Nov. 22, 2011
The following is a transcript of head coach Jerry Kill's weekly press conference for Nov. 22, 2011:
COACH KILL: Ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate the opportunity to come in and visit with you, and probably just an opening statement, wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving before I forget. We all have a lot to be thankful for. With that I'll take on any questions you may have about the game coming up.
Q. Talk about the defense of Illinois.
COACH KILL: Well, I'll tell you what, athletically they're very, very good. Vic Koenning is a guy that started his career off with Gary Patterson way back in the K-State days, so there's a lot of similarities there. He's kind of the head of the game on defense as a coordinator. We played against him last year at Northern, so we get to see that film and Minnesota's from last year. They do a lot of unique things, play a lot of trap corner.
Defensive ends are very, very athletic. I think they've got a chance to be drafted early when they come out. They're just very good. They're ninth in the country, and there's a reason. They've got good players, and they've got a good coordinator that puts them in good places. So they've been impressive all year, and I've got a lot of respect for Vic and the job he does.
Q. Talk about your own team in terms of progress. Is it hard to measure from game one until now? How do you feel?
COACH KILL: Well, I think over the last four -- I think the second half from Nebraska on, it's been a different group of kids. I think we probably helped matters by the way we practice and went good on good, and we've been pretty physical on Tuesday and Wednesday. Certainly as the last two games we've hit people a lot better than we've hit them since I've been here. We've knocked some guys back, and we haven't done that. So I think we've gotten a little bit tougher the last four games.
We haven't played good in all three areas and made some plays to be successful, and we're playing a little bit different people, too, as we go here. But I think that there's certainly progress been made, and there's some kids that aren't even playing that progress has been made, some younger kids that we're red shirting. So I feel good about the direction we're going and feel good about the direction we're going in recruiting and excited about going to practice today.
That's one thing I can say: Our kids have, over the last four or five weeks, I think they've kind of figured out how you need to practice and what you need to do. I've enjoyed them. I wish that would have happened way back during the spring, but it just didn't happen. I don't know what happened, but over the last four or five weeks, it's just been different. Intensity has been different, and several guys have dropped by to see practice, and scouts and things go, hey, Coach, you'd never know you just won two games, boy, the kids are working hard for you. And they have. We played hard on Saturday, we just didn't play very well in the kicking game and didn't execute, didn't finish drives on offense, but we moved the ball.
We're taking baby steps, and we certainly -- if I probably coached a little bit better, I'd have been a little bit better coach, maybe we'd have had a little more wins to show for it. But I do think we're making progress, and if I didn't think we were, I'd tell you, but I think we are.
Q. Is there something you would have done different if you look back?
COACH KILL: Yeah, win them. Win them, and maybe been able to -- maybe do a little bit different -- we closed our line splits down. That sounds like a small thing, but it's a big thing. I wish maybe we'd done that because we've ran the ball better since we closed our splits down. I think that's helped our offensive linemen. That's just one example I'd say that you look back at.
We're a little thin. I think our coverage teams do -- as we've got guys that are, like Kyle Henderson is playing tons of snaps on defense, and plus he's playing on kicking game, so I think our bodies, our coverage teams have suffered for that because of lack of depth, and that hurts you. It certainly hurt us on Saturday.
But I think just little things of that nature maybe, that doesn't seem like a big thing, but it is, and maybe figuring out our kids a little quicker. But again, when you're not going against anybody in the spring and you get a new job, that's hard. But that's kind of an excuse. And we miss -- there's no question, I talked about Troy Stoudermire, we miss him. We missed him. That hurt us through the process. The guy that went -- Edsall, who's a hell of a football coach, and we're trying to touch base right now, he's going through the same thing I'm going through at Maryland. He's a pretty good football coach, won a lot of games. This is the first time I haven't been in the postseason or a Bowl game in eight years, somewhere in there, so I'm not used to it, either.
So it's something that you go through. I can't tell you that I haven't -- I've enjoyed the kids and this process to be honest with you. I've enjoyed working with them. I just wish that we could have gave them, as a coaching staff and head coach, wish we could have gave them more wins. I take responsibility of that because I think over the last four to five or weeks they've figured it out. Unfortunately I wish we would have figured out how hard you've got to play and how hard you've got to prepare and practice and so forth.
