December 05, 2010
The last time Minnesota hired a head coach, it aimed for a young, energetic up-and-comer who could liven up recruiting over a veteran hand – Tim Brewster, in fact, had never been so much as a coordinator at any level and arrived in Minneapolis straight from coaching the Denver Broncos' tight ends. That approach ended … badly, to say the least.
This time, the Gophers are going for proof over potential: Minnesota, meet Mr. Kill. Jerry Kill, that is, who brings 17 years of head coaching experience from the increasingly intense fires of Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, Southern Illinois and, for the last three years, Northern Illinois, where the Huskies just finished the first undefeated MAC season in school history and were ranked in the top 25 at 10-2 before Friday night's wild upset at the hands of Miami (Ohio) in the MAC Championship Game.
He's not exactly the sexy name Minnesota was allegedly targeting: Literally, his name is "Kill." But only one of his 16 teams as a head coach (Southern Illinois in 2005) has failed to at least match the record of the team before it, and even the '05 Salukis won a share of the Gateway Conference championship. He's only turned in four losing seasons in that span, and his career record (127-73) is more than 50 games over .500. Before he arrived at NIU in 2008, Kill's teams at Southern Illinois went on a streak of five straight I-AA/FCS playoff appearances, just two years removed from finishing 1-10 in his first season.
More importantly, Kill's addition brings some solid Midwestern ruddiness and a fearsome mustache factor to rival Purdue's Danny Hope for the best lip duster in the Big Ten, at least until Ron Zook decides to bring back the fu manchu. He's also a survivor of kidney cancer.
Kill's mandate for success in Minneapolis, though, isn't so clear-cut. Brewster certainly never came close to meeting the mark, with a pair of Insight Bowl losses bookended by one-win disasters in 2007 and an abbreviated 2010. But his predecessor, Glen Mason, was fired in 2006 despite taking the Gophers to six bowl games and two top-20 finishes in seven years, easily the best run at Minnesota since the early sixties. If Kill gets the ship back in that rut, they'll be ecstatic – for a while. If they're looking for more than a steady diet of 6-6 or 7-5 marks with the occasional 9-3 Outback Bowl run mixed in, though, it's going to get ugly again eventually.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.