Kill: 'I did the best I could'
Jerry Kill had only hours to decide if he wanted to leave Northern Illinois University and coach football at the University of Minnesota. In this Daily Chronicle exclusive, Kill talks about his decision, how it was handled and his message for the people of DeKalb.
Jerry Kill left Northern Illinois University on Dec. 5 to become the head football coach at Minnesota. Kill reached out to the Daily Chronicle on Tuesday night to fulfill an exit interview request and discuss the night of Kill's departure, how it was handled and his legacy at NIU.
The following is an edited transcript:
John Sahly: I want you to start by taking me through the whole process from when Minnesota offered you (the position) to when you touched down in Minnesota on Sunday night.
Jerry Kill: "Well, it's a situation that I met with them Saturday night in Chicago, somewhere around 7 p.m., and we visited for a long time with the (Minnesota) president and the athletic director. We came back driving home, I guess it was around 11 p.m., we talked, and I knew that I had the job offered to me.
"(My wife) Rebecca and I had a chance to visit about it afterward and those are critical decisions. In college football, and just so everybody knows, it's no different than what Northern Illinois did when I was at Southern (Illinois). We lost a game at Southern (in 2007) and got beat by Delaware, and Northern was visiting with me the very next morning. That's just how this crazy profession is. In our profession, you have to make decisions that are lifelong decisions in a matter of hours, and it's very difficult. I got home late that night, visited with (NIU athletic director Jeff) Compher.
"We had recruits in on Sunday, which is awkward. ... I visited with Jeff for a few minutes. I hadn't really talked with anybody on our staff, so I visited with the staff and let them know that I had been offered the job and that this is what I'm going to do. I said, 'I know it's a difficult situation,' and I said, 'You guys have done a great job. The kids have done a great job.' I said, 'If anybody is interested in coaching, that I know that Jeff will talk to all of you.' Then I went and visited with the President (John Peters), and he was fantastic.
"Then Jeff had talked to me about the situation. Do we do something? Nobody's ever been through that. Do you do something before the banquet? Do you do something after the banquet? Nobody knew exactly the best way. I think we all felt at that particular time that I did not personally want to take anything away from the kids at the banquet. You talk to the kids before a banquet and tell them, and from what I was told is that it was not going to be announced until Monday, but you know the Internet systems and Facebook and all that. There's always something that's going to leak out. I don't know who leaked it. You guys know more about that than I do. I'm not in that world.
"It's one of those things that if you do it before, you upset and screw the banquet up, and they worry about the head coach. So it's a deal that I wanted to do the banquet and do it right, and I thought the banquet went well. We honored the seniors. I know some things, that the people kind of knew during it. There's nothing that I could control about that. I talked to the kids after the banquet. Those times are always difficult. I was a player when a coach left before. It's difficult. I looked everybody in the eye and told them exactly what the situation was. I had my mother and family there. ... I told them this was an opportunity for me to take care of my family. And you're looking at a guy who didn't know six years ago if I was going to live or die. For me to be able to take care of my wife and mother and family for the rest of their lives, I mean, that's a tough decision.
"But, anyway, I talked to the kids, that's not easy. ... The toughest thing about this whole thing was the players. And, is there a right way to do things? A wrong way? Me and you can talk about that. But there is no good way to do any of that. It doesn't matter when it is. Having the banquet was difficult. ... I think everybody at that time felt it was the best thing to do, and I was not notified to do anything different.
"Now, on the other hand, if I'm a player, I'd be very upset. I would be. I've been there. I've been there when a coach left. I've been frustrated. When coach (Dennis) Franchione left (Southwestern, where Kill was a linebacker). I was a senior, and he went to Tennessee Tech. He took a job, and I thought maybe I'd get a chance to go with him as a GA. I wanted him to stay. I remember my gut reaction was, 'Why is he doing this? Why is he doing that?' He's the same reason I'm sitting in this chair today. I didn't quite understand it at the time because I was young. But as I grew, I realized that that man was a part of my life at that time and he made me better. Why should I punish him for trying to go make others better? When you're young, that's hard to swallow. The kids didn't react any different than I would have.
"Since then, I've come back to clear some stuff out of the office. (Defensive end) Jake Coffman has come by. I talked to (quarterback) Chandler Harnish. They've been tremendous toward my wife. My wife came up to the office to pack some things. They helped her pack some things, carry stuff out for her. ... When I walked into the deal, Jordan Delegal was there and said, 'Coach, I love you man. I appreciate what you did for me.' It hurt. That hurts when you're close. To me, if they were all happy, that means they didn't like me at all. But, it's tough. There's nothing good about it.
