Gophers mastering the art of dealing with adversity

2013-09-25T14:16:00Z 2013-09-28T22:20:47Z Gophers mastering the art of dealing with adversitySteve Batterson The Quad-City Times

IOWA CITY — Throughout the course of every game, football teaches players how to deal with adversity.

Four games into the season, unbeaten Minnesota is well on its way to mastering that ability as it prepares for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. home game with Iowa.

The Golden Gophers have won without their starting quarterback, their starting running back and even without their head coach.

Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is among an estimated 2.2 million Americans who according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are affected by epilepsy, the fourth-most common neurological disorder in the United States.

For the third time in his three seasons at Minnesota, Kill suffered an in-game seizure two weeks ago and was carted off the field on a stretcher at halftime of the Golden Gophers’ 29-12 win over Western Illinois.

Following a brief hospital stay, Kill returned to his own home about 2 hours after the game and fewer than 48 hours later, he was in his office preparing for last week’s 43-24 victory over San Jose State.

Kill, who has said he would walk away from his job if he did not believe he could fulfill its responsibilities, continues to wrestle with the conditions and effects of epilepsy. He said Tuesday the way his players and staff dealt with the situation illustrates the strength of the program he is building extends beyond the head coach.

“We spend a lot of time together as a staff and it’s something we’ve talked about a lot over the years, there is no one person more important than the other,’’ Kill said. “There are certainly guys on our staff who are very capable of doing the job I’m doing.’’

Questions about Kill’s ability to do the job were raised. At about the time he returned to the work, Minnesota director of athletics Norwood Teague was erasing any doubt as to whether Kill would remain in charge of the program.

“I support him 100 percent,’’ Teague said. “He’s an epileptic. He has seizures. We deal with it and we move on. If I felt like it was affecting things, it would be different. Jerry’s job is much more than what he does on Saturdays.’’

Kill is not without his supporters.

He acknowledged the cheers of fans chanting his name with a wave following last week’s win and the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota held a rally outside of TCF Bank Stadium before the game which saw supporters wearing T-shirts that read “Jerrysota’’ across the front.

Kill sees his job as a collaborative one, and he is surrounded by one of the most loyal staffs in football.

Of the nine assistants and one strength and conditioning coach in the program, seven have spent at least 13 years working on staffs headed by Kill. They have followed him from Southern Illinois to Northern Illinois and three years ago to Minnesota. Five members of the staff played for Kill-coached teams.

“We work together. It’s always been that way with me,’’ Kill said. “It’s not a dictatorship. We make decisions together. At the end of the day, I’ve got to make the final one, but I think continuity is good for everything.’’

That level of stability has created a level of trust within the Minnesota staff and a plan which kicks into motion in Kill’s absence.

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys takes over head-coaching responsibilities and remains in the press box. Players are quickly informed what is taking place and defensive backs assistant Jay Sawvel fills the role of the head coach on the sideline. Offensive plays are called by coordinator Matt Limegrover as they normally are during games.

“Coach Kill is a very tough person and he would want us to keep playing well,’’ Gophers defensive lineman Ra’Shede Hageman said. “There’s no panic. It’s something we’ve learned to deal with and we trust all of the coaches. We’re all in it together.’’

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sees the situation as similar to what Hawkeye coaches had to deal with as longtime defensive coordinator Norm Parker dealt with complications from diabetes which led to absences prior to his retirement following the 2011 season.

“There’s a bond that goes beyond just what you do. There has to be, because you spend so many hours together,’’ Ferentz said. “We probably spend more time together than we do with our wives and families so you go through the highs and lows together.’’

As was the case in Parker’s absence, Ferentz believes the stability in the Golden Gophers staff has been beneficial in this case.

“Every step they’ve made they’ve made together, and they’ve been well-coached,’’ Ferentz said. “You can see that in their football team right now.’’

Copyright 2015 The Quad-City Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Football schedule

2015 Hawkeyes (0-0)

Date Opponent Time/result
9/5/2015 Illinois State 11 a.m.
9/12/2015 at Iowa State 3:30 p.m.
9/19/2015 Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
9/26/2015 North Texas TBA
10/3/2015 at Wisconsin TBA
10/10/2015 Illinois 11 a.m.
10/17/2015 at Northwestern 11 a.m.
10/31/2015 Maryland TBA
11/7/2015 at Indiana TBA
11/14/2015 Minnesota 7 p.m.
11/21/2015 Purdue TBA
11/27/2015 at Nebraska TBA

Past schedules

2014 Hawkeyes (7-6)

Date Opponent Time/result
8/30/2014 Northern Iowa W 31-23
9/6/2014 Ball State W 17-13
9/13/2014 Iowa State L 20-17
9/20/2014 at Pittsburgh W 24-20
9/27/2014 at Purdue W 24-10
10/11/2014 Indiana W 45-29
10/18/2014 at Maryland L 38-31
11/1/2014 Northwestern W 48-7
11/8/2014 at Minnesota L 51-14
11/15/2014 at Illinois W 30-14
11/22/2014 Wisconsin  L 26-24
11/28/2014 Nebraska L 37-34
1/2/2015 Tennessee L 45-28


Trophy case: Empty

Hawkeyes bowl history

1957 Rose   Oregon State W 35-19
1959 Rose   California W 38-12
1982 Rose   Washington L 28-0
1982 Peach   Tennessee W 28-22
1983 Gator   Florida L 14-6
1984 Freedom   Texas W 55-17
1986 Rose   UCLA L 45-28
1986 Holiday   SDSU W 39-38
1987 Holiday   Wyoming W 20-19
1988 Peach   NC State L 28-23
1991 Rose   Washington L 46-34
1991 Holiday   BYU T 13-13
1993 Alamo   California L 37-3
1995 Sun   Washington W 38-18
1996 Alamo   Texas Tech W 27-0
1997 Sun   Arizona State L 17-7
2001 Alamo   Texas Tech W 19-16
2003 Orange   USC L 38-17
2004 Outback   Florida W 37-17
2005 Capital One LSU W 30-25
2006 Outback   Florida L 31-24
2006 Alamo   Texas L 26-24
2009 Outback   South Carolina W 31-10
2010 Orange   Georgia Tech W 24-14
2010 Insight   Missouri W 27-24
2011 Insight   Oklahoma L 31-14
2014 Outback   LSU L 21-14
2015 TaxSlayer   Tennessee L 45-28