Wetmore: Norwood Teague mishandled Kill seizure from a PR standpoint
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Gophers head football coach Jerry Kill had another seizure at the end of the first half of Saturday's game.
The Gophers had struggled on the field in the first half but immediately the coach's health became the bigger story. After the game the University's athletics department mishandled the situation and pushed the game's events even further into the background.
"Coach Kill's condition has been documented by the media in town and nationally. Fans are aware that he has epilepsy and that situations like this can happen," senior associate AD Chris Werle said after Kill's third in-game seizure while with Minnesota. "With that being said, we don't feel the need to take any further questions on the matter."
In other words, 'This has happened before, there's no new information so we're not going to talk about it.'
And that's true to an extent. What more can they say that hasn't been addressed?
But considering the frequency of his gameday seizures, dodging the discussion is the wrong approach. Kill's condition has evolved as a cause for legitimate concern, as fair questions resurface about his ability to stay on the field and perform his job.
This is a private health matter, of course. But Kill is also a very public figure. At a time when the head football coach at a major university is more recognizable than the president of that university, questions about a coach's ability to fulfill the job duties are fair.
It wasn't Kill's first public seizure, and to that end, it's fair that the department and team took a 'no-big-deal' approach. It wasn't as sobering as the first time Kill went down during the climactic moments of a game in 2011. Then, much of the mystery surrounding Kill's epilepsy remained. Now, while epilepsy is still a frustrating personal medical riddle, we're slightly more informed as a public and as media.
Even as an objective observer of the events of the game, you're concerned for Kill.
And yet, you'd like to see better practices in public relations following this latest event.
Athletics Director Norwood Teague did not speak after the game. He will speak later this week, according to the department. In a 24-hour news cycle, however, not addressing a public incident creates more room for speculation and unanswered questions.
Instead, Werle read a prepared statement and then refused to take questions.
Acting head coach Tracy Claeys then had to answer the questions on Kill. (The sense from listening to Claeys is that the players and the rest of Kill's staff is well-equipped to handle the situation. They're mindful of the health of their boss, but they're accustomed to the uncertainty.) Claeys, who has worked with Kill since 1995, addressed the situation admirably but that shouldn't be his burden.
Teague's handling of Kill's latest episode is untenable; fans and the media deserve better than that.
When Claeys concluded, several student-athletes had to answer questions about the coach. That's strike three.
The problem with having Claeys and student-athletes field questions is they're in no position to answer the largest elephant in the room: can Jerry Kill coach this team if his recurring seizures prevent him from being on the field during games?
They work for Kill. The only person who can answer that line of questioning is Kill's boss, Teague. If Teague believes Kill can continue to do the job, a post-game press conference offered the perfect opportunity to let everyone know.
A canned statement and a refusal to field questions, no matter the reason, is a weak attempt to control the message. It's irresponsible.
Yes, we've been through this before and many questions have been addressed. But each seizure is not simply an iteration of a previous episode; it's more complex than that.
Kill has also addressed the doubts that he's healthy enough for the job. In an in-depth piece by the Star Tribune's Joe Christensen, Kill was quoted as saying: "You can't be the head football coach and miss half of a game. I mean, I'm not stupid, I realize that."
Kill has used his public forum to address his own toughness in facing this and other personal adversity. He's also used it to speak up more about his condition and inform a large contingent of people who might otherwise be misinformed. Both of those are commendable, but they can't overshadow the scrutiny the program faces with unanswered questions about the health of its head football coach.
It's the media's job to ask those questions.
It's Teague's job to answer them.