Jerry Kill: 'This was a difficult decision to make, but the right decision.' (Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press)
Minneapolis — Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has taken an open-ended leave of absence from the team to focus on treatment and management of his epilepsy.
The university announced the decision Thursday, before a news conference with athletic director Norwood Teague and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys.
“It’s a big step for him,” Claeys, the acting head coach, said at TCF Bank Stadium.
Kill had to miss the last game at Michigan when he suffered a seizure at home that morning and was unable to travel with the team, and Claeys called that the turning point in Kill’s thinking about needing more time away to rest, recuperate and adjust to new medication.
Teague and others have talked about the importance of taking more responsibilities off Kill’s plate to reduce stress and fatigue, which can be triggers of seizures, though there’s no predictability to them.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but the right decision,” Kill said in a statement distributed by the university. “Our staff has been together a long time and I have full confidence in Coach Claeys and them during my time away. Every decision that will be made will be in the best interest of the players and the program. I look forward to returning to the Minnesota sideline on a full-time basis soon.”
The Gophers don’t play this week, but Kill’s availability for the Oct. 19 game at Northwestern is now in doubt. He has had five seizures on game days in three seasons at Minnesota, four of which have forced him to miss at least a part of that day’s game. He had an episode at halftime of the Sept. 14 game against Western Illinois this year.
Earlier this week, President Eric Kaler reiterated his support for Kill and his ability to handle the job. Kaler said he and Teague haven’t discussed a “Plan B” and that he believes changing coaches on a continual basis is a recipe for failure in football.
The Gophers (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten) are 13-18 since Kill took over in 2011. The rest of their schedule this season is daunting -- road games against Northwestern, improving Indiana and Michigan State, and home contests against Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin.