New Rutgers offensive coordinator Jerry Kill has been on the job for less than a month, but he has hit the ground running, both with the current team and on the recruiting trail. His credibility and experience bring a lot to the table for the program. Our site has written a lot about his hire before and why we think he is a great addition for head coach Chris Ash and Rutgers football. I was fortunate to speak with coach Kill on Thursday and spoke with him about a number of different topics.
With the Super Bowl on Sunday, coach Kill is working with some great organizations to promote epilepsy awareness, a disorder he has had for several years now. His departure as the head coach at Minnesota due to his health was well publicized and the Rutgers job marks a new beginning for coach Kill. He is actively promoting #TackleEpilepsy, which is a social media campaign he is highlighting this weekend. We spoke about the campaign and how the disease has changed his life, as well as how he has been received on the recruiting trail in his return to football. He also gave some great insight on his approach to the work ahead in turning around the Rutgers offense and his thoughts on certain personnel. Let’s jump in!
Coach Kill, let’s start with you talking about tackle epilepsy and letting people know what this project and cause is all about.
“Absolutely. A few years ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy and I’ve gotten involved with the epilepsy foundation and lot of people through it to see what I could do to help other people. I’m partnering up with Epilepsy Advocate and UCB on the tackle epilepsy social media campaign to raise awareness on the disorder. A lot of people don’t know that 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime, so that’s quite a number. Also, people do not know that there are people dying of epilepsy seizures. It’s something we want to bring awareness to. We are fortunate the Super Bowl is working with us. Sports Illustrated is working with us. We have a lot of people who are really supporting this cause. What we are trying to do is to raise money for the epilepsy foundation and raise awareness.”
“What we are asking people to do is to take a picture of your best game face with the the hashtag #tackleepilepsy on social media. The more great game faces we can have, and we want to see the best of the best, the more we can get this to spread throughout the country. UCB has kicked in a $26,000 donation for this campaign and it’s a great thing. To learn more about tackling epilepsy, visit epilepsyadvocate.com and on facebook. You can also follow me on twitter at @JerryKillCoach. We want to get the word out because frankly there are too many people that are suffering and we aren’t doing enough about it. That’s what we are trying to do. It’s a huge social media campaign and with the Super Bowl supporting us, it’s a great time to do this.”
That’s great coach. Since you have been diagnosed and have gotten the disorder under control, how has it changed your life in a positive way and helped you to appreciate things on a daily basis?
“Well, like I said, after having morning workouts at Rutgers today, every day is a good day. There are no bad days. What it has done is appreciate life, but it also makes you realize there are a lot of other people that are a whole lot worse off. What it tells me to do and through some bad publicity, there was a sports writer who kind of took me under in Minnesota, since then we have built a relationship, but the bottom line is it changed the epilepsy world by his article. It went all over the country and it was on Outside The Lines and that’s not what I wanted in my life and it was uncomfortable. What happened is I decided to take the approach of why shouldn’t I help other people and I know there are so many more people out there than just me. Believe me, in the corporate world we have people running big corporations that have the same problem as me, but they just won’t come out and say, because they are afraid of losing their jobs.”
“I figured I would help as much as I possibly can, certainly with kids. In Minnesota, we started Camp Oz, which Rebecca and I help fund, and we have our Chasing Dreams foundation. I just wrote a book called Chasing Dreams: Living Your Life One Yard At A Time, which can be bought on Amazon (click here). All the money from book sales goes towards epilepsy, so we are doing all we can to raise money to help the Epilepsy Foundation. We are just fortunate that UCB has been a great partner.”
In spreading awareness and getting people to understand what epilepsy really is, I wanted to ask how you have addressed the Rutgers team and players with what you are dealing with and how you educate them on epilepsy?
