Officials, players react to Kill’s decision to leave NIU

By Chris Dertz

DeKALB | On Sept. 25, the NIU football program defeated the University of Minnesota, and left the field to Golden Gophers fans’ chants of “fire Brewster,” or Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster.

Minnesota must have liked what they saw from NIU head coach Jerry Kill. The third-year head coach has agreed to take the head coaching job at the University of Minnesota, NIU athletic director Jeff Compher confirmed Sunday night.

Kill’s current contract, which was extended on Sep. 1, 2009, requires that he pay NIU $500,000 for accepting the position at Minnesota during the 2010-2011 academic year.

“It’s unfortunately part of the business that we’re in,” Compher said. “The timing, no matter when it is, is never good. Our program is being recognized as a national-level program. You can come here and you can win. You can either be a launching pad or a graveyard, and I’d rather be a launching pad.”

Compher talked with Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi on Saturday, and discussed the prospect of Minnesota’s interviewing Kill sometime over the course of both Saturday and Sunday.

Kill made his decision to accept the Minnesota job sometime between Saturday night and Sunday.

“I think we have a unique situation,” Compher said. “This is a transition where we are handing over what I think is maybe one of the best teams in the country to the next coaching staff. I want to be sure that we get the right coaching staff in here that can continue the level of play and the level of success that we’ve enjoyed over the past few years under coach Kill.”

Kill will not be the Huskies’ coach when they take on Fresno State in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl on Dec. 18. Compher said Sunday night that he hopes to know who on the coaching staff will remain to coach the Huskies in that game.

Compher also said he has a list of candidates in mind to consider for NIU’s now-vacant head coaching position, but was unwilling to name any specifically.

“I’ve been in this business for a long time, and not too much blindsides me,” Compher said. “Especially when there’s been chatter that’s been going on for a long time. When you have a coach that’s as good as coach Kill, and a staff that’s been together for as long as he’s had them, you’ve got to expect opportunities to come along.”

Compher learned of Kill’s decision sometime in the 24-hour period before NIU held its annual football banquet at 6 p.m. Sunday night.

At that banquet, Kill informed the team of his decision, and met with the team afterwards.

While that was the first that many of the players knew of Kill’s decision, some caught wind of it before Kill was able to meet with the team.

“I heard about it before the banquet,” said redshirt junior quarterback Chandler Harnish. “My brother actually called me, I didn’t really believe him, he was doing some reading online. Then I started to get more texts and calls from people, and it started to become more real.”

Both Harnish and senior linebacker Alex Kube said that there were mixed feelings among the players when Kill met with them Sunday night.

“This is a situation that some people like and some people don’t like,” Kube said.

According to Compher, many players were disappointed, but also understood that Kill had a unique opportunity in front of him.

It’s still a feeling that I really can’t comprehend right now,” Harnish said. “[There’s] disappointment, I’m shocked, but we’re moving on and we still have a bowl game to focus on.”

When asked about how strange it was that he would be on his third head coach at NIU, Harnish said he thought it was a strange situation, but expects the team to stay focused in preparing for the Humanitarian Bowl.

“It’s going to be a different situation,” Harnish said. “Head coach [doesn’t mean] as much to me, this is going to be my fourth quarterback coach.”

Harnish clarified his statement and said that he “didn’t really know the situation yet,” and could possibly be learning from his fourth quarterback coach. Current quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski is in his first year at NIU, and Harnish has seen marked improvement under Zebrowski, being named the First Team All-MAC quarterback.

While some of Kill’s assistants could stay, his coaching staff tends to travel together. Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover is in his 12th year as a member of Kill’s staff, and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been a part of Kill’s staff for 15 years. Linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz has been with Kill for 11 seasons, dating back to their days at Pittsburg State, and most of the other assistant coaches came with Kill from his tenure at Southern Illinois.