Minnesota Gopher football head coach Jerry Kill and his ongoing battles with epilepsy have been heavily documented. Nonetheless, there are many missing pieces to the story that probably won’t ever be addressed. We hope that all the answers Kill needs to help him remain healthy will be found, but they might never be.
A look back at some of Coach Kill’s publicly known seizures indicate that winning may be some of the best treatment he could receive. Is there reason to believe that elevated levels of stress are a trigger for some of Kill’s significant seizure episodes? That’s a matter of educated opinion.
In an interview aired by KARE 11 news in Minneapolis-St. Paul this week, Kill says “I’ve been dealing with this for 8 years” and that “I’ve had them (seizures) off and on for 8 years”. The written piece that is paired with the video at kare11.com states, “Kill had his first seizure back in 2005.”
Kill’s history with seizures actually appears to date back more than two decades. As a head coach who has had some good teams, he hasn’t had to deal with a lot of disappointing losses. When he has, however, it is then that some the worst of the seizures seem to come about.
With the Gophers playing their first two challenging opponents of the season in the next week and a half, the pressure is on. Hopefully Coach Kill remains healthy and away from the hospital no matter what occurs on the field, but a pair of dominant Minnesota performances might be just what the doctor ordered.
To be sure, the narrative from Coach Kill, the University of Minnesota and the majority of the media will not be open and forthright. It hasn’t been and there is no reason to expect things to change. Nonetheless we are confident that some true and worthwhile education regarding epilepsy will reach the public.
While we believe Coach Kill’s health is being negatively affected by his current job, which comes with stress, fatigue and lack of sleep, we nonetheless wish him and his close family and friends all the best in health and professional success.
“The specialist in St. Louis told me the seizures are brought on by fatigue and lack of sleep. My case is not unusual.” – Jerry Kill, October 2006
“Football’s a very unique sport. You can’t take time off of the game of football.” – Jerry Kill, September 2010
Non-comprehensive list of Jerry Kill’s seizures on game day or the morning after:
1992 while an assistant at Pittsburg State; game circumstances unknown
Kill has experienced seizures of varying severity since at least 1992, he has told reporters in the past, and has told friends that doctors believe scar tissue on the brain — perhaps a residue of his football playing career as an aggressive 165-pound linebacker — might be the root cause. “I have scar tissue that’s built up on my brain,” he told Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Ken Corbitt after being hospitalized for three days at Emporia State in 2000. “They described it like electricity going off in the breaker box that’s causing my breaker to pop. That causes seizures.”
October 2000: After a 21-0 home loss.
“The hospitalization of Emporia State football coach Jerry Kill earlier this week has brought about expressions of concern for his health from his colleagues around the MIAA.
Kill collapsed at his home last Sunday from what was believed to be fatigue. He was released from the hospital Tuesday but is still awaiting test results as to what caused his seizure. He is not expected to coach the Hornets on Saturday at Northwest Missouri State.
Working too many hours under pressure is part of the job, according to Pittsburg State coach Chuck Broyles, who underwent heart surgery in 1991.
“If you go see a doctor,” Broyles said, “one of the first things they’ll ask you to do is try to alleviate some of the stress out of your life. How do you do that when you’re a football coach? Therein lies the problem.”
November 2001: After losing 25-24 at home. The opponent scored the game winning touchdown with just 11 seconds to play.
CARBONDALE, Ill. – Southern Illinois University football coach Jerry Kill will remain in the hospital overnight Sunday and undergo tests tomorrow for a minor health condition. (LNH note: A Southern Illinois release the following day called the health condition a seizure; was released after a few days in the hospital.)
Kill was admitted to the hospital Saturday evening, and hopes to return to a normal work schedule later in the week.
October 2005: In game seizure with 30 seconds left. Southern Illinois was ranked #1, but was upset at home 61-35. He attended the following week’s game and “although he wasn’t wearing his trademark headset, Kill could be seen and heard encouraging his players.”
