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Phil Miller / McClatchy Newspapers, Published December 06 2010

Gophers go for Kill: Minnesota hires Northern Illinois coach to take over football program

MINNEAPOLIS – Joel Maturi traveled the country to interview candidates to be the Gophers’ new football coach. But the man he chose might have offered his best pitch for the job last September, right in front of his new team.

Jerry Kill, who led Northern Illinois to a 34-23 victory over Minnesota on Sept. 25, has been hired to take over the 3-9 Gophers, the university announced Sunday night. The 49-year-old coach, who owns a 23-16 record in three seasons with the Huskies, has agreed to a five-year contract and will be introduced at 2 p.m. today in TCF Bank Stadium.

Kill gathered his players together after a season-ending banquet in DeKalb, Ill., on Sunday night and broke the news that he is leaving. Then he was scheduled to accompany Maturi and other Minnesota officials on a flight back to the Twin Cities, and into a new chapter of his life. It’s not certain who will coach the Huskies (10-3) – who were upset 26-20 by Miami (Ohio) in Friday night’s Mid-American Conference championship game – in the Humanitarian Bowl later this month, the third consecutive season Kill’s team has appeared in a bowl game.

“We cast a wide net in this search,” Maturi said in a statement, “but the name we kept coming back to was Jerry Kill.”

It’s a name that likely comes as a shock to Gophers fans, since Maturi declared Oct. 17, the day he fired Tim Brewster, that “we’re out here to find a Tubby Smith,” meaning a well-known, successful coach. “We’re out here to find somebody that people can recognize, people have confidence in, and people are going to bring instant credibility and notoriety to the football program,” Maturi said. “That is my goal. Whether there is that interest, remains to be seen.”

Maturi interviewed several coaches, according to athletic department sources, including San Diego State’s Brady Hoke, but either rejected or was turned down by several. The list of rumored candidates grew long, including the likes of Temple’s Al Golden, Connecticut’s Randy Edsall, Air Force’s Troy Calhoun and Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. But by choosing Kill, he might have reached for a good football hire rather than a bold public-relations move.

“He plays Big Ten-style football. He is going to line up and play physical and play hard,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said after learning that Kill – a friend from their days coaching in Kansas in the 1990s – had been hired by his school’s chief rival. “He is just a very true guy, a very, very good football coach. He has won everywhere he has gone.”

He has, and that’s unusual for a Gophers football hire. Not since Lou Holtz in 1983 has Minnesota hired a coach with a winning record, but Kill, who went 6-7, 7-6 and 10-3 in three seasons at Northern Illinois, was also 55-32 in seven seasons at Southern Illinois, 11-11 in two seasons at Emporia State (Kan.) and 38-14 in five seasons at Saginaw Valley (Mich.) State.

“Coach Kill has won at every level of coaching and has a history of rebuilding programs,” Maturi said. “I’m confident we have chosen the right man to lead the Golden Gopher program.”