But hey, we've got another week. I'm excited about playing Illinois here and being here at home for Thanksgiving with the players, and certainly I really expect our kids to play hard, certainly our seniors.
Q. You talk about wanting to end the off-season on a high note.
COACH KILL: Well, I think no matter what, the off-season is going to be a high note, I can tell you that. You won't be around if it ain't going to be a high note because there will be some things changed. This is more about the seniors. This senior class has been through a whole lot through their careers here. Duane Bennett, he played as hard as he could play, he played hard on Saturday, and I want -- Kim Royston really had a good football game on Saturday. You're happy for those kids. They've been through -- just take those two kids alone, been through a lot, coaching changes, all those kind of things.
If I could have a Christmas list of giving somebody a gift, I'd love to see those seniors get a win on Saturday, I really would, because they've been through a whole lot throughout the program, and I certainly would like to see that for those kids. And I told the underclassmen that. I've challenged our underclassmen, hey, you need to play your guts out this week. We need to send these kids out on a good note. But we're playing Illinois and that's not an easy thing. They're a good football team.
Q. Will you be happy to see the season end?
COACH KILL: Well, no, shoot, I wish we were going to a Bowl game. I don't know how you could ever be happy with the season ending. I enjoy coaching, I enjoy practice, the process, and again, you don't get to work with the kids the way the rules are, so that's different. But again, we can't control that, so we'll take -- we're not going anywhere this year in a Bowl game, so we'll take that as a deal as soon as Saturday is over with, we'll still be working on Monday because we're going to go right into the weight room. So we're not going to take time off or anything like that. We've got to get stronger and faster and et cetera. So we'll just keep moving the program forward. That's what you have to do.
Q. Not playing in a Bowl game, will that maybe even help you be even more efficient or effective in recruiting?
COACH KILL: I think you use your time -- I think you concentrate on your whole program. I can tell you that when the season is over you're in the midst of things all during the year. I'll get a chance, I'll be on the road as soon as I can get out on the road, so we'll have our banquet on Sunday. But we'll meet as a staff, just like I'm doing some of it. Through the season I take notes and I'll put them in my drawer, take notes, and then I'll pull things out, and then at the end you assess where you're at, where you need to go, what you need to do, what you need to do to compete in the Big Ten. I did it at Southern, did it at Northern, so we'll address those needs and what we need to do and what we're going to do in the off-season.
We've already done it in the off-season. There will be whole lot of different things, and I don't want to go through them all today, but the off-season will be totally different than it has been. It'll be good. And we're excited about that, but that's just part of the process of what we've done before.
We'll take, again, not being in a Bowl game. Can we be more thorough in recruiting? You bet. You've got more time to watch film. You're not preparing for a Bowl game and so forth, so I mean, it will certainly help us and we'll concentrate all the way to the junior class and sophomore class and we've got to get classes balanced out and et cetera. So we've a lot of work to do, and no different than Coach Edsall does at Maryland.
It's kind of unique, I thought about Maryland, we're similar to really kind of what they're going through and what we're going through. So that's kind of why we're trying to touch base with each other a little bit. So we'll see.
Q. Do you have a lot of notes in that drawer?
COACH KILL: I've got quite a few of them, yeah. I've got a whole folder full of them. Each week, I evaluate -- each week I take a time to myself and I try to evaluate myself and our staff and our players and what we should have done different in game situations. I mean, I'm not one -- you can't get better unless you take true aspect of what you need to do better as a coach. There's no -- any coach that's not trying to get better, then they're never going to get where they want to be.
I think there's -- we've done some good things and we've done some things that maybe we could have done differently. But I really think that the biggest thing we've done, I think we've stayed positive with our kids, and I think our kids -- I really think -- I believe -- the most important thing is what your kids believe, and I believe our kids believe we're going in the right direction, and that's important right now.
Q. Now that you have this whole season to look back on with the kids you have here, how far do you think you are realistically?
