(Author’s Note: This post originally appeared at The Daily Gopher.)
On December 5th, 2010, I was having dinner with some visiting relatives, people I generally see once or twice a year to exchange mostly pleasant, if vague life updates and discus goings-on with other, more distant family members. It was the type of assembly that requires about two hours of my present and attentive self and yet, I found myself buried in a relatively new—though now way too familiar—brick of technology in my palm. It was worth being rude and distracted and probably ridiculed because Twitter was gradually disseminating news I had been anticipating for weeks: the University of Minnesota football program had hired a new coach.
My familiarity with Jerry Kill was scant when he was formally announced the next day. As being a diehard Gopher fan is at times an exercise in pure delusion, I fell into the camp of thinking we could land some big-name, square-jawed upstart (although this was based on approximately nothing) and was not exactly brimming with excitement. But as I peeled back the thinly neurotic layers of disappointment and looked at the win columns and box scores of our newly minted leader from Cheney, Kansas, a quiet swell of optimism was growing. Jerry Kill, it seemed, was an actual football coach.
On September 25th, 2010, I was feeling that slow, dull headache you get when you go from drinking constantly for several hours to not at all for several more. To add insult to self-sustained injury, I was watching a floundering Tim Brewster lose to a school from the MAC called Northern Illinois University. I vividly remember drinking a coffee in a vain effort at sobering up and witnessing NIU gash our defense for endless, sizable chunks of yardage. The end was clearly near for Tim Brewster and we all probably knew it two weeks prior when he lost to the University of South Dakota. (I should note my memories of that game are less lucid because, to be blunt, that hangover headache didn’t arrive until the next day.)
This point of reference was what would most saliently come to mind when I considered what Jerry Kill could accomplish as the plodding days of the off-season shrank. The 2011 season, and beyond, held at least a modicum of hope that seemed previously foreign in my fandom. I had been at the U during the back-end of Mason’s tenure and the beginning of Brewster’s (and what halcyon days they were), so I was well-accustomed to both immeasurably painful losses and laughably embarrassing ones. Jerry Kill’s team that showed up to TCF in 2010 made me think Minnesota had finally opened up the right door after 50 years of trying to climb through a broken window.
On November 8th, 2014, I was sitting in my apartment in downtown Los Angeles watching Minnesota take on Iowa at TCF Bank Stadium. I was approaching the game with more of a dutiful sense of obligation than any kind of particular excitement. Prior to the previous week’s bye, we had lost on the road to a bad Illinois team and, as I can be the exact type of knee-jerk, hot take-espousing fan I mostly loathe, I had sent out my “season’s over” texts and calmly abandoned the season.
What unfolded over the next several hours was an exacted dismantling of an Iowa team that had just disposed of Northwestern by a score of 48-7. Minnesota would go on to score 51 points that day and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t my best day as a Gopher fan in at least ten years. There was a palpable sense that the demons of past Floyd match-ups that had crawled over from the Metrodome were finally being exorcised. Jerry was divorcing us from a large monkey that entrenched itself on our collective back: the need to beat the absolute shit out of Iowa.
Today is October 28th, 2015, and earlier I woke up blissfully ignorant of the seismically sad announcement made by Coach Kill. As is the norm for living on the west coast, much of the days more notable events have occurred before I’ve even poured my coffee. When I eventually read my texts from various friends, and culled the tweets and links that conveyed the how’s and why’s of Jerry Kill’s retirement, I couldn’t shake a feeling of disbelief. This can’t be, were the words that echoed around my skull for my more endless than usual commute to work.
My thoughts go out to Coach Kill and his family. I know this was not an easy decision and cannot fathom the difficulty of the hours leading up to it. What I will remember most about Jerry is that he made me believe that better days were ahead and that brick-by-brick, we would get there. Well, Jerry, were I there to say it to you today, I would say this: we’re already there. Thanks, Coach.