With Kill at Mayo, Gophers focus on Michigan
By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's sure not like Jerry Kill to miss a game.
Minnesota's relentless coach has left the team so doctors can try to regulate his medication and determine how to keep his recurring seizures under better control.
The Gophers did their best Tuesday to downplay any anxiety, distraction or uncertainty that might be in the air. Kill's assistants have seen him overcome kidney cancer and recover from seizures for years, and he's never missed a game.
"I expect him to be there," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said, looking ahead to Saturday's trip to 19th-ranked Michigan. "We've done this every time."
Claeys said the staff has made recruits aware of the situation and that Kill has called them himself to keep them informed and assure them he is capable of coaching.
Kill went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., after another seizure at his home Sunday morning. The university has deferred updates on Kill to the clinic. Mayo spokesman Karl Oestreich said there wouldn't be any new information for a few days while Kill is evaluated at the family's request.
The current players found out before practice Sunday about Kill's leave of absence.
"Your heart kind of drops, but when you come back here and you start watching film you realize what he wants us to do is get better," cornerback Brock Vereen said.
Center Ryan Wynn said the players haven't been "panicking" or had any sense this is a long-term concern, however.
"We know he's not in any grave danger with his health. We just want him to get his seizure issue under control, and right now we're actually happy he's there because we want him to get this figured out," Wynn said. "Everything stays the same. The only thing you lose is the fiery presence of coach Kill during practice, which is always nice to have, but in terms of running stuff the assistant coaches do a great job."
Claeys visited with Kill's wife and family on Tuesday and said they "feel very comfortable with what's going on" but declined to delve into specifics about his health or status.
"I don't know a time line, as nobody does. Don't want to put one on it, but they're very pleased with the way things are going in the situation and the things they're in," Claeys said.
There's a plan in place, though, in case Kill must take a break longer than the five days he missed earlier this month following the seizure he had at the end of a game. Claeys acknowledged the necessity to prepare as if the boss won't be there.
Claeys is the acting head coach in Kill's absence, but said he'd continue to sit in the coaches' box next to offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover during the game even if Kill doesn't come to Michigan. They don't want to disrupt the normal rhythm of their in-game strategizing and communication, so another assistant on the sideline would be the point person for conferring with referees if necessary.
If Kill makes it, don't expect him to sit idly by, either.
"If he's there, he's coaching," Claeys said.
Kill's staff has been together for years, at Northern Illinois before this and Southern Illinois prior to that, so they are confident in running the team even if they're hiding any anxiety about the coach's condition.
"We're a tight family. We all get along and don't like the situation. But we understand it, and we'll do our job. I am not worried about kids being prepared and playing well. We'll make sure we get that done," Claeys said.
One of the biggest issues left in Limegrover's hands is the quarterback situation.
MarQueis Gray is still the starter this week, but the Gophers have decided to continue to use freshman Max Shortell in spurts to take advantage of his throwing arm. Gray has been an erratic passer, a significant problem that has minimized some of his exceptional speed and strength as a runner.
So the plan, as unusual as it might be, is to "go with the hot hands" if one of them is on a roll and steer Gray toward more of the plays geared around or conducive to a quarterback scramble, rush or sneak and tap Shortell for more of the standard passing situations.
"We understand that is kind of the world we're living in right now," Limegrover said. "One of those guys isn't doing everything that you want every time, and you do have two pieces that do things -- both guys do things pretty well."
Limegrover said he likes the way Gray is learning and that the Gophers still believe he can be a productive, consistent starter.
"That will continue on until we feel like Max gets to a point where he does a significant number of things better than MarQueis. But MarQueis is a special kid. There are things he does that we really love about him," Limegrover said.