COACH KILL: Oh, I'm not going to make all those statements, but I will tell you, we'll be better next year. I can tell you that. Our goal is going to be set high. I'm not going to tell you that today because I haven't talked to our team and all that. But we'll be better and we'll move it forward. I believe that. And I think we have in some aspects, and I'm disappointed we haven't won a couple more games and things of that nature.
But I'll be disappointed if we don't move it forward. And how much, we'll set those goals, and I'm sure we'll visit about it, but I want to talk to our team. But I've got high standards. I don't want to go through them. Nobody likes to lose, and it's very difficult.
But you know, I think where we're at and how we're recruiting -- recruiting is a big part of it. I can answer that question a lot more after recruiting is over, but recruiting is essential, and right now that's going very well, but it's not February yet, so we've got to hold some kids in there until February.
People have been tremendously helpful in recruiting and reached out, and there's a lot of people that want the University of Minnesota to be good, and that's a positive thing.
I think that where we're at right now is pretty much where you usually are when you take over a football program. You really don't know what you have or where you're at or how the school works. It takes you a full year to go through it, how the Big Ten is, the level of play and how far you're away and those kind of things. I mean, we have -- if you look through what's a little bit frustrating for us over the last three or four weeks, if you take field position away and finishing a few plays and making a few plays, it's -- you know, we're right there. That's what's hard.
You know, Northwestern was hard, because we're right there. But again, how close are we or how far away are we? I think it's really going to come down to recruiting. But I think there is a younger group that's played a lot before their time, certainly on the offensive side of the ball is very young, and they've gotten a lot of valuable playing time, a lot of people have, and even on the defensive side of the ball.
I think the biggest thing we have to do, we lose a ton of players in the secondary. I mean, whether they're non-scholarship, scholarship or guys that played, we lose a lot of bodies in the secondary, and we've got to make sure that we address that. And we're trying to do that right now.
Q. You mentioned recruiting. What's the reality today versus what the perception of Minnesota high school recruiting was when you came in?
COACH KILL: I think fine. Again, each year is different. I think everybody wants to put numbers on everything. Some years some states are going to have a whole lot of Division I players, some years they're going to be down. When I was at Northern Illinois, sometimes Chicago was really a great area, then other years it was down. It's just according to whatever.
But as far as the perception of what we're doing in recruiting, that part of it, again, I'm not going to use -- I'll never use that as an excuse. I'm not going to give you excuses why we can't do something. We can recruit here at the University of Minnesota. That's our job. I'm really not that worried about it. I mean, we've got to recruit the right player that's going to fit in, and if we don't, I won't be here. You'll be talking to another head coach. But I'm very confident that we can do that.
I mean, I've coached for 29 years. Recruiting is about relationships. I've got a lot of relationships in 29 years, and that's -- your jobs are about relationships, and I think because I've been in it a long time, and Coach Miller has been in it 32 years, you rely on people you trust in recruiting when you're trying to build a program. So I feel good about what's going on in that area.
Is it easy? No. Are we going to get the same recruit that USC is right now? No, but we've got to recruit what we need here at the University of Minnesota to get our program going, and I feel like we can do that.
Q. What position group do you feel the best about going into next year? Is there one?
COACH KILL: Oh, I hadn't thought about that. I don't know. The offensive line has got a lot of young kids and they're going to get bigger and stronger. Quarterback is going to be older, Shortell will be older, and the receivers will all be back except for Da'Jon. You'd like to think that group is going to get better. Defensive ends will be back, so you'd like to think they'll be better and stronger because they're all freshmen, red shirt freshmen.
Linebacker wise we lose Tinsley and Sveum, but I'd like to think they'll be better. So there's room for -- optimism, but you're going to try to bring in -- I'm going to try to bring in 35 players. You're going, now, you ain't got 35 scholarships -- no, 35 players, because when I talk about that, I mean, I feel like some of the ones we'll recruit will be on scholarships later on down the road.
We're going to be aggressive. That thing will slowly -- because you've got to recruit about 30 a year because you're always going to have natural attrition. You're always going to in football. It's a hard game. This game is a hard game, it's not an easy game to play. It's not normal to go out every Tuesday and Wednesday and hit somebody back and forth. It ain't like other sports. It's a hard game. So you'll always have natural attrition that you'll have to replace it with, so you're always recruiting.
