MINNEAPOLIS - With tears in his eyes and often searching for words, Jerry Kill stepped down as the Gophers football coach Wednesday morning.
Midway through his fifth season with the University of Minnesota, Kill told reporters that his decision comes after multiple health scares this season, including at least two seizures, and that he must focus on his long-term health.
"Well, this is a tough moment for me … and our players, coaches," Kill said, his voice cracking as he began a 30-minute news conference at TCF Bank Stadium. "I've given every ounce to the game of football for 32 years. I've never done anything else; that's the scary part."
Defensive coordinator and associate head coach Tracy Claeys has been named interim head coach for the rest of the season.
Diagnosed with epilepsy, Kill took a leave of absence in 2013, with Claeys serving as acting head coach during the seven-game span.
Interim athletics director Beth Goetz said discussions about Kill's future began on Monday and ended with Kill making the decision Tuesday night.
"It's heartbreaking, as you guys have just listened to him," Goetz said after Kill spoke.
Goetz said Kill has demonstrated the "utmost courage."
"He is a man of unbelievable character, strength," Goetz said. "He supports everyone around him, and he has set a tremendous example about what it means to be passionate, going after your dreams, to be fully committed to anything and everything you do."
After missing Tuesday's news conference because of an appointment, Kill attended Tuesday night's practice.
"Last night when I walked off the practice field ... I felt like a part of me died," Kill said.
Later, he added, "I want to coach the way I've coached my whole life. ... I still want to coach. I was at practice yesterday after having two seizures. I probably wasn't supposed to go there, either, but I didn't give up. I (had) made my decision but I said, 'Maybe not. Let me go out here and give 'er one last shot.'
"But walking off the field, I think, 'Tracy and our staff can do a better job than I can.'"
Kill has suffered several seizures since becoming the Gophers coach in 2011. Of the recent ones, Kill said: "I've had seizures. I don't want to talk about all that. But, yes."
At Big Ten media days in Chicago in July, he said it had been a year and a half since the last one. Kill said Wednesday that "some of those struggles have returned, and I don't want to cheat the game."
Kill also acknowledged that he didn't take much time off in 2013 after he suffered a seizure before the Michigan game on Oct. 5. He didn't travel to Ann Arbor, but went to Evanston, Ill., the next week when the Gophers played at Northwestern. Claeys was the acting head coach for the final seven games of the 8-5 season, but Kill acknowledged coaching from the press box.
"I mean, a lot of people think I didn't coach when I had the situation 2½ years ago, but I will clarify everything: I missed one game, and I went to the Northwestern game, but I came in 10, 12 hours a day," Kill said.
Kill also acknowledged that he hasn't always taken his medication.
"As my doctor says, 'You're crazy for not taking stuff before a game,'" he said. "I said, 'I love this game, and I don't want to let our university down.' I want to win, but taking sleeping pills to sleep, you know, it ain't worth it."
Now, Kill said he's following medical advice.
"My doctor told me it was in my best interest for my family and my kids -- and hopefully grandkids someday -- that if I didn't (resign) and move on with my life that I may be a guy that don't think too good down the road," Kill said.
Kill ‘put Gophers on the map’
With a 4-3 record this season, Kill finishes with a 29-29 record, but his past two teams won eight games apiece and he was honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year after last season.
Minnesota played in its first New Year's Day bowl game since 1962 in January, losing to Missouri in the Citrus Bowl. He also led the Gophers to victories over Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State and Iowa.
Kill, who has coached for 32 years at nearly every level, said he hates losing.
"And I feel like I'm losing today," Kill said. "I just don't know. It's an empty feeling."
But University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler said the program has reached new heights because of Kill. The school is scheduled to break ground Friday on a $166 million project to add practice facilities, offices and an academic center, in no small way because of Kill's success and advocacy.
"The ability to advance our program and join the national stage and a January 1st bowl game and all of those competitive advantages have put Minnesota football on the map that it wasn't before," Kaler said.
Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement Wednesday morning reading, "I'm deeply saddened by Coach Kill's resignation. I thank him for his leadership in rebuilding the University of Minnesota's football program. All Minnesotans join me in wishing the Coach and his family many years of continuing success and fulfillment."
In August, Kill received a one-year contract extension through the 2019 season and a $300,000 raise. The new contract boosted his total pay to $2.5 million raise in 2015-16 and up to $2.9 million in 2019.
Kaler said he never reconsidered his decision to stand by Kill during his leave of absence in 2013.
"He is the right person for Gopher football," Kaler said. "I'm sorry that he is stepping away now. I respect that opinion, that decision. It is in his long-term interest and I never tried to dissuade him from coming back."
‘No more energy’
Kill told reporters he hasn't slept for more than three hours in the past three weeks. He said he arrived in the office at 4 a.m. one morning two weeks ago to help prepare for a game against Purdue.
"I don't have any more energy. None," Kill said. "I've left it all in the great state of Minnesota."
The Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota, with which Kill closely works, released a statement saying it was surprised and saddened by Wednesday's news.
"There are no adequate words to describe his contributions to helping kids with epilepsy chase their dreams, and the inspiration he gives to the 60,000 people in our community with epilepsy," the statement read.
"The Foundation is proud of Coach Kill and stands with him in his quest to rise above seizures. His strength and courage will guide him in his next great venture."
Kill said will continue working with Chasing Dreams, his epilepsy fund through the state group.
Kill's wife, Rebecca, wiped away tears as she stood at the side of the podium Wednesday. At night, she often sat in a chair and watched as Kill tried to sleep.
"That's what she did last night," Kill said. "Hell, that ain't no way to live. (Shoot), I've taken years off my life and hers. But we both say we'd do it again, wouldn't we?"
Kill turned to his right and looked at Rebecca as she nodded.
"Damn right," Kill said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner of Forum News Service.