With Jerry Kill officially taking over the Rutgers offense this month, I wanted to find out more on his track record from his days at Minnesota. The Gophers continued to win in Kill’s first full season away from the program, but there was plenty of controversy as well. It led to Kill’s former defensive coordinator and the man that replaced him as head coach, Tracy Claeys, getting fired last week. Minnesota hired former Rutgers assistant P.J. Fleck as head coach on Friday in what seems like a great move for them.
Despite the recent controversy and change within their program, there is no denying it is in relatively good shape for Fleck take over, due to the job Kill did at Minnesota in his 4+ years there. He turned that program into a consistent winner in the Big Ten the past few years. This profile on Kill by our own Michael Voza gives good insight to the type of coach and man that Kill is. However, it was the direction of the offense under Kill at Minnesota that interested me most from a Rutgers perspective. Our staff is very positive with Kill taking over an offense that finished dead last in the country last season.
To find out more on Kill’s offense at his previous stop, I was fortunate to speak with Gopher Nation, a manager with SB Nation’s Minnesota site, The Daily Gopher. He gives us a first hand perspective from watching the program’s progress under Kill. I asked him about his legacy at Minnesota, the strengths and weaknesses of his offense, player development and what Kill brings to the table at Rutgers. Let’s dive in here, with my questions in boldface and his answers below each.
What is the general feeling of Minnesota fans on Kill and his legacy with the program?
Kill is generally loved around Minnesota. He is given a ton of credit for taking the program from being one of the worst in the Big Ten to being solidly mediocre. How things shook out after he left probably has people a little split on how they feel about him, but as a coach and as a rebuilder of the program I think he's very well respected by most everyone in the fan base.
Please give an overview of the Minnesota offense under Kill and your assessment of whether it improved or worsened this past season under now former head coach Tracy Claeys?
This is where things get tricky because it is hard to distinguish who should really get the credit/blame for the Gopher offense under Jerry Kill. Was it Jerry Kill or was it Matt Limegrover's offense? Jerry Kill was last an offensive coordinator in 1993! Limegrover joined Jerry Kill in 1999 and became Kill's OC in 2001. So from 2001 through 2015 Limegrover was the coordinator. With that kind of time together and trust built I would say that Limegrover was the primary architect of the offense in their years at Minnesota. So keep that in mind as I answer the remaining questions. I really think that most would consider the Gopher offense while Jerry Kill was the head coach to mostly be Matt Limegrover's.
And that distinction, as I deviate from the actual question, is what makes this hire so strange in my opinion. Kill is revered here, but I don't recall looking at him as an offensive guy. He is a very good program leader, excellent really. The value here is really for Chris Ash and getting someone like Jerry Kill on his staff as he matures. But as an offensive coordinator? I'm unsure how Kill's resume stood out more than others.
What were some highlights offensively during Kill's tenure?
There have been a couple very successful offensive players under Jerry Kill. Maxx Williams and David Cobb were both drafted in the 2015 draft. So it is no coincidence that 2014 was the best Gopher offense in the Kill era. That year's team finished 44th nationally in S&P and was fairly balanced. Typically it has always been a run-heavy offense that uses play-action for the passing game. That is very vague and general, but the Gopher offense relied upon a good offensive line, a good running back and a lot of run up the middle. A tight end or a receiver (not usually both) can have a big season off of play-action. Maxx Williams was a very good tight end and was able to make a lot of plays after the catch.
What were some common issues or frustrations of the offense under Kill?
I'll give two big frustrations. The first is that there was never a real good quarterback recruited and particularly developed under Kill. Mitch Leidner became the guy, struggled to truly develop but was basically expected to be a TE recruit out of high school and won the job. Why? Because there was never a true quarterback recruited who stood out.
Secondly, the biggest frustration that came out after Kill and Limegrover were no longer on staff is that the offensive game plan changed week to week. Leidner complained at one point in the offseason that there were a LOT of new plays installed each week which made things difficult for the offense. You know how Wisconsin does their thing and does it extremely well? The complaint here is that the Gopher offense would change from week to week. On one level this make sense, you try to take advantage of your opponent's weaknesses. But on another level you need to have an identity on offense.
How was recruiting as a whole for the program under Kill and how was he viewed in regards to player development?
Depends on the position. Running back has been a real strength in both recruiting and development. Offensive line has been off and on. Wide receiver has had a number of recruiting misses and/or lack of development (that is likely tied to that position coach). Quarterback, I talked about that already. And tight end has been pretty solid in both recruitment and development.
With the incident that took place with current players and the stance the team took with the boycott, how much has Kill been mentioned in conversation and has perception changed at all since the majority of players on the roster were recruited by him?
The player suspension and sexual assault investigation has brought Kill's name to the discussion. Some Gopher fans feel like this never would have happened under Kill. He showed up to the Gopher program and laid down the law that had not previously been laid. To be honest, this likely would have happened under Kill as well, you just cannot control 100 kids all 24 hours of the day. Kill may have handled things differently after the fact, but I don't think his disciplinarian approach would have prevented anything from happening.
Overall, what are your thoughts on Rutgers hiring Kill as offensive coordinator?
I'll reiterate much of what I've already said but I think it is a very odd hire. From an offensive standpoint, I've just never viewed Kill as any sort of an offensive architect. Limegrover called plays on offense so it's not like he even was the guy pulling those strings. What he brings is professionalism, he brings discipline, he brings accountability. From the standpoint of having a guy who is experienced and good at turning around a struggling program...he's a fantastic hire. I think Ash will benefit from having Kill's experience on his staff, but I have no idea what it'll do to the offense.
Thanks to Gopher Nation for the great insight and his take on new Rutgers OC Jerry Kill from his time at Minnesota. If you are interested about reading on Minnesota’s new head coach, former Rutgers assistant P.J. Fleck, check out The Daily Gopher here.