Sid asked me about special teams, kickers, punters. To me you recruit a team every year. That's what you try to do, recruit offense, defense, you try to recruit every year. Now, they may not all be scholarships, but some of the things you bring in that are not scholarship you want to bring in hoping they will be someday. You just don't want to have a body out there that can't play at this level.
Q. You mentioned Troy earlier. Are you still hopeful that he can get --
COACH KILL: Yep, I'm cautiously optimistic. I guess that's the best way to put it.
Q. When will you find out?
COACH KILL: That's the unfortunate thing. I don't get to control how quick that process goes. But in our situation, it works out good, because he's -- where we're at scholarship wise is not going to matter what way or the other. But we did help our football team, and it helps him, also. He needs another year.
Q. From your experience over the years, how much do you feel that you can really know how much players are going to help you at the time that you announce your recruiting class before you get them here? Do you feel like you have a pretty good idea as to how much they're going to help you, or how do you assess that?
COACH KILL: I think you've got an idea. You've got to do a lot of film study. That's what I'm doing just before I -- you never go out and say, this kid is guaranteed or anything like that, because you don't know. They're all paper Tigers until they come in and play, because they've got to get adjusted to your university. They've got to go to class. They've got to be able to handle where they go. Even if they're a kid that's a Minnesota kid, it's different for them, and going to a big school, practicing the way we practice, it's an adjustment.
That's why we'll try to bring in at semester, whether it's a high school kid or a college kid, try to bring in eight kids at semester, and some of those may be high school kids. I can't talk a lot about it, but the point is that you try to make -- that transition is tough, so it's not easy. But as far as -- we can't afford to miss in recruiting right now. We just can't.
So that's why you go back and you pick up -- you triple check, quadruple check, you talk to the coach, maybe you know, can you guarantee me, you have to really do your homework. And we'll make mistakes, too. Everybody does. But you don't know until they get on the field, you really don't.
There are some kids here that even in our program that coming in and not knowing -- Lenkiewicz has gotten better and better and better, and wouldn't have known that when I came in. I mean, he's -- there's a lot of kids. There's a lot of kids that have done a lot of good things turning their whole life around and playing ball. They've done some very good things, they really have. That helps the optimism a little bit. There's a group of kids in there that are trying to -- like I said, that you've got to start with that nucleus, and I do think there's a nucleus there.
Q. What are you going to work on in regards to the kicking game this week?
COACH KILL: (Laughing) You want to come out and help us?
Q. I've played soccer all my life.
COACH KILL: Well, come on out. We'll check the NCAA rules, we'll check with J.T. and we'll get you out there.
Through my career, we've been very, very good in the kicking game, so it's no more frustrating to anybody than me. But personnel wise there's not a whole lot of things we can do except teach it better. On kickoff coverage, we've been pretty good on kickoff coverage every year, and the first two with the wind just killed us. And then Jordan in the second half knocks it out of the end zone, which if we had done that earlier, it would have saved us about 100 yards on field position.
We didn't cover kicks very well. We lost contain. We did some things with some kids that have done a pretty good job all year, just they made some errors. They'll be in here with me today, and we'll continue to work, and we'll continue to work with our kicker and punter. That's all you can do at the end of the day. And most of it's -- you've been to practice and you've watched us and things. Most of it is right here. You've got to get it out of the head. You've got to believe. You've got to believe you can do things and you can come back from adversity, and I use Duane Bennett as the best example I can give. Duane Bennett fumbled the ball going inside the 25-yard line. That kid came over to the sideline and he was crushed, and I grabbed a hold of him and I said, "hey, the sign of a good player, big boy. You'd better get used to this in life. You're going to have to fight back your whole life, so get back in there and get after it." I mean, he got back in there and he ran the ball harder than he did before the got the fumble.
So to me that's a win that doesn't count on the wins and losses, but it's a win for us and it's a win for that kid because he battled back from adversity. And by doing that, I think he got a big boost of confidence, and I really believe he'll play well. We've got to have that with some other kids on our team. When we haven't got off to a good start or things of that nature, we have not battled back very well, and that's whether it's the kicker, punter, coverage teams, et cetera. We did do that on Saturday. We got off to a tough start because of field position, and they got on us, but we stayed in there pretty well.
