Jerry Kill’s game day speaking engagement dunked after criticism
Former Gophers coach was invited to speak before his New Mexico State team plays Minnesota
The idea of Jerry Kill speaking to a Twin Cities group on the morning of the Minnesota Gophers football team’s season opener has been dunked on.
Shortly after it became known that leaders of Twin Cities Dunkers had invited Kill to be its speaker on Sept. 1 — the day his new team, New Mexico State, plays his old one at Huntington Bank Stadium — the engagement was canceled.
“Some people thought it was maybe inappropriate or causing discomfort, one way or the other. That was never the intent,” said Dave Mona, a member of the Dunkers group that comprises nearly 350 business leaders and regularly invites sports newsmakers for breakfast chats.
Mona, a retired public relations executive, had the idea of inviting the ex-Gophers coach and while former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi made the call to Kill roughly three weeks ago. His appearance hadn’t yet been made official.
On Monday, KFXN-FM producer and Gophers sideline reporter Justin Gaard tweeted news of Kill’s invite, putting it in the “only in Minnesota” category. The replies weren’t Minnesota nice.
On Tuesday, Dunkers spiked the plan.
“We decided, let’s pull the plug on it.” Mona said. “(Kill) was fine with it. He wanted to say hello to people that morning and see them again, maybe one last time.”
But, Mona added, “No harm, no foul.”
Before the speech was given the kibosh, former Minnesota men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino, now at New Mexico, tweeted: “So you’re saying my dream of being invited back to speak to the Twin Cities Dunkers isn’t dead??”
When first contacted, Kill expressed doubts to the idea of him speaking to Gophers fans. The response was that Kill had “a lot of friends” in Minnesota.
Mona, a former reporter and host on WCCO-AM, said he would have emceed the event and planned to talk about Kill’s return to head coaching at New Mexico State — a challenging place to win as an FBS independent in small Las Cruces — as well as the new challenges in college football, primarily name, image and likeness (NIL) and the NCAA transfer portal.
Mona said he did not plan to ask about Kill’s critical comments of current Gophers coach P.J. Fleck. “I was hoping we could keep it in other things,” he said.
But it was Kill’s comments about Fleck that drove backlash.
Fleck coached under Kill at Northern Illinois in 2008-09. In a radio interview in 2019, Kill said Fleck had “changed a lot” and “I just think sometimes ego gets carried away.” Kill even mentioned Fleck’s first wife in the criticisms.
Kill also said he “took it personal” that Fleck said he had to change the culture of the U program when he was hired in 2017. Kill stepped down due to health reasons midway through the 2015 season and his longtime assistant, Tracy Claeys, was promoted. After the 2016 season, Claeys was fired, in part, due to his response to a group of players being implicated in a sexual assault.
Four of those players were expelled after a university investigation.
After Kill’s comments in 2019, Fleck responded on KTLK-AM: “I’ve got a lot of respect for Jerry Kill; I always will. … I’m not sure where that came from.”
Fleck spoke for a sixth time at Dunkers in June. Other recent speakers include Twins front-office leaders Derek Falvey and Thad Levine in April, and Vikings general manager Kwesi Adolfo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell in May. MLS Commissioner Don Garber met with Dunkers ahead of the MLS All-Star Game in St. Paul on Wednesday.
The Gophers are a whopping 37.5-point betting favorite against New Mexico State. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Sept. 1.
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