Jerry Kill: 'This is what I've been able to do ... build programs'
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Editor's note: After his signing day press conference on Wednesday, Gophers football coach Jerry Kill sat down for a 25-minute interview with 1500ESPN.com to discuss his football philosophies, his vision for the program and his thoughts on why the 'U' has struggled to become a perennial Big Ten contender.
MINNEAPOLIS -- These are busy times for new Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, who announced 22 new scholarship players on signing day Wednesday -- his first recruiting class after being hired to replace Tim Brewster in early December.
Between blazing a path on the recruiting trail and attempting to settle into his new Minneapolis digs, Kill was finally able to watch his players run around and work out for the first time during morning sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
"I thought we'd be a little stronger, thought we'd be a little faster," Kill said, with a brutally-honest tone that was missing at the 'U' for the last four years. "I compare things to what we did at Northern Illinois -- what kind of athletes we had, speed, academics, those kind of things."
As for the recruiting class, 12 of the 20 position players recruited reside on the offensive side of the football, including six offensive linemen -- a group highlighted by four-star guard Tommy Olson from Mahtomedi High School.
The old head coach might have uttered something about Pasadena or roses.
Not the new one.
While pleased with his recruiting class, considering the quick turnaround, Kill acknowledged the uphill climb. The Gophers still have several holes to fill, and they still have four or five scholarships to hand out if the right kids are still available.
And Kill may or may not use those scholarships this year.
"We need to pick up another secondary player," Kill said to reporters at the signing day press conference. "There's no question in my mind, after going to morning workouts, we need to find another secondary player or two. And maybe an outside linebacker. So those three things we'll continue to search out.
"And if we don't find what we want, we're not going to sign somebody to sign somebody. ... They always say this: you can live with a recruiting mistake for 365 days, or you can play against him one time. So we're going to be very careful just going out there and taking somebody to take somebody.
"We're just not going to give a scholarship away."
Kill added, "I'll be honest with you, I've taken two other programs when I first got the job, you learn as you go, I probably jumped out and made some recruiting mistakes right off the bat because we only had three or four weeks, and you go, 'Oh, we've got to have this, we've got to have that.'
"I almost did it here a little bit, but I've got a couple coaches that go, 'Hey coach, no, no, no, no. Just be patient. We'll be alright. Don't make major mistakes here and roll the dice too many times.' So you've got to have good assistants to reel you back in.
"I'm not different than anybody else. I want to win. I want to win right now. But it's going to take time."
• What have you learned about this job that you didn't know when you took it?
I don't think you ever know about your job until you get in there and start working. You have to learn how the school works, you've got to understand who can academically make it at the University of Minnesota.
Academically, we have some issues that we've got to get taken care of. I knew before I got the job that we had some situations and problems, but didn't know they were as deep as they were.
The coach was let go in the middle of the year, so there's a lot of time in there without knowing who that head coach is going to be, so that structure gets lost. Coach Horton did a great job holding that thing in there, but still, when the kids don't know who the head coach is, and then not going to a bowl game, and not (doing) a lot physically. ... So, when I came in here on Monday for the workouts, I'm going, 'we've got a lot of work to do here, now.'
• What is the main factor you look for when evaluating players?
We're going to take speed. A guy might be a little shorter, maybe not real heavy -- (if) we feel like we can put weight on him through the strength program, but we're going to recruit speed. I mean, we have to. Even offensive linemen, guys that can bend and move their feet. I'm not having a bunch of stiff old kids. You want to recruit speed and athletes at every position.
• Which is more important? Recruiting or coaching?
I think you've got to be able to do both of them, and you've got to be able to balance it out. You can't spend all of your time recruiting and don't do nothing with X's and O's. I think you've got to balance it out. But I know one thing, it's very important what goes inside that uniform. And the other part of it is all the other things that people don't realize that go into it -- making sure they go to class, making sure they're disciplined on and off the field, making sure they know how to work in the weight room, making sure they know how to train, make sure they eat right. There's a hell of a lot more to it than just recruiting them. And once you get them, you've got to retain them and make them better.
The recruiting part of it is important, but it's not nearly as important as once you get them you've got to keep recruiting them. You've got to get them to buy into what you're doing.
• What are the main changes that need to be made to win here long-term?
We need to make sure we take care of the players, and the first thing we need to address is the weight room. That's the priority. That affects recruiting, that affects strength, how you train, etcetera. We need to get that updated. That's our priority.
• Why is it that this program has had so much trouble becoming a perennial Big Ten contender?
Coming in and looking at it, I've been at two other places that we got turned (around) -- actually three. And that's one of those things where you come in and you fundamentally believe in the vision and the plan that you put together, and it's worked before. That's what we'll do here.
Am I going to use excuses? Everybody talks about the weather. That's all I hear all the time recruiting -- weather, weather, weather. And I think that's a bad rap. When we played up here with Northern (Illinois), it was great. But the people that recruit against you, that's all they throw out there.
I had someone ask me today, 'Coach, that weather up there ...' I said, 'Hell, it's nicer here than it was in Dekalb.'
• What are some of the football philosophies you plan to instill?
Coach Mason talked about it when he was here. We've got to get good on defense. My understanding is Coach Mason brought it up, that we were never good enough on defense, and how do we get there?
You've got to run the football, and you can't turn it over. And you've got to be damn good on defense to win.
We know what we want to do. Can we do it here right off (the start)? I don't know. But as we go, we're going to make them do what we want them to do. And we've got the system we want to run, but we might have to adjust this first year, I don't know.
• So this is the first week you've really had a chance to watch your players run around and work out?
Yeah, right now I'm coaching a team I don't know, because I haven't been here.
• A little weird?
