Minnesota fights on despite Kill's absence

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It’s the kind of routine the Gophers never wanted to establish.

But after Minnesota coach Jerry Kill missed the Gophers’ 42-13 loss to Michigan on Saturday due to a seizure, it seems as though Minnesota has found a way to strike a new normal without Kill on the sideline.

“We went through so much over these last two seasons. … Thanks to our coaching staff being able to adapt to any kind of scenario," Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. "I don’t think a lot of things phase us anymore as far as situations like that."

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys served as the Gophers’ head coach on Saturday, coaching from the press box.

This was the fifth time Kill has missed game time, and the second game-day seizure this season. However, it is the first time that he had missed an entire game due to a seizure.

While the team has adjusted in the past to mid-game changes, this was the first time the Gophers went in to a game knowing that their coach wouldn’t be there at all. But according to Claeys and players, that didn’t affect the team.

“We know Coach’s situation,” tight end Maxx Williams said. “We know we have to be ready. All the coaches are prepared. We felt like we were really ready for this game, and I don’t think this changed anything. We know Coach goes through some things and we all know about it so it doesn’t really affect us. We just go on a business trip here and try to win the game.”

Claeys thought that the team and coaches responded as well as they could. Kill was diagnosed with epilepsy more than a decade ago and seven of his assistant coaches have been around him through that entire time.

“We’ve been through a lot of battles together,” Claeys said.

Kill didn’t make the trip with the team Friday night and was expected to fly in Saturday morning, but when he suffered a seizure Saturday morning, he chose to stay in Minnesota.

Claeys found out shortly after Kill made his decision and informed the Gophers during their team walk-through at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

“We’re all trained very well in what our job is and what our responsibilities are, and I thought we did a good job handling the kids,” Claeys said. “I thought the kids had a great attitude, fought hard. We miss him as a friend not being here. But as far as the way the game operates or anything like that, we’re all pretty used to it and the kids are too.”

Rebecca Kill, Jerry’s wife, did reach out to Claeys, offering support as Minnesota began its game-day preparations.

“She loves the game and she’s as much a part of the team as anybody,” Claeys said. “She just texted me and said that she and Jerry missed being here and missed being around us, and for the kids to compete hard and do their best and bring the jug back to Minnesota.”

But Claeys said he didn’t speak with Jerry or Rebecca on the phone before the game as Jerry would’ve felt as though that wasn’t advantageous to the Gophers at all.

Minnesota now has a bye week for Kill and his team to get better before they continue conference play with a trip to Northwestern on Oct. 19.

“Even not being here, he inspires us so much,” Vereen said. “He’s going through so much and we know deep down he wants to be here more than anything and it’s hurting him not to be here. And that’s motivation to play harder. Unfortunately we don’t get to bring that jug back to him. We know he’ll be all right.”