"I don't make the rules. Just think of the other schools that are going through this right now. It's difficult on players and the kids. If they made an NCAA rule where they said there couldn't be any job situations like that until after bowl games, I would be all for it. I would be all for it. Anything to make it better for the kids. But, again, this is the way the thing is run.
"So I did the best I could. I didn't have any guides. I'm not an expert on how to handle those situations. Frankly, I was in shock I had the opportunity to go to the University of Minnesota. Just like when I was at Southern Illinois, I had no idea that I'd have the opportunity to be at Northern Illinois. But the thing that people need to understand is that Northern Illinois came down and saw me. It's the same thing. It's almost ironic. The same thing that happened at Northern, happened in this situation. I had to make a decision immediately on Northern's job because they had another person waiting to take that job if I wasn't going to make a decision on it.
"I think the thing about the whole process for me is the timing of the banquet. If we didn't have the banquet, it would have been a lot easier deal. I stood there and did the best I could. That was difficult to do. But the players, I'm so proud of them. They're good kids. They've hired a good coach. I don't get to coach the bowl game. I worked hard. I'd like to do that, but that's not how things ... I'm not allowed to do all of those things. It's a little bit different situation at every school.
"I love Northern Illinois. I've given every ounce of my life the past three years to the program, to get it back to where they wanted to get it back. Shoot, I laid in a hospital for three, four days. (Kill had gallbladder surgery and suffered complications from the surgery in mid-September, before the Illinois game.) I coached on the sideline after I probably shouldn't have. But I did, because that's me. I didn't want to let the school down, the athletic department down. And the players, I wanted to give my best. So I've given everything I could. I'm not perfect. I don't claim to be."
Sahly: When you say that if there wasn't a banquet that it would have been a whole lot easier, what do you mean by that?
Kill: "Well, I guess it wouldn't have been easier, but I would have been able to tell the players right away and let them know. There's just no good timing. I listened to everybody that's given me advice, and there's nothing finalized on anything until you come up. But I think the players should know, and they need to be the first ones to know, and I thought they were.
"There's been rumors out there, and you know because you follow that stuff. The players all know different things in college football. They know more than I do. But the point being is that, through it, there wasn't supposedly going to be an announcement on the job until Monday. I told the people here I could not do anything until I told the players. I wanted to talk to our players before they made an announcement. They said they'd honor that.
"Again, I'm not blaming anybody. I don't blame the media. I'm not blaming anybody for the situation whatsoever. I don't know what else I could do. There's no written plan on how to do that. Again, there was no announcement that I was going to be the head coach. The media is a very powerful market, and people find out things."
Sahly: That deal that you felt like you needed to honor, is that why you told (Daily Chronicle reporter) Jeremy (Werner) you couldn't talk to him? (Editor's note: Kill's direct quote to Werner on Dec. 5 was "I'm not talking to you.")
Kill: "Yes. That's what I was told to do. I'm not going to throw people under the bus. That's not my style. But you're smart enough to know that the football coach is not the one running the show at most universities. There's a lot of people involved in a deal. I did everything I was told to do, and that's what I did.
"Jeremy didn't do anything wrong. He's doing his job. I wish I was an expert at doing these things, but I'm not. All I could do is take the guidance I was receiving from people that know a lot more about this than I do, and I tried to do it the right way. I don't think there's any perfect way to do things. ... I guess I could have not told anybody and not said a word and not told anybody until I told the players after the banquet and then tell the administration, but you can't do that either.
"I did everything that I could do to make it the best I could, and I talked to the players and I was honest and told them the situation. That's all I can do at the end of the day. I'm not mad at the media, either. I wouldn't be getting paid the money I'm getting if it weren't for the media. I've always told you that. I'm not mad at anybody whatsoever."
Sahly: I'll end by asking you the same thing that Jeremy asked on [that] Sunday. What do you want to say to the people of DeKalb?
Kill: "I really appreciate the opportunity that I was given, and I appreciate everything President Peters gave me. I appreciate (former NIU) coach (Joe) Novak and (former NIU AD) Jim Phillips. They came down and recruited me together. They actually came on more full force than the University of Minnesota. I've got a great relationship with Coach Novak. I talked to him. We talk about once every two weeks. They gave me an opportunity of a lifetime. ... The people in DeKalb treated my family tremendously. My wife was as comfortable as she's ever been and enjoyed the people. ... We have tons of friends throughout the Huskie community, and we appreciate people letting us be a part of something.
"Coach Novak is the man that did the things at Northern. That guy is the guy, and Bill Mallory and the history of that school. I was just a small part of it for three years. But it was great to be a part of it. ... I can't be thankful enough."