It is weird. Everybody goes, 'What are you going to do?' I need to get to know our kids. I've got so many people wanting me to do stuff, but hell, I've got to spend time with our players. I've got to get to know them.
• Have you chatted much with CB Troy Stoudermire? What's his status going forward?
I've spent a lot of time with Troy.
• Does it sound like he's on board?
Oh yeah, I think so. He's done great. Those morning workouts, he's impressive. He's done a good job.
He didn't play, I know, there was a discipline issue when we played them (with Northern Illinois).
He's a good football player, he's explosive. He's done nothing. ... It's just like anything. When I came in I said, 'Hey, what you've done in the past, whatever. If we can get you eligible, get you situated in school, everybody's got a clean slate, we're moving forward.' If we've got any problems, get an apple and a road map. But if you do what you're supposed to do, I'll die for you.
The coaches that have been here running offseason (workouts), I've heard nothing but positive reports. ... We definitely need him, I can tell you that.
• What about WR Brandon Green, coming off the knee injury?
I know who he is, I can see him running. He's got a little speed, a little giddy-up. and I like what I've seen. He seems like a good kid. He's from Chicago area, so I know a little about him, but again, we'll have to see how he performs.
• This is your fifth college coaching job, but obviously a step up in class heading into the Big Ten. Will it be different?
They're all the same. Everybody gets caught up in it. When we were at Northern Illinois we played Big Ten schools. When I was at Southern Illinois we beat Indiana.
The difference is you play those cats week after week after week. So you'd better be bigger, stronger, faster.
If you're at Northern Illinois, once in a while you can sneak up and beat a Purdue. We played Wisconsin 23-17. But if we played Wisconsin eight games in a row, shoot, we wouldn't have any players left. I'm just being honest. And I'm not putting Northern Illinois down, because we had a good football team. But the physicality of the Big Ten...
When you come up to this level, you've got to get bigger, stronger, faster kids. And we're not big enough, strong enough, fast enough right now. It is what it is.
• One of the major issues here lately for the Gophers is losing to teams they shouldn't lose to. Like Northern Illinois, for instance.
I think the big thing is, we've always taken great pride -- and you'd have to go back and look. I'm not going to blow smoke up your tail end -- most of the time we've won the games we were supposed to win if we had some talent.
Now, when I went to Southern we had absolutely no talent and we went 1-10, then 4-8, then 10-2. But it's one of those things where we have taken pretty good pride in winning the games we're supposed to win.
I think at the end of the day, what we have to do when we start here, you've got to win the games you're supposed to win. If you can do that you've got a chance.
We're ordinary people trying to accomplish extraordinary things. That's really what we are right here. Right now, with the athletes we have here, we're ordinary cats trying to accomplish extraordinary things.
• Do you see this as a dream job, so to speak? Or a stepping stone?
(Expletive), I'm just glad I'm alive.
To be honest with you, I've never said, 'I want to be this,' or, 'I want to be that.' God's got a plan. I don't control what happens. After I was diagnosed with cancer at Southern Illinois, I went and bought a house, had a place down by the lake. Shoot, I was ready, going to be there the rest of my life. I was going to live down at that lake house and be happily ever after. Then Northern Illinois called and I said, 'gosh darn, this is a chance for me -- I've coached every level -- this gives me an opportunity to be a Division 1 coach. Eh, life's too short, I've had cancer, what the hell. Let's roll the dice.'
I talked to (my wife), we go up there, buy this house that's sitting up there now. We figured we were going to be there the rest of our lives. Been there three years, we had some fun, had some great times there, then all of the sudden the University of Minnesota calls and I'm going, 'What the hell? That's a hell of a deal.'
I always said, the good lord doesn't tell you what to do, but there's some stuff that gets thrown out there once in a while. I talked to Rebecca, I said, '(expletive), that's about as good as it gets.' I said, 'We've done it all.'
I don't want to coach in the NFL. I have no desire to do that. I just like working with college kids. But I ain't going anywhere. It ain't like I'm saying, 'Well, I want to go to this job.' I've coached at every place. I'm at that perfect age where I need to be in life.
This is what I've been able to do. There's been eight coaches in here. I don't know what's going to happen. But my background is I've been able to go in and build programs.
Can I do it here? It's yet to be seen. They didn't think I could do it at Southern and we did it. At Northern they figured it would take a long time, and in three years we had the best record in school history. And now we've got to do it here. It's a great question, a great challenge. It's going to take time. I'm not going to tell anybody when it's going to be. It's up to those kids.
• Are you fairly confident you will succeed?
I wouldn't be here if I didn't think we could. I'm not here to get a paycheck or anything like that. I'm pretty simple. This is about as dressed up as I want to be. I'm confident. I wouldn't have took the job.
If you could take a picture and go back 10 years and look at Southern Illinois' facilities we had to recruit to, and we won. And Northern Illinois is not the mecca of the world, as far as -- we don't even have an indoor (practice facility) at Northern Illinois. ...
We walked out there on Monday (at the Gophers' indoor facility) and I was laughing. I was telling guys, 'I'm used to having wind blow across my face, (expletive), I hope to hell we don't get soft.'
I'll tell you what, if we have any problems, I'll get the shovel and they can shovel snow. That's going to be the discipline rule [laughing].
• But seriously, any other thoughts on why the Gophers seemingly always sit behind the 8-ball?
There's so much information out there that's false (in recruiting). People bash the University of Minnesota. ... 'You don't want to go there, it's too cold. (Expletive) city.'
It's a great city. There's a false identity of who we are, and we've got to change that. And that's my job.
We've got to stand up and quit saying, 'Well, we're just ... we're just, you know ...' We need to take some pride. This is a great place.