By Seth Gruen–
(CBS) In the wake of his retirement due to epilepsy, there was a lot of talk about Jerry Kill, the good guy. There’s little to dispute that. It’s hard to find a coach or media member — this one included — who didn’t like Kill during any point in his career.
The college coaching profession often generates stories of backstabbing and rule-breaking. So hearing such kind words about Kill is refreshing. I can’t help but think, though, that it tends to overshadow another important part of Kill’s legacy.
He was a program builder.
I’m not saying that his affable personality should be overlooked or dismissed. Simply, there was more to the man than his likability. Jerry Kill was a football coach and a damn good one at that.
At Southern Illinois, Kill was the first coach to produce four consecutive winning seasons. The Salukis rose to the No. 1 ranking in then-Division I-AA in 2004. He was hired at Northern Illinois after a 2007 season in which the Huskies went 2-10. He then engineered one of the greatest program turnarounds of the last 10 years.
Over three seasons, Kill consistently improved Northern Illinois’ record, eventually guiding the team to 10 regular-season wins in 2010 and a Humanitarian Bowl appearance. Kill didn’t coach in the Humanitarian Bowl — accepting the Minnesota job prior to the game — but the Huskies won the game. Since then, Northern Illinois has won at least 11 games each season.
Kill arrived at Minnesota in 2011, taking over a program nearly desimated by Tim Brewster. The Gophers went 3-9 in Kill’s first season but made bowl games each of the past three seasons. During his four years, six Gophers players have been drafted by the NFL, an impressive number for a once bottom-feeding Big Ten program.
Kill wasn’t necessarily destined for the big jobs in the SEC or Pac-12. But I believe, had Kill’s health allowed him to continue, we would have seen his team play for a Big Ten championship in Indianapolis.
Kill isn’t the type to grandstand or make bold predictions, but everywhere he went, he won. He was pleasure to interview, one of the few who embraced every aspect of coaching football, on and off the field.
There may not be a coach in college football more likable than Jerry Kill. And there aren’t many better football coaches, either.
Big Ten power rankings
1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) — The Buckeyes are coming off their most complete performance of the season.
2. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) — Sparty should coast at Nebraska.
3. Iowa (7-0, 3-0) — It would be an upset if the Hawkeyes don’t run the table to the Big Ten title game.
4. Michigan (5-2, 2-1) — That loss to Michigan State still lingers.
5. Wisconsin (6-2, 3-1) — The Badgers seem to have hit a groove.
6. Penn State (6-2, 3-1) — Must-wins against Northwestern and Illinois await before facing Michigan and Ohio State to close the season.
7. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) — The Wildcats seem to win and lose in spurts. This could be the start of another winning streak.
8. Illinois (4-2, 1-2) — The Illini need to rebound offensively.
9. Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) — Expect tons of emotion against Michigan.
10. Indiana (4-4, 0-4) — Once promising, the Hoosiers now look depressing.
11. Maryland (2-5, 0-3) — The Terrapins have played some close games.
12. Nebraska (3-5, 1-3) — What a disaster.
13. Rutgers (3-4, 1-3) — There are many defensive issues.
14. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) — There’s always basketball.
Seth Gruen is columnist for CBSChicago.com, focusing on college sports. You can follow him on Twitter @SethGruen.