Jerry Kill has battled epilepsy for years, and in the end, it was a battle he could no longer continue fighting while doing what he so dearly loved to do.
A tearful, somber Kill announced his retirement Wednesday morning as the head football coach at the University of Minnesota, effective immediately. Tracy Claeys, Minnesota’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator, will serve as interim head coach.
Kill signed a contract extension in August that raised his annual salary to $2.5 million. Kill’s contract contains details in case he was unable to coach for an extended period of time. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The contract would terminate automatically if he’s unable to coach for 70 consecutive days during the season, although Kill would remain a university employee and could seek disability benefits. The contract also says, “During the term of this agreement, the University and Coach may mutually agree to transition Coach … to an agreed upon position with the University,” paying $200,000 per year.
Kill, who in July said he had not had a seizure in a year and a half, admitted Wednesday that he recently had two seizures. He was at practice Tuesday and informed his coaches and players of his decision early Wednesday morning.
“Last night, when I walked off the practice field,” Kill said, “I feel like a part of me died.”
Kill, 54, had a seizure on the sideline on Sept. 14, 2013, at halftime against Western Illinois, but he returned to the sidelines the next week. Another seizure kept Kill from attending the game at Michigan on Oct. 5, 2013. He took a two-week leave to treat his epilepsy.
“I’ve given every ounce that I have for 32 years to the game of football and the kids I’ve been able to coach,” Kill told reporters at a press conference streamed online. “I never stole from anybody. I’m not going to steal now. I know somebody will ask, ‘Coach, what are you going to do?’ I don’t know. I ain’t done anything else. That’s the scary part.”
Kill was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005, the same year he overcame kidney cancer. Kill’s doctor recently told him it was in his best interest for him and his family that he “move on” with his life.
“This is the toughest thing that I’ve ever done in my life,” Kill said. “The toughest thing since I lost my dad.”
Kill was 29-29 at Minnesota since he took over as head coach before the 2011 season. He compiled a career coaching record of 156-102 at Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State, Emporia (Kan.) State, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois.
The Gophers are 4-3 this season with a 1-2 mark in the Big Ten Conference. Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season as the Gophers went 8-5 (5-3 in the Big Ten) and played in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, the program’s first New Year’s Day bowl since 1962.
With Claeys as acting head coach while Kill has been away, Minnesota has gone 4-3. But during that time, Kill said he would come to the office 10 to 12 hours a day. He also said he didn’t want to coach from the press box or have people worry if he was going to “drop on the field.”
“I know Tracy will do a good job, which he’s proven,” Kill said. “We’ve got a great recruiting class going on. I know we’ve got great stability here, so I think we’ll be OK there.
“I still want to coach. I was at practice yesterday after having two seizures. I probably wasn’t supposed to go there, either. But I didn’t give up. I made my decision but I said, ‘Maybe not. Let me go out here and give her one last shot.’ But walking off the field, I think Tracy and our staff can do a better job than I can, because the kids don’t need to see some guy coming out there … they know when I’m not myself. I said from the day that I came in that I would not steal from the university, and I have not. I don’t have any more energy. None. I’ve left it all right here in the great state of Minnesota, and I have no regrets.”
In May, Jerry and Rebecca Kill started a Chasing Dreams fund through the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota to support seizure-free initiatives in schools, the Star Tribune reported.