Upset with Claeys firing, former Gophers coach Kill says he won't step foot on campus again

MINNEAPOLIS--Former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, a longtime friend and colleague of his successor Tracy Claeys, said he took offense to athletics director Mark Coyle's comments regarding Claeys' firing on Tuesday.

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Jerry Kill is shown during a Nov. 29, 2014 game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. Jeff Hanisch / USA TODAY Sports.

MINNEAPOLIS-Former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, a longtime friend and colleague of his successor Tracy Claeys, said he took offense to athletics director Mark Coyle's comments regarding Claeys' firing on Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging 25-minute interview with 1500 KSTP-AM on Wednesday, Kill blasted Coyle's handling of the situation, and said that the university has "real sensitive issues that are deeper than just football," and that he "won't be stepping foot" back on campus.

Claeys and several assistant coaches were fired after a season marred by the investigation into an alleged sexual assault in September.

Kill seemed to especially take offense to the portion of Coyle's news conference Tuesday when the athletics director said he will seek a head coach who will graduate student-athletes "with class and integrity."

"I would say that the program has been run in a first-class manner," said Kill, the Gophers' head coach from 2011 to 2015. "I don't think there's anybody in the country that would argue that, anybody who knows me or knows the assistant coaches. I believe when you make a statement like that, you need to go back. Mark wasn't there when it started. ... And look how far it's come.


"It didn't come by him. He hasn't been there. It came by a lot of people. They're not building that new facility because of him. There's been a lot of work that's gone into that by a lot of people. So to call people out like that, I think you've got to know them. I think the (football) guys said he might've come to one practice. The players don't know the guy, the coaches don't know the guy. Yet he'd call people out like that. I don't think that's professional."

Among other areas, Kill criticized the university for not having an attorney in the athletics department and accused them of speaking to other coaches about a possible opening while Claeys was still under contract.

"There's been a lot of talking going on," Kill said in the radio interview. "I'm not going to go any further than that. I'm just telling you that you don't fire a coach unless you've got somebody that's ready to go. I've been in the business too long and I know too many people. Everyone that has come up, I know."

One of the names that has come up as an option to replace Claeys is Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, who spent two years as an assistant coach under Kill at Northern Illinois. Kill declined to comment on Fleck on Wednesday.

"I'm not going to get into any of that about who's coaching, because I think there are some things that (the university has) done wrong that shouldn't have been done," Kill said. "So I'm not going to go there."

Kill resigned as Minnesota's head coach in the middle of the 2015 season, citing health issues tied to his epilepsy. Kill never worked under Coyle, who was hired last spring after previous AD stints at Syracuse and Boise State.

When Kill resigned, Claeys took over on an interim basis before landing the job on a full-time basis.

"Let me tell you something, that program right now is better - a lot better - than when I came in," Kill said. "There's no question about that. It's a lot better. ... Beyond what you think of the administration or what you think of something else, those coaches care about the kids. That's why they coach. Every one of them wants the program to continue to progress and get better. Nobody wants to let it go down the tube. But we put a lot of years into that thing. It wore my ass out."


Kill also took issue with the timing of Claeys' firing.

Coyle said he waited a week after the team's Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl win before firing Claeys to ensure he didn't make a decision "based on emotion."

But Kill said the wait was unfair to coaches. In addition to Claeys, 13 assistant coaches and staff members were fired.

"If they were honest this whole time and they told Tracy all this time that is where you stand and you're going to lose your job if you do that, and all that kind of stuff, then what do you say?" Kill said. "But if they hadn't told him all that and they never communicated all that to him, then let the guy sit there for a week and let his guts turn inside out - how would you like that to be you or your son?

"I imagine winning the bowl game probably made it tougher for them. But I think their decision was probably made long before that. That's an educated guess."

Kill said Claeys wasn't without fault for his handling of the sexual assault investigation, which led to the suspension of 10 players and a players boycott. Soon after the start of the boycott, Claeys tweeted support for his players, putting himself at odds with Coyle and school President Eric Kaler.

But Kill said Claeys' firing put the blame on the head coach when there was plenty of fault to go around.

"A lot of college football programs have situations like that," Kill said. "Could it have been handled differently? I'm sure it could have. All three parties (coaches, players and administration) could've handled it better. I don't think that one person is (at fault). When you have a problem, everybody's got to work together. ... But we're throwing one guy under the bus. I don't think that's right. That's my opinion. Of course, I'm partial. But I think there's a lot more into it."


Kill recently took the job as offensive coordinator at Rutgers, another Big Ten school. While he said he would return to Minnesota, he said he won't be returning to Dinkytown.

"I won't be stepping foot back to the stadium and I won't be stepping back at the university," Kill said. "My wife and I, we will not. We gave our best to the state of Minnesota and we'll always come to Minnesota. My daughter is there and we love Minnesota, and I'll go to every (pro) baseball game and pro football game and anything else. But I will not ever be in that stadium or that complex. They're building a new complex and we had a lot to do with that. But I won't ever see it."

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