“All of the veterans knew that Coach Kill was going to be there, even if all the doctors told him not to,” (Senior QB Joel) Sambursky said.
CARBONDALE, Ill. – Southern Illinois’ reign of dominance in the Gateway Conference ended Saturday night at McAndrew Stadium as Illinois State stunned the nation’s #1-ranked team, 61-35.
The Salukis (4-2, 2-1) entered the contest with a nine-game conference winning streak, but they quickly fell behind, 21-0, in the first quarter and 38-14 at halftime.
The Redbirds (4-3, 1-2) piled up 594 yards in the game, their lead was never threatened.
With 30 seconds remaining in the contest, Saluki head coach Jerry Kill had a seizure on the sidelines. The seizures are a medical condition that have surfaced several times during Kill’s coaching career and do not seriously affect his health.
Players from both teams kneeled on the field and prayed for the Saluki coach as he was taken to a hospital for observation. (LNH note: he transferred to another hospital on Tuesday and was released from that hospital on Friday.)
October 2006: Sunday morning after a 27-24 home loss. Opponent “scored two touchdowns in the last seven minutes of the game to overcome a 14-point deficit and stun No. 13 Southern Illinois.”
(LNH Notes: Kill went to the hospital Sunday, was transferred to another hospital Tuesday and was released from that hospital Thursday. Kill sat in the press box and watched the following week’s game while Tracy Claeys assumed head coaching duties.)
Southern Illinois University football coach Jerry Kill was admitted to Carbondale Memorial Hospital on Sunday morning after he had a seizure following the taping of his weekly coach’s show at WSIL TV-3.
Tests at the hospital came back normal, according to his wife, Rebecca, who said her husband was given a positive prognosis by his doctor. She said the coach was resting comfortably Sunday afternoon and hopes to return to work soon.
September 2010: Appears to have been seizures due to lack of medicine absorption (would only refer to it as “a situation”, but Kill implied seizure)
Coach Kill missed time at Northern Illinois after surgery early in the month and had another hospital trip hours after a close win over North Dakota. The post-game trip kept him in the hospital until Thursday of that week.
Following the surgery on September 3, he struggled to hold down food and liquids. Kill said he lost about 15 pounds during the week leading up to the Sept. 11 home opener against North Dakota. Kill didn’t state he had seizures, but it was implied: Kill said the lack of nutrition negated a medication he takes due to previous health issues. That led to a collapse in his DeKalb home in the early morning hours Sept. 12, hours after NIU had defeated North Dakota. ““Through that medication, when you’re not retaining … and it gets out of your system, my body shuts down,” Kill said. “My body shut down.”
Kill was taken to a hospital hours after NIU’s home win over North Dakota during the early hours of Sunday, Sept. 12, with what was announced as dehydration. He had surgery for unspecified reasons on Sept. 3 (LNH note: later disclosed as gall bladder surgery). Kill has had health issues in the past after battling kidney cancer in 2005, though he has said his latest health issue is not cancer related. He was in the hospital for five days last week but returned to the sidelines for the Illinois game just two days after his release. He was working again late into the night on Sunday and early Monday morning.
September 10, 2011: Late in the game of a 28-21 loss at home to New Mexico State [88 degrees, sunny and hot]
Kill would remain hospitalized until Thursday. Dr. Pat Smith pushed the idea of heat and humidity being the culprit:””Coach Kill has a history of seizures, which has been well controlled through medications. “There is a history of trouble with dehydration and heat seems to kick that up. It was very hot and humid today.”
September 25, 2011: The morning after a 37-24 loss at home to North Dakota State.
It was later revealed that Kill had been at the Mayo Clinic the week before the game, but left against doctors’ recommendations on Friday. On Sunday morning, Kill went back to the Mayo Clinic after another seizure.
The U and a release allegedly from Kill both used strong language indicating that the seizure issue must be resolved. The release from Kill read like something the university had written. In fact, after Minnesota put forth a story that Kill checked himself back into the Mayo on Sunday, Kill said the statement that he had “checked himself into Mayo” was not true, inferring that he was simply taken there following another major seizure.
