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Powers: It’s doubtful Kill will leave but new practice facilities needed

By Tom Powers St. Paul PIoneer Press Jerry Kill does not strike me as the type of fellow who gets everybody on board and then bails out of the cockpit. So when Kill, named Tuesday the Big Ten Coach of the Year, says that he and his wife Rebecca w...

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Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill works the sidelines during the second quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. USA TODAY Sports

By Tom Powers

St. Paul PIoneer Press

Jerry Kill does not strike me as the type of fellow who gets everybody on board and then bails out of the cockpit.
So when Kill, named Tuesday the Big Ten Coach of the Year, says that he and his wife Rebecca want to be here for the long term he should be taken at his word. There won’t be any Lou Holtz-like abandonment. Kill will not disappear in a puff of smoke.
The University of Minnesota has done right by him, supporting him through trying personal times. And he’s done right by the university, getting the football program up and running.
Now, that’s not to say that Kill isn’t savvy in the ways of the world. He may come across as a guy who just drove up on a tractor, but he’s been around the coaching business for a long time. That’s why he’s been hammering away at the need for new and upgraded facilities. You might even say he’s been nagging everybody about this.
With the football team in the spotlight, Kill has used his bully pulpit to expound on the competitive disadvantages of outdated practice facilities, etc. Even though he has publicly remained steadfast in his loyalty to Minnesota, he can’t help but benefit from the fact that there are openings at prestigious, well-equipped schools such as Nebraska and Michigan.
People connect the dots. In Minnesota, sometimes people connect dots that aren’t even there. There is a natural paranoia about such things. Basically, it comes down to this: He loves you, you love him, and improved facilities would really cement that relationship.
So alumni better start coughing up. In fact, I thought we were going to get some sort of announcement about a large donation on Tuesday. It is rumored that a couple of Gopher backers have come up with a $15 million contribution. That’s about half the cost of a practice facility or, as they say in the endowment business, a good start.
Instead, a hike in ticket prices was announced. At least, I think it was. I heard the audio and saw some of the literature that was handed out. No one ever actually declared that the price of football tickets was going up. Instead, it was explained that more people would be required to make “mandatory donations” when paying for a seat at TCF.
OK, ticket prices go up as the cost of doing business goes up. Most people understand that. Just say it. This gobbledygook about increasing mandatory donations - an oxymoron? - sets a very bad example for the student-athletes.
What if a student-athlete were interviewing for a job and was asked for his salary requirements? And the young man responded that he needed $50,000 in compulsory donations with a chance of increased obligatory donations down the road.
The CEO would kick him in the bum after pointing him toward the door. Always communicate clearly.
Anyway, it is unlikely the administration would have attempted to enact this price increase if the program still were bleeding in a ditch by the side of the road. Now there is a sense that the really good times are just around the corner.
Yet life wasn’t always this grand. Just last season, after an 0-2 start in the Big Ten, Kill’s epilepsy had become such a problem for him that he needed to take a leave of absence. Needless to say, the program was up in the air. Everything was unsettled and there was speculation that the Gophers might have to make a change.
But all the important figures, from President Eric Kaler on down, were unwavering in standing behind Kill. He was their guy. And by season’s end Kill had rewarded their faith by leading the team to a solid finish.
When it was all over, Kill received an additional year on his contract, which now runs through 2018, and a big raise. This season the Gophers came within one game of playing for the Big Ten title and Kill became conference Coach of the Year. Of course his name is going to be tossed around in relation to other job openings.
Don’t sweat it. Kill strikes me as an honorable guy and he and the university owe each other an awful lot. There still is work to be done, too. Kill is the first to say the program isn’t yet where it needs to be.
I’d tell people to stop fretting, but it never does any good. However, if it makes anyone feel better, a robust check earmarked toward capital improvements would gladly be accepted.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service

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