Some uncomfortable questions need to be asked regarding Jerry Kill
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
This is complicated.
The seizure Jerry Kill suffered at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday is now the fourth documented seizure he has suffered either during or shortly after a game during his 22 games as coach at Minnesota.
It feels like many topics in 2013 are left for black-and-white debate, thanks to the media culture we currently live in. Kill's seizures are anything but black-and-white.
Personally, I have enjoyed Kill as a person in our interactions, I like Kill as a coach to this point, and I think he has the program on the right track. His recent willingness to open up about his epilepsy and to help spread the word and raise money is noble and admirable.
I am, by no means, suggesting Jerry Kill should step down or be asked to stop coaching.
I am suggesting that Saturday's episode warrants further discussion. A lot of discussion. And some potentially uncomfortable questions.
Are Kill's seizures kind of life-threatening, not very life-threatening... or...? For the people who point out that epileptic seizures are not usually life-threatening, many others have countered with facts from EpilepsyFoundation.org that show anywhere between 1 in 1,000 and 1 in 150 people with epilepsy can die unexpectedly. People in that 1-in-150 group, however, probably aren't under the supervision of one of the top doctors in the country - as Kill reportedly is. So, what are Kill's odds? 1 in 300? 1 in 900? At what point is the increased stress of coaching a Big 10 football game on the sidelines not worth the risk?
If Kill doesn't think the seizures are a problem, should his opinion trump all others'? To me, this is way bigger than, "Well, Jerry feels like the seizures aren't an issue, so let's all move on," which is sort of the message the U of M athletic department was pushing on Saturday. Kill is a highly-paid state employee, and his job is very public. He is the face of a Big 10 football program, and whether it's fair or not, his health -- and the perception of his health -- plays a huge role in recruiting, the day-to-day operations of the program, etc. Let's face it, when ESPN.com's top headline on Saturday afternoon is about Kill's seizure, it has become a national PR conversation. Not a "problem," necessarily (maybe yes, maybe no), but a conversation that warrants more depth. But right now, the Gophers are known more for the health issues of Kill than for anything they have accomplished on the field.
Are seizures preventing Kill from doing his job to the full capacity? Unfortunately, the evidence suggests yes - at least in the sense that he is missing large chunks of games, and perhaps practices. We don't have full details about whether or not he misses more time behind the scenes. Now, on the flip side of the argument, if Kill manages to push this program forward despite operating at less than full speed (due to seizures), does it become a non-issue?
If the ultimate goal is to get to a BCS Bowl, what happens if Kill suffers a seizure at the Rose Bowl? If the U of M's answer is, "We don't care. He's our guy," then so be it. If the answer is, "We don't want that to happen," then adjustments probably need to be made. Of course, this question is paradoxical because it suggests Kill will have built the Gophers into a Rose Bowl-caliber team -- thus validating the decision to grind through the health issues.
How do Kill's seizures affect recruiting? We'd be fools to think there aren't assistants at competing schools whispering about Kill's health issues to potential recruits. Mudslinging happens in recruiting, just like in politics. Hell, imagine if a state governor suffered epileptic seizures in public forums - say, in a televised debate. Even though the seizures might not be life-threatening, they could (and probably would) certainly affect voters' decisions. For what it's worth, U of M commit Gaelin Elmore tweeted Saturday, "Still love Coach Kill! Can't wait to play for him. Great coach. Even better person." Of course, it's unlikely any recruits would tweet anything negative.
Should Kill's role be adjusted? I think what I would propose is this (and I say "I think" because this is not a black-and-white issue): Have Kill coach from the booth. I'm certainly not a doctor, but common sense says the stress level would likely go down, as he wouldn't be stuck in the middle of all the hustle and bustle on the sideline. That seems like a fair proposition. If that doesn't work - and if the U of M still deems him the man they want running the program -- maybe there's a way he can oversee the football program while somebody else operates the game-day coaching duties (see: Joe Paterno).