid off in a lot of ways. But I guarantee there were times when it was really difficult between Pittsburgh State and arriving at the University of Minnesota.
That is why this was so hard for him. Coaching isn't a job for him, it was a passion and a lifelong dream. And he had to walk away before he was ready. My heart is still heavy for him. It is really easy to say that he's lucky because he can ride off into the sunset with millions of dollars in his pocket. I'd wager that he'd give it all back to be healthy enough to continue coaching.
Forgetting the direction of the program, wins/losses and trophy games; Jerry Kill is a good man and was born to be a leader for young men. Stories of what he has done for kids with epilepsy, stories of how kids he had to discipline -even discipline by removing from the team - and how he still worked to find them opportunities elsewhere to be successful. That is unique and his impact on the Gopher community cannot be measured by wins/losses. I know and have known a lot of coaches in my life and there are a handful who truly get it in my opinion. Jerry is one of them.
I was nervous the health reasons forcing him to retire were going to be more dire and an immediate threat. Very happy he will have an opportunity to live long life, enjoying his family and continuing to impact lives. Unfortunately it won't be on the football field where he thrives but he will continue to make a difference, it is in his nature.
I cannot imagine how difficult it will be for him to watch the game today. Each successive game will probably sting a little bit less but min