You know, it's sad that we fumbled the ball on the 25-yard line, and it's sad that we busted a route down on the goal line, ball got tipped and got an interception and that's 14 points right there, and that's not counting a couple dropped balls. Those things, believe me, when you go in there and sit in that film room, it's very hard.
But I know the kids are giving as much effort as they can, and we've just got to keep coaching them, and sooner or later that whole tide turns. You just can't be negative and be getting down and all that kind of stuff, just doesn't do you any good at the end of the day. You've just got to keep pushing forward.
Q. You're used to winning and you're 2 and 9. Are you having fun?
COACH KILL: You know, I think that I've enjoyed the process, and I enjoy coaching. But I don't think you ever have fun losing a game. I think that I don't have a lot of fun on Saturday on the flight home, but neither does the kids, neither does anybody if you're a competitor. It's not fun when you don't win. But can I say that I'm not enjoying the process and do I regret -- I mean I've enjoyed -- certainly over the last four or five weeks I've really enjoyed coaching these kids, because like I said, we're going to have practice today; we're going to practice hard, and they'll practice hard. So I've enjoyed -- and I see it changing. If I didn't see it changing, I wouldn't be saying it. But I'm having -- like my wife says, she goes, "You're the darndest thing I've ever seen. You can't talk for a day after you lose a ballgame, but after that you think you're going to whip the world the next week."
So that's just the way I'm wired. I enjoy life. I enjoy coaching the game. I enjoy the process. Not everybody can go in and -- I've been fortunate that I've been able to go in and turn programs around, but I think I forgot how tough it was. It goes all the way back to Southern, that I don't want to do it again. This is it. I've said that since I've been here. It's too damned hard. It's hard to change a culture, it's hard to change people, it's hard to change the view of things. You get pounded by people that go, I don't think he can do it. I mean, all those kind of things. That's not easy to do.
Thank the good Lord I've been trained for it and I've been through it before because if you haven't been through it, it's pretty darned tough. That same thing Edsall is going through at Maryland. It's not easy to do. But if you've been through it and you kind of live in a bubble, which we do as a staff, and we talk all the time, we keep each other going, so to speak, and it's -- if our kids were not working, I'd tell you, but I don't want to see the season come to an end, because I think the kids are trying -- have finally figured some things out. So I'd like for us to keep playing so we can get better.
And I think they've tried. I could go in -- if I had a film session and pulled this down with you and watched the film from Northwestern, you'd just go -- there was times our offensive line blew their defensive three technique three and four yards deep back. So we haven't been able to do some of that. We did that against Iowa some. So you see those things, and you get excited about where we're going.
I think we have a lot to look forward to. Again, how fast and quick and all those things, there's only one person that knows that. I don't know what the process is for that. But I'm not any less excited than I was when I took the job. I love the process.
I feel bad about one thing -- or two things: One is that I would love to have seen our seniors have more success because I think they've really tried; and number two, I wish we could be more successful for the state of Minnesota, our lettermen, all that. I wish it could be quick, but gosh darn, I don't have a crystal ball and I can't tap something to make it just be that quick.
And I think that anything in life worth having -- we're where we're at because of the off-season. We haven't sunk enough into the thing to win. You win in the off-season. You win in the weight room. You win in spring ball. Our kids, if you remember when I talked with you during that time, I said, hey, haven't bought in, we hadn't worked hard enough, we hadn't -- so all of a sudden it's kicked in now a little bit, but it's too late. It's too late.
I feel bad that I couldn't get that done earlier, but I kept trying, even through you all. I kept saying, hey, we don't know how to work, we're not doing this right, we've got to pick it up. But I couldn't -- again, I was hoping I could get them to buy in quicker and move faster, but I don't think it's their fault. I just think we didn't do a good enough job, I didn't do a good enough job earlier, and then still, we have some deficiencies that we need to take care of, too, in recruiting. We've got to get some players in some certain areas that we're short on, and that all comes with recruiting.
