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Oregon State Should Pursue Jerry Kill

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October 12, 2017

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Gary Andersen made a surprise announcement this week, resigning as Oregon State’s head football coach. OSU decision makers should reach out to former Gophers coach Jerry Kill about their unexpected opening.

The Andersen era was a disaster, with the Beavers going 7-23 the last three-plus years. At the end, Andersen lost faith in his assistants and was so frustrated with his situation he resigned.

Kill, now back in coaching as offensive coordinator at Rutgers, is 56 and still young enough to take on a head coaching job again. The shadow over Kill, of course, is his history with epilepsy and seizures. When his meds, diet, exercise and sleep are properly balanced he does well, but keeping all that just right is difficult when coaching with all of the profession’s demands and nonstop hours.

Jerry Kill

Kill had a minor seizure a few weeks ago but was soon coaching again at Rutgers where the Scarlet Knights are struggling to rebuild and have a 1-4 overall record and are 0-2 in Big Ten games. Head coach Chris Ash saw all the attributes of Kill and hired him last December. The man who rebuilt Gophers football was working in athletics administration at Kansas State when the opportunity at Rutgers emerged.

Jim Carter doubts most athletic directors have the “courage” to consider Kill for a head job. The former Gophers fullback from the late 1960s is close with Kill and his wife Rebecca. In an interview with Sports Headliners yesterday, Carter said leaders at Oregon State and Kill would all have to be in agreement this was a risk worth taking.

“They’re going to have to be convinced that his health situation is in a good place. So that will be an issue on both sides,” Carter said.

Does Kill want to run a football program one more time? “He’s never said to me he wants to be a head coach again, but it’s my personal belief that if he could get his health straightened out, that he would want to be a head coach again,” Carter said.

Kill loves coaching and being around young men. In a poll a few years ago fellow coaches ranked him near the top of those they would want their sons to play for. He missed the coaching experience after resigning from Minnesota in October of 2015 and then trying to figure out what to do about his health and future career path.

Not long after leaving the Gophers Kill wrote a book about football and life experiences. Tributes on the book jacket include these words from Bart Scott who has been a TV analyst and played for Kill at Southern Illinois: “I learned about second chances from Jerry Kill because he gave me one. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He coached you as hard as anyone could coach, but he loved you even more. …When he retired from coaching, the game lost a superstar.”

It was no surprise to those close to Kill that he accepted the opportunity at Rutgers. But Kill’s future might be more secure as a head coach than at Rutgers where he doesn’t control the whole program and the Scarlet Knights are historically among the have-nots of college football.

Oregon State fits that label, too, but at least in Corvallis Kill could control his destiny. He has a history of rebuilding programs including at Minnesota and Southern Illinois. He has won numerous national, Big Ten and regional coach of the year awards during a head coaching career dating back to 1994. There’s no question he could put together a top staff of assistants with names like Tracy Claeys and Jay Sawvel—assistants who excelled at Minnesota—quickly coming to mind.

“I don’t know what happened there (at Oregon State with Andersen), but it couldn’t be as bad as Minnesota was when he (Kill) came here,” Carter said. “He rebuilt that thing after (Tim) Brewster had us lower than low.”

Oregon State is at the bottom of the pecking order in Pac-12 football. Kill hasn’t recruited extensively on the west coast but he could hire assistants with connections. Corvallis is considered one of the Pac-12’s most attractive college towns. It’s not a big city and the beautiful area could be a good fit for Kill who has roots in rural Kansas.

Kill could rebuild the program with an emphasis on defense, team unity, academics and accountability. After a big OSU win he might even show off his trademark dance moves with celebrating players in the locker room. Yes, Kill has a love affair with college football and the game is better when he is part of it.

Oregon State paid Andersen about $2.5 million annually. Kill would probably take less, and be more interested in spreading limited athletic department dollars toward assistant coaches. Taking care of assistants was a priority at Minnesota.

There is always risk in hiring any head coach. No matter past reputation, achievements and health, those hiring a new leader can’t know for sure what future results will be. It would take guts for Oregon State to reach out to Kill while knowing that there could be health issues if he came to Corvallis. But Kill boosters will argue the rewards are worth the risk.

Kill, of course, would have to be comfortable enough with his health to consider the job. That’s a big if, but there aren’t that many Power Five head football jobs, and at age 56 potential opportunities will be fewer in the years ahead.

Kill is on record that he doesn’t want to be a head coach again but that doesn’t mean Oregon State shouldn’t make a call. The Beavers aren’t going to find many coaches with Kill’s resume interested in their job —perhaps none. Long distance calls are inexpensive. The Beavers should invest a dime and make a call. Ask.

If all sides wanted to put a deal together, Carter would applaud. “I think it would be great if Oregon State hired him,” Carter said.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers.

Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section.

A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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