Dr. Ilo Leppik, former president of the National Epilepsy Foundation and who currently (September 2013) treat Kill, said the pattern Kill’s seizures have taken — convulsions at a Gophers game Sept. 10, then a series of smaller seizures — “is really not typical. That is more concerning. Seizures can be like wildfires — seizures often will beget more seizures — but usually they will subside once the patient is hospitalized.”
Then-athletic director Joel Maturi said Kill’s non-stop schedule was an issue and that he was concerned for the football program and its fans. “In any public setting, witnessing seizures is alarming, uncomfortable, frightening in many ways, even though they are not life-threatening,” Maturi said — but he’s concerned even more for the 50-year-old coach.
“As difficult as it would be to witness again, the bigger concern is making sure Jerry Kill is healthy,” Maturi said. “Fighting back, that defines Jerry Kill. It’s who he is. He’s battled his whole life, and this is another challenge he will conquer.”
By Wednesday, the story had changed and Jerry Kill was back to his defiant self. He checked out of Mayo and was ready to coach the Gophers on the road at Michigan. They lost the game 58-0.
November 19, 2011: Seizure on flight home after Northwestern game, a 28-13 loss.
Per this report. In another example of what’s called “openness” by many, Kill responded to reports he had a seizure on the flight home by saying, “No, I don’t have any comment, I’m fine. All I know is I slept on the plane, I walked on the bus and came home. I know my wife said I had a small situation, but I’m kind of tired of explaining all that stuff to be honest with you.”
October 14, 2012: Post-game seizure after 21-13 home loss to Northwestern [50 degrees and foggy]
Twitter reports of an ambulance speeding from TCF Bank from post-game tailgaters immediately had people asking questions. Indeed, Jerry Kill was again admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay after a seizure shortly after the game.
November 24, 2012: Halftime seizure while down 13-7 at home to Michigan State. Kill would not return and Minnesota would go on to lose the game 26-10. [25 degrees, overcast and cold]
Earlier in the week, the team’s top receiver in yards quit the team and went on a tirade criticizing Coach Kill. It’s unclear how long this seizure would have kept him away during a normal week as this was the final regular season game of the year. However, Kill was unable to attend the team’s senior banquet the following afternoon.
November 24, 2013: Halftime, leading at home 7-6 against heavy underdog Western Illinois
An Associated Press story picked up by many national outlets said, “Taken away on a stretcher, after he writhed back and forth on the ground for several minutes with the Gophers in the locker room with a 7-6 lead…”
There have been no reported seizures when the Gophers have been blown out at home during Kill’s tenure (3 games by a total of 78 points), but when things are close and not going the team’s way, health issues have often arisen.
September 21, 2010
D-I coaches sign contracts with six-figure annual salaries – some earn seven-figure incomes – but have little job security. Because of that, college coaches are going to “push the envelope” with their health, as Kill said, and there’s nothing anyone can say or do to stop them.
“Why we do it? I don’t know, but that’s what we do,” Kill said. “That’s who we are.
“That’s who I am. I can’t change. I will not change. I will not change my coaching style. I never have and haven’t slowed down one inch. That’s who I am. The day I don’t do that then I won’t be doing it. But that won’t happen because I’ve been doing it too damn long and too damn good.”
September 21, 2010 Press Conference
On his health relative to negative recruiting: “That’s important, it’s something that affects recruiting and everything I’m doing right now. Which, we’d like to think everybody doesn’t do that, but they do.” — Jerry Kill
“I deal with it, but it’s not going to affect my job. If it ever does, then I won’t be the coach of the University of Minnesota. I’m not going to cheat the University of Minnesota. I’m not going to cheat our fans; I’m not going to cheat anybody. I’ve never done that my whole life. I’d walk away from it. I know my health situation.” – Jerry Kill
“The game was good, but all I’m really just thinking about is Coach Kill.” – Top 2014 Minnesota commit Jeff Jones after the WIU game