Q. How good can MarQueis Gray be next year?
COACH KILL: Well, he just needs to keep making progress. He's gotten better every week, that's for sure. If we get two or three balls caught on Saturday -- there was about two or three plays, and unfortunately that's for a quarterback, there was a couple times he pulled the ball down and scrambled, we had people open, he should have threw the ball and put it on them. But he's fun to watch right now because he's getting better. And his progress is -- again, we need to finish up strong on Saturday, and he needs to continue to improve. I think it's -- in a lot of ways, what he's done, I wish he wouldn't have got hurt, and what he's done now playing quarterback four or five years, you watch everybody else, you look at guys in the NFL, you look at guys in college football, and no more experience he's had. He's done a pretty good job.
And I think our offensive coordinator and our offensive coaches have done a pretty good job of using him the way we need to use him right now. We've just got to continue to grow on that side of the ball. It's awful young, and we're awful -- I think you can kind of sum us up, we're just not very consistent.
If we were consistent all the time, we'd be talking about more wins. That's what we're not. One area plays pretty well and the other one slips. It's like a dam and the water breaks and you patch it here and then it patches over here, and we're just not good enough yet to get through that. But we'll get there.
Q. You talked about how hard it is to turn around a program. Has it been a tougher year than in other places you've been, or is it too early to tell?
COACH KILL: I'd say it's too early to tell, but I can tell you this first year here is not at tough as it was at Southern Illinois. That was tough. We didn't have a nice stadium to recruit to. We had a trailer house on top of the stadium at Southern Illinois. You know, we had much, much, much more off-the-field problems there when I first got there. It was not good.
The only difference here that's a lot different is it's more like -- Coach Alvarez about a week ago said some nice things. That's hard to do, I think, being from Wisconsin, and we're from Minnesota. But he said some good things about us and where we were going, and he said he'd watched the film and seen the progress that we've made and that we would get it done.
But that's kind of the way -- at Southern it was kind of the same way. It was hard to see the progress there and where we were going, because again, we didn't have some things in place there that we may have here.
But I think it's a similar -- it's different than Northern, but I think it's similar to Southern, but I think at that particular time it was tougher.
Back to the Wisconsin thing, when Coach Alvarez took that job and when I took the job at Southern it was easier to fix it, though. It's harder to fix it because there if you lost players, they chose to leave, transfer, whatever, or they didn't work hard in your program -- we probably lost 35, 40 players at Southern. I can't tell you the exact number. I think Wisconsin did the same thing. Joe would know more about that than I would, but I think there's a lot of players that exited that first year. You can't do that anymore or you pay the scholarship penalties.
That's the hardest thing about turning over a program. That's why you want as much time to do it as you can get because you can't quick fix them anymore. The timing when we got in last year, Bowl game, those kind of things. I've said all along it's going to take some time, and I feel bad for people having to be patient, I really do. It's hard for me.
And I think I probably -- this year has taught me the same thing that Southern Illinois taught me, which is when you win, enjoy it. Appreciate it and enjoy it. Probably haven't enjoyed it enough -- when you turn programs enough, you never get a chance to enjoy it sometimes, and so I'm looking forward to enjoying some wins here in the future. I don't think there's any question about that.
Q. I know it's your least favorite topic, but to what extent has your health been a challenge since September?
COACH KILL: Yeah, I mean, I think that it is something -- I want to talk about football and focus on the kids, not so much myself. I'm fine. I guess the final thing I'm going to say on that is that -- and I don't want to talk about it anymore, is that I've told -- I'm more open than any coach in the country, I think, in my situation, and my situation is something that is going to be with me the rest of my life, so it is what it is, and so I deal with it. But it's not going to affect my job, and it hasn't, and if it ever does, then I won't be the head coach at the University of Minnesota. I'm not going to cheat the University of Minnesota and I'm not going to cheat our fans, I'm not going to cheat anybody. I've never done that in my whole life. I'd walk away from it.
I know my health situation is something that can be controlled, and every once in a while something might happen, but I'm not going to let that define who I am or anything like that. I'll just keep plunging along. I'm in pretty good health; you come out to practice I can still get after people's tail end pretty good, and I'm pretty scrappy, so I think I'll be fine. I think I'll be fine. I don't think the good Lord is ready for me, believe me. I'm too ornery.