When Jerry Kill stepped away from Minnesota as football coach for health reasons eight months ago, tears streamed down his face.
He was heartbroken to leave a job he worked his entire life to get, but he was also terrified of the future. Without coaching, what would be his next step in life?
“I don’t know,” Kill said in late October at his farewell news conference. “I ain’t done anything else. That’s the scary part.”
Much has changed since that emotional day. Kill has found clarity in his professional future, and he is excited about where that path may lead.
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Kansas State hired Kill, a Cheney native, as its new associate athletic director for administration, a job that will allow him to act as chief administrator for the football team. In his new role, Kill will work directly under athletic director John Currie, supporting football coach Bill Snyder and K-State players. But Kill will not coach. More than anything, he views his new job as an opportunity to share his experience and mentor.
“Here’s the thing I want to clear up real quick: I cannot ever be a head coach,” Kill said Tuesday during a media teleconference. “That is just the way my life is going to be and I am very understanding of that. My next journey is this journey. My way of being part of student-athletes and part of a football program is just this, mentoring people. I even checked it out with my doctor before I got this far. I have to live a little different life than I did before, and I am OK with it. I am going to do what John asks me to do.”
Kill has 32 years of coaching experience and 156 victories as a head coach. After playing linebacker for NAIA Southwestern College, he went on to become the coach at Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and Minnesota.
He was 29-29 in his fifth season with the Gophers when he retired from coaching. Kill suffers from epilepsy, and he felt obligated to step down when seizures began occurring too often.
His health will always be a concern, but his condition has improved with down time. Looking back, he says he pushed himself too hard as a coach, never giving himself an opportunity to “get fixed.” That was a mistake. A lighter work schedule at K-State should be more manageable.
“I had the opportunity to do some things differently. It has helped me out a lot. It’s the best I have felt in 12 years,” Kill said. “I am actually sleeping good and dropped about 14 or 15 pounds. I am on a special diet for seizure patients. I am doing great, and, believe me, I know when I wasn’t doing great and when I am. I know my coaching career is over and I understand that, but I can’t just sit around and look at a lake and roll my fingers. I would be in the worst health I could ever imagine. John certainly understands. I am looking forward to working there and I will do just fine.”
Kill replaces Clint Dowdle, who informed Currie two months ago he planned to leave K-State. But his job will have different responsibilities. Dowdle was Currie’s right-hand man, handling many administrative duties on top of supporting football. Kill’s duties will revolve almost entirely around football.
His base salary will be $150,000, Currie said.
“Having someone with the coaching experience and life experience of Jerry Kill,” Currie said, “will help all of our administrators.”
It is an interesting hire that gained national attention when it was announced Tuesday morning. Some wonder if Kill, despite his intentions never to coach again, might have interest in succeeding Snyder when he chooses to retire. If not, might he play a key role in helping Currie choose Snyder’s replacement? Could the presence of a former successful coach help in other ways?
For now, Kill is focused on simpler tasks, such as “keeping Coach Snyder happy and help his job become easier.”
That shouldn’t be an issue. Currie said he made initial contact with Kill about two months ago to see what he had in mind for future jobs. Kill said he had received interest in coaching openings, but he was more interested in something behind the scenes. An administrative position at K-State was attractive.
When conversations progressed, Currie said he ran the possibility of hiring Kill by Snyder. His reaction? Excitement.
Though Kill and Snyder have never coached against each other, they are friends. When Kill coached at Southern Illinois, he contacted Snyder for guidance. Snyder invited Kill to Manhattan and they spoke for six hours.
They talked again this month. Only this time, at the end of the conversation Snyder told Kill he wanted him at K-State. Kill couldn’t say no.
“We have a good relationship,” Kill said. “He is old school and I am old school. You’ve got two old-school guys together with good people that he has got. The bottom line is our jobs all work together to make K-State continue to get better and better.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett