Kill blasts University of Minnesota over Claeys firing

Former Minnesota Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, a longtime friend and colleague of his successor Tracy Claeys, said he took offense to athletic director Mark Coyle's comments regarding Claeys' dismissal on Tuesday.

Former University of Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill (2015 file / TNS)

Former Minnesota Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, a longtime friend and colleague of his successor Tracy Claeys, said he took offense to athletic director Mark Coyle's comments regarding Claeys' dismissal on Tuesday.

In a wide-ranging, 25-minute interview with KSTP-AM 1500 on Wednesday, Kill blasted Coyle's handling of the situation, said the university has "real sensitive issues that are deeper than just football" and vowed he "won't be stepping foot" back on campus.

Kill seemed to especially take offense to Coyle's assertion during a news conference Tuesday that he is looking for a head coach who will graduate student-athletes "with class and integrity."

"I would say that the program has been run in a first-class manner," said Kill, the Gophers' head coach from 2011-15. "I don't think there's anybody in the country that would argue that, anybody who knows me or knows the assistant coaches. I believe when you make a statement like that, you need to go back. Mark wasn't there when it started. ... And look how far it's come.

"It didn't come by him. He hasn't been there. It came by a lot of people. They're not building that new facility because of him. There's been a lot of work that's gone into that by a lot of people. So, to call people out like that, I think you've got to know them. I think the (football) guys said he might've come to one practice. The players don't know the guy, the coaches don't know the guy. Yet, he'd call people out like that. I don't think that's professional."


Among other areas, Kill criticized the university for not having an attorney in the athletic department and accused them of speaking to other coaches about a possible opening while Claeys was still under contract.

"There's been a lot of talking going on; I'm not going to go any further than that," Kill told KSTP-AM. "I'm just telling you that you don't fire a coach unless you've got somebody that's ready to (step in). I've been in the business too long and I know too many people. Everyone that has come up, I know."

One of the coaches whose name has been mentioned as an option to replace Claeys is Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, who spent two years as an assistant under Kill at Northern Illinois. Kill declined to comment on Fleck.

"I'm not going to get into any of that about who's coaching, because I think there are some things that (the university has) done wrong that shouldn't have been done," Kill said.

Kill resigned as Minnesota's head coach in the middle of the 2015 season citing health issues tied to his epilepsy. He never worked under Coyle, who began his duties on June 1 after previous AD stints at Syracuse and Boise State.

When Kill resigned, Claeys took over on an interim basis before landing the job full-time.

"Let me tell you something, that program right now is better - a lot better - than when I came in," Kill said. "There's no question about that. It's a lot better. ... Beyond what you think of the administration, or what you think of something else, those coaches care about the kids. That's why they coach. Every one of them wants the program to continue to progress and get better. Nobody wants to let it go down the tube. But we put a lot of years into that thing. It wore my ass out."

Kill also took issue with the timing of Claeys' firing.


Coyle said he waited a week after the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl to ensure he didn't make a decision "based on emotion." But Kill said the wait was unfair to Claeys and the 13 assistant coaches and staff members who also lost their jobs.

"If they were honest this whole time, and they told Tracy all this time that is where you stand and you're going to lose your job if you do that ... then what do you say?" Kill said. "But if they hadn't told him all that, and they never communicated all that to him, then let the guy sit there for a week and let his guts turn inside out - how would you like that to be you or your son?

"I imagine winning the bowl game probably made it tougher for them, but I think their decision was probably made long before that. That's an educated guess."

Kill said Claeys wasn't without fault for his handling of a sexual assault investigation that led to the suspension of 10 players and, subsequently, a brief player boycott. Soon after the start of the boycott, Claeys tweeted support for his players, putting himself at odds with Coyle and school president Eric Kaler.

But Kill said there was plenty of fault to go around.

"A lot of college football programs have situations like that," Kill said. "Could it have been handled differently? I'm sure it could have. All three parties (coaches, players, and administration) could've handled it better. I don't think that one person is (at fault). When you have a problem, everybody's got to work together. ... But we're throwing one guy under the bus. I don't think that's right. That's my opinion. Of course I'm partial. But I think there's a lot more into it."

Kill recently took the job as offensive coordinator at Rutgers, another Big Ten school. While he said he would return to Minnesota, he said he won't be returning to Dinkytown.

"I won't be stepping foot back to the stadium and I won't be stepping back at the university," Kill said. "My wife and I, we will not. We gave our best to the state of Minnesota and we'll always come to Minnesota. My daughter is there and we love Minnesota, and I'll go to every (pro) baseball game and pro football game and anything else. But I will not ever be in that stadium or that complex. They're building a new complex, and we had a lot to do with that, but I won't ever see it."

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