Jerry Kill provided a lesson in resilience

MINNEAPOLIS -- The first time Jerry Kill walked into the media room at TCF Bank Stadium, he made few promises beyond a gritty style and a blue-collar culture he promised to employ in rebuilding a struggling Minnesota football program coming off a 3-9 campaign.

On that brisk day on Dec. 6, 2010, he told stories of hard work and humbling progress. In the late 1980s, he was just a high school coach in Missouri. Twenty years later, he'd earned a Power 5 job.

"It is a tremendous opportunity and, I think, great timing," Kill said in a statement then. "I can promise all the people at the University of Minnesota and throughout the entire state that I am going to give them every single ounce that I can give them. I have done that on every job that I have taken."

On Tuesday, Kill -- the offensive coordinator at Rutgers last season -- announced his retirement from coaching, citing fatigue after a lengthy battle with epilepsy. In a statement, Kill said, "I just ran out of juice."

But not before he changed those who covered and supported him.

In 2010, I doubled as a college basketball and college football reporter for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. And I'll never forget Sept. 10, 2011, just days into Kill's first season at Minnesota.

That day, a lukewarm Gophers squad battled New Mexico State deep into the fourth quarter. And then, it happened.

As we prepared to leave the press box to watch the final minutes of action from the first level, we looked toward the Minnesota sideline and saw Kill on the ground.

Rumors spread in the stunned press box. Had a player knocked Kill down in a fight? Had he tripped?

Then, we realized he was convulsing and thrashing in a scary, violent scene. One of his daughters rushed toward him. Paramedics followed to comfort Kill through a seizure. The game stopped. Everything stopped.

Have you ever heard silence in a stadium filled with 60,000 people? Not a quiet crowd. Not a focused crowd unable to speak due to the magnitude of the moment.

Pure silence as we all just stared and wondered to ourselves if were watching a man die.

A collection of shaken players, coaches and reporters tried to make some sense of the medical episode -- the Gophers botched a final play after Kill's seizure and lost by a touchdown -- at the postgame news conference. But all seemed to agree Kill's time at Minnesota -- and in coaching -- had probably ended that day.

After the game, Kill revealed his challenges with epilepsy, a condition few knew he had. And those who were unaware of the threat of seizures, such as the one Kill had during a game, began to learn more about his condition.

Kill became an advocate for epilepsy-sufferers around the world as he returned to coaching.

But his triumphant return didn't silence the doubters. Many, publicly and privately, wondered if the Gophers had given control of their program to a man who was not fit to coach.

I joined the chorus of reporters who wished Kill would help himself and leave the game. Go home to his two adult daughters and his wife, Rebecca. The old farm boy had enough cash to enjoy life, address his medical challenges and rid himself of the stress that comes with coaching at the Division I level.

But we all knew Kill would never quit. Nothing about the Cheney, Kansas, native suggested he'd find comfort in retirement. He wasn't a TV analyst, administrator or the type of man to mow his lawn on football Saturdays. He was a coach. That was clear.

The seizures continued. And he missed multiple games at Minnesota. He stopped driving. He spent time at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He tried everything.

And he continued to coach while admitting he would sometimes have a half-dozen seizures in a day.

In 2015, however, he was forced to resign at Minnesota due to health challenges.

The Gophers offered him a fundraising gig. But he rejected the job and found a position as an administrator with Kansas State athletics in 2016. Later that year, he joined Rutgers as an offensive coordinator.

At Rutgers, Kill had a seizure during the 2017 season and was admitted to a hospital. Tuesday's announcement followed.

By then, I'd already learned from Kill.

On Sept. 10, 2011, I thought Kill's career -- perhaps his life -- had ended. I was wrong.

Every time Kill suffered a seizure and missed time, many would assume he'd finally lost his fight with the debilitating condition.

And we were usually wrong.

Until Tuesday when Kill "just ran out of juice."

But not before he showed the naysayers his resilience.

Epilepsy didn't stop Kill. Kill kicked its tail for six-plus years after many thought he was finished on that field in Minneapolis.

For years, I wondered why Kill kept going after that day. Turns out, he was just tougher than we realized.

So Tuesday wasn't a retirement.

As a reporter who followed Kill through his worst days, it was a coronation for someone who'd pulled himself off the mat more times than I ever imagined a person could.