“Well I think the big thing in coming to Rutgers is that everyone knows about it. People offered me jobs previously and I was really surprised, to be honest with you, certainly after I retired from football. I don’t want to be a head coach and I can’t be. I can’t do all of that. It’s been a situation that I was surprised people reached out to me and then in far as educating them, I’ve only been at Rutgers for three weeks. We certainly will. I’ve recruited and done all kinds of things. I think I helped with recruiting at Rutgers (with the 2017 class).“
“I don’t deny it, I tell people up front (about epilepsy), everyone understands. I don’t think it hurts in any way, shape, or form. In some ways, I think it helps as I am a person with a situation and I deal with it. I hit rock bottom when I retired from Minnesota and I didn’t have anything left. I needed help and I went and got help for 9 months. I have been seizure free for a year. I’ve changed my diet and done some different things. I decided I need to show people you can still do things when you have epilepsy. Then you see so many young people that have to take 20 pills a day and that’s terrible. We don’t have enough epileptologists that are working in the field right now. We just have a lot of work to do and we talk about other brain disorders that are out there, but people don’t understand that with epilepsy, there are 1 of every 26 people that have it. We have people dying of it. We just have to do a great job of educating people and raising money for the foundation so they can.”
Absolutely coach, that is a great point. Going back to what you said about the positive side of being able to relate or connect with players, is that something you have found on the recruiting trail in the past few weeks, in terms of being able to sell yourself by showing how you have thrived through the adversity you’ve dealt with?
“You know what is neat about coming here to New Jersey and working and going out recruiting, I actually know some people, believe it or not, some of the high school coaches. About every player I’ve been involved with, already knew and have said “hey coach, how are you doing? How is your health going? We are glad to see you back in football.” People have embraced this and have embraced me. Even though I am in New Jersey, everybody already knows my story. People here have been great, they really have and throughout the country. Certainly here. I’m so excited and I’ve never been on the east coast before. I can tell you the first three or four weeks here, people have been treating me great. It’s a lot of fun and I am looking forward to being here and being here a long time.”
With National Signing Day just passing, how has recruiting changed from your perspective, both from changing roles from a head coach to an offensive coordinator, but also from over the years, with social media being such a big part of it now, how have you embraced that aspect now in your role at Rutgers?
“The big thing now is the old days, back before social media, there were players out there that nobody knew about. Everybody knows about every player now. There is no player that slips through the cracks, so that makes it tough with social media. Then you have to use social media to your advantage. You have to have people on your staff that are able to develop graphics. You have to be sending kids something all the time. Basically, you’re recruiting is partly having people off the field sending stuff and making sure we are in contact with the recruits all the time. It’s taken up a lot of time, to be honest with you. Sometimes you spend as much time recruiting as you do coaching your own players, which is a problem. You have to make sure you balance that out, so you don’t sacrifice the product on the field.”
“At Rutgers, our recruiting class, coming off a 2-10 year and laying the foundation, coming into the second year and having the recruiting class that we have, with the speed and length that we recruited, I am excited about. I think we are farther along than we were at Minnesota, or very close to being the same, with my first recruiting class at Minnesota. I am really excited and I know if we can do it at Minnesota, we can certainly do it here at Rutgers. There are so many more resources and so many more players in this area, we just have to make sure they stay here. You aren’t going to keep all of them because some what to leave, but we want to keep as many as we can here.”
In terms of your experience at Minnesota and applying that at Rutgers, what is the biggest advantage for you in helping the program go through the process of building credibility for this program within the Big Ten?
“I said when I went to Minnesota, it was going to take 5-7 years and we were fortunate to really hit in years three and four, but not totally hit it. It takes 5-7 years to really to get things up and running, but again, with the leadership we have at our university, our athletic director at Rutgers is tremendous. When you are trying to turn something around, you want everything lined up. You want the AD lined up with the head football coach. Coach Ash is a great guy and has been at great places. I’ve been a head coach for 24 years, 22 in college. It gives me the capability to come in and be a sounding board for him. We communicate well and have a good relationship. It puts us with a lot of experience in that coaches room.”
