Former NIU coach Kill calls it quits
By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
Jerry Kill is back in Illinois this week to spend the holidays with family after retiring from coaching for good because of the seizures caused by his epilepsy.
This could be a tough time for the 56-year-old Kill, coming to grips with no longer being able to do a job he loves. But the recent arrival of little Emery Hynes, Kill’s first grandchild, means there is still plenty to celebrate.
“I’m biased, but I think she’s the cutest baby in the world,” Kill said Thursday in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
After one season as offensive coordinator at Rutgers, Kill made his retirement official earlier this week. Even though it did not work out, he is glad he gave coaching another try.
“I don’t want to go out saying I wish I would have coached again,” Kill said.
The former Minnesota and Northern Illinois head coach returned to the sideline after one season away. Seizures forced him to resign from Minnesota in the middle of the 2015 season. He took time to recover and adjust his lifestyle. He began sleeping more, exercising regularly and eating better.
Kill spent the 2016 season in an administrative job at Kansas State and was feeling good. He had not had a seizure in more than a year when he joined coach Chris Ash’s staff at Rutgers. Kill figured not having the responsibilities of a head coach would allow him to maintain a healthy routine.
He and wife Rebecca knew it would be a challenge. Jerry Kill did, indeed, revert back to some bad habits. He said he was sleeping about four hours a night. In the second game of this season against Eastern Michigan, players collided with Kill on the sideline and he hit his head on the ground. He had a seizure and was hospitalized. More followed. He struggled with short-term memory loss. About midway through the season, Kill said, he met with Ash and athletic director Pat Hobbs to talk.
“They gave me advice,” Kill said. And then he decided to do it his way and coach out the season. “I was bull-headed.”
Kill credited the other offensive coaches — running back coach Lester Urb, receivers coach Jafar Williams and offensive line coach AJ Blazek — and Dr. Yvette Rooks, the chief medical officer for Rutgers athletics, with helping him get through the season.
Rebecca Kill drove Jerry to and from games at Illinois (13 hours one way), Michigan State and Penn State because air travel was problematic for him.
Rutgers finished 4-8, including 3-5 in the Big Ten after going winless in conference in 2016, Ash’s first season in Piscataway, New Jersey. The offense struggled again, churning through three quarterbacks, including a transfer and a freshman.
“His contributions run way deeper than what a scoreboard says,” Ash said of Kill earlier this week. “And I know we all would like to play better offense and score more points. I get that, but Jerry’s contributions go way, way deeper than that. Just an outstanding individual. His wife, Rebecca, is just an awesome football wife. She’s great with people, helped in the recruiting process. And just can’t thank them enough.”
After the season, with multiple doctors telling Jerry Kill to walk away from coaching, plus more pressure from Rebecca and his daughters, Tasha Hynes and Krystal Kill, than ever before, he decided to finally heed the advice.
“It was a situation that was hard, but you only have so much life,” Kill said.
Kill has two years left on his contract with Rutgers. He said there have been discussions with Ash about trying to find a non-coaching role for him with the Scarlet Knights. He said other schools have already reached out about possible jobs. He is not done working.
“I’ll spend some time on the beach,” Kill said. “I’ve got to have insurance, which is critical in my situation.”
Kill began his coaching career in 1985 as an assistant with Division II Pittsburg State in Kansas. As a college head coach with five schools, he is 152-99.
“I have no regrets,” Kill said. “How many people can say they coached football in high school, coached all levels except in the NFL and finished their career at the place where they played the first college football game?”