Kill Switch

It’s back to Gopher week, but before we jump in a quick update on Sailgate ticket sales for boat #3.  As you can see to the right, we have 102 tickets sold and need 48 more sold by Sunday night to make this third boat a go (as of 6 am et July 7).  A solid efffort to date, and I’m now confident we will be selling out boat #3 based on the pace of sales.  I’ll be posting updates on the bar to the right. Again, if you want to purchase tickets you can purchase BY CLICKING HERE. I will continue to post the link in every blog post until we sellout.

When I heard the news that Jerry Kill was hired as the new head coach of Minnesota, I winced for a second. My knee-jerk reaction was “that’s a fantastic hire”. Kill is the poster child coach for no frills, hard work, guaranteed results.  His reputation as a program builder is well known within the coaching ranks and among his peers he is deeply respected for having a high football IQ.  You get the sense Kill and Randy Walker would’ve been buddy-buddy at Big Ten get togethers.  I truly believe Minnesota will get off the Big Ten floor in the next few years simply because Kill is a winner everywhere he goes.

Northwestern nearly faced Kill’s Southern Illinois team back in the flood deluge game in September 2008. You know how much I dread the FCS opponent game, but I was full of trepidation when  that game came on the schedule because of my respect for Kill.  Kill reminded me then of Randy Walker’s Miami (OH) teams that seemed to give everyone fits as they always rose to the occasion.  He had turned around an SIU program that was terrible before he arrived and promptly won the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award (2004) and won three straight conference championships while being ranked every single week from 2003 until he departed after the 2007 season. This was at a program that was straight out of the “before” cliche you’d see in movies. One winning season in 20 years before his arrival, a press box that was a trailer and facilities that make NU look like the Taj Mahal.  I was thrilled to see him go to NIU simply because we wouldn’t have to play a Kill-coached team.  Northwestern outmatched the Salukis 33-7 on that forgetful weather day, and I thought it was one of our more impressive performances. 

Kill created a buzz at Northern Illinois after Joe Novak had bottomed out with a 2-win season in his final year in Dekalb.  Kill was hired by none other than our very own Jim Phillips, just months before Phillips landed with Northwestern in April of 2008.  There are a lot of NU connections in Kill’s career, as Phillips hired Kill away from SIU, after former SIU AD, Paul Kowalcyzk had left for Colorado State. Kowalcyzk was a former NU associate AD during the Barnett run and had hired Kill at SIU.  Kill flipped the switch at NIU and promptly brought the Huskies to the program’s first ever back-to-back bowl appearances.  Last year, Kill ran the table in the MAC and set a school record with 11 wins for NIU as the Huskies went 11-3, 8-0 including a win at Minnesota.

That last point was not to be taken lightly.  Again, drawing comparisons to Walk, there is nothing like beating a Big Ten team on its turf as a MAC school to catch the eye of the administration, just like Randy did to NU back in 1995.  Kill will win at Minnesota, there is no doubt in my mind. However, unlike Walk, he won’t be putting in fancy offenses to do so.  Kill is known as a traditional, old school, run it down your throat, don’t turn it over and play the controlled passing game while playing stellar defense.  The contrast in just about every facet – from public persona to on the field schemes – couldn’t be a more stark contrast to Tim “we’re six time national champions!” Brewster.  If Kill were the subject of a movie he might be donned the Football Program Whisperer.  Prior to SIU and NIU he built Saginaw Valley State into a national power and also led Emporia State to prominence.  And you thought Northwestern had name recognition challenges.

Kill brings his band of coaches that have been a plug-and-play stability tool for him at SIU and NIU.  He inherits a program that has the most incredible facilities he’s ever enjoyed working at, but the on field product is in shambles.  Kill went public early talking about how pillowy soft the players were and how disappointed he was at the shape they’re in.  While the state didn’t exactly lean forward in the chair, Kill has been on a mission do what great coaches do and put up a moat around the state to ensure that the top prospects look at ‘ol State U as a destination.  The Gophers are definitely a team in transition.  They will be relying on newcomers and transfers at the skill positions.  Dangerous Marqueis Gray will take the reigns at QB and offer excitement and hope. However, the defense was terrible, special teams was downright laughable and the line needs a makeover.  Compared to previous challenges though, this doesn’t seem like a tall order for Jerry Kill.  

Kill borrows from the Gary Barnett playbook. He has self-mocking t-shirts made for lack of performance and has put players on the sideline in shirts that read “I let my teammates down” or “Minnesota Lophers”.   You get the sense the culture has already changed 180-degrees from the Brewster era and you also wonder how the heck a full-time head football coach at a Big Ten school could let a program get so collectively out of shape like it appears Brewster did.

I’m downright scared about future seasons against Kill.  I think we have perhaps this year to take advantage of the program in transition, but I fully expect problems in the future.  Again, while we might have dominated this series as of late, it’s taken some miracles on our end to pull out games against his predecessor Brewster who won a grand total of six Big Ten contests.  Minnesota actually mastered the art of scheduling to get to bowl games. Until this season, Northwestern borrowed the playbook and Glen Mason-ized our non-conference.  The Gophers face USC this year and three should-win non-conference games and the same goes for years to come. 

Minnesota AD Joel Maturi went public after ousting Brewster that the Gophers were going to hire the “Tubby Smith of college football”.  That did grab Gopher Nation’s attention, but I think most interpreted the brash statement as “we’re going to get a big name coach”.  Instead, the hiring of Jerry Kill was buried in most markets and met with a collective “who?”.  My fear is that Maturi over-delivered on his promise. 

More About Jerry Kill Via Links

  • wildcat6

    I agree LTP that we probably win in Evanston this November, but beating the Gophers will be a taller task in 2012 and beyond. We saw this a couple of years ago with Syracuse, as the ‘Cats dismantled them 30-10 in 2008, then Doug Marrone took over and transformed the Orange physically as they beat us in 2009.

    Not saying we can’t dominate the Gophers in the future, but with Kill at the controls, it’ll be more difficult.

  • Mark

    Agree 100% with your analysis of Kill. He’s been successful and now has great facilities. (I went up for the game last Fall and loved the stadium.) It’s hard for me to predict the future since the Cats, at least in my limited but intense viewing period, play to the level of their opponents a lot. So the Cats last few years close games against the Gophers do not necessarily mean to me that with a better coach and better players the Gophers will move ahead of the Cats. The Cats have also played some much better Big 10 teams close over the last few years. But I do believe the 3 M’s, 2 N’s and an I Division is the tougher division and Minnesota’s improvement will only emphasize that.

  • DT

    Strong analysis of the Minnesota situation, LTP… Jerry Kill is a winner and no doubt in my mind will have Goldy playing at least back where Mason had them with competitive teams a few years back. Curious to note that Brewster and Fitz seemed to have a strong relationship of sorts coming into the Ten as Head Coaches around the same time. One certainly has to question the current Athletic Director up there for floating the “Tubby Smith” of Football quote for a guy who has been successful in lower profile programs while building a resume and track record deserving at a shot as Head Coach of an AQ program. While he was not on the sideline for the Humanitarian Bowl– I thought NIU was one of the most impressive teams of the last bowl season and wish NU looked that strong on both sides of the ball and for that matter, special teams… Kill, will win in the Big Ten sooner than later… The guy can coach…

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