“As far as being an assistant coach, my ego is not that big. I’m actually excited, because I all I have to do is coach and recruit. I don’t have to worry about all the other things that go along with it. I’m having fun and I’m just glad he gave me the opportunity. I think we are a good team. He’s helped me and I think I can help him.”
How exciting was it for you in taking the job, knowing you have a quarterback in the fold in Johnathan Lewis, now officially, and how excited are you to now get to work with him?
“I’m very excited, we need a dynamic player at that position. We need a dual threat quarterback in what we are trying to do. The learning curve is going to be important, in terms of how fast he can learn and how fast we can get him going. That’s a hard position for a freshman. It’s not going to be easy, because of the grind of college football, but I think Johnathan is fired up about coming and working to get a job. We are certainly excited about him.”
In terms of your approach as the offensive coordinator, how important is it to be adaptable with the personnel you are working with?
“You have to be. We certainly are not going to be what we were at Minnesota, we will be different than that. We may be similar to what we were at Northern Illinois, a little bit more. We’ll have some stuff that we had last year. There was some good stuff the staff had in last year. Right now, we are putting together who we are going to be and what we going to do with the personnel that we have. We’ve started that and that’s what we have to do in the next few weeks before the start of spring ball. We won’t have it all in, but we have to identify, okay this is who we are and this is what we have to do. These are the players we have to get the ball to and get mismatches. However you can do that, you have to have a philosophy. It will be different and each place that I have been, it’s been different.”
You have talked before about how important it is to have an identity as an offense. How do you approach that with a new group and how do you embrace that challenge in having the opportunity to mold them into your vision of what they can be?
“I enjoy the process as much as I enjoy gameday. I enjoy the challenges and when people say you can’t do it. With our group of kids that we have right now on campus, I’m recruiting them still, as I am still getting to know them. Our morning workouts, our kids work hard here, they really work hard. I like the kids, they want to do well. They are tired of hearing they aren’t any good. Winning is a mindset, life is a mindset. You have to come up and make a choice. You either get better everyday or you don’t. It’s your choice when you get up, what that day is going to be. You can’t blame it on anyone else. As I tell them, you have to make good choices right now. You have to make them off the field, in the classroom, but you also have to make good choices to get better everyday. If you do that, there are no guarantees, but it gives you a better opportunity to be successful. You aren’t going to win them all, but if you can get better everyday, you certainly give yourself a better opportunity to be successful on Saturdays.”
Lastly, what are your thoughts on Janarion Grant returning and having that type of weapon in your offense?
“I was talking to Janarion today and he is working hard. He is running straight ahead, he can’t cut yet. He is an exciting and explosive player. I think what is ever more exciting than all that, I think we’ve recruited some more exciting and explosive players. I mean we got some guys that can really, really run. You are talking about 10.5, 10.6 in the 100 meters, that’s flying. I think we have some play makers recruited and we have to coach them. That’s the bottom line.”
Thanks for your time coach, anything else that you wanted to add regarding the #TackleEpilepsy campaign?
“I challenge everyone throughout the country to jump on board, it’s a great cause. I’m looking forward to seeing the faces and I want to see who has the best game face. Take care and I appreciate your help!”
Thanks coach Kill for your time, best of luck with everything and we look forward to seeing you on the field this season!
Coach Kill was a lot of fun to speak with and he is role model in every sense of the word. He has been a successful football coach everywhere he has been, but his ability to fight through this disease and work hard to help others with epilepsy is truly inspiring. His outlook on life and overcoming adversity is something everyone should embrace. Kill also seems to have a true vision for Rutgers football, both in helping coach Ash improve the program, but in directing the offense as well.
I am asking all of our readers to help coach Kill with his #TackleEpilepsy campaign this weekend and help spread awareness. Instructions are below. Also, follow coach Kill on twitter here. Let’s show him how strong our fan base is by helping to support his cause. Thanks again to coach Kill for taking the time to speak with me and giving some great insight on his vision for Rutgers football!