Rob Reeves is returning home with the opportunity to show what he can do as offensive coordinator of Minnesota's football program when the Gophers play Central Michigan Monday in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field.
Reeves, who attended Saline High School, was an All-American quarterback at Saginaw Valley State University while playing for head coach Jerry Kill. He then became a grad assistant at Saginaw Valley before following Kill to Emporia State (1998-2000), Southern Illinois (2001-07), Northern Illinois (2008-10) and then Minnesota in 2011.
"It's always exciting to come back home," said the 42-year-old Reeves. "When we played Michigan and Michigan State it's been great times, especially when we won the Jug there two years ago at Michigan. That win was a major highlight in my career and we had a lot of family and friends there.
"It's always exciting for me to come back to where football began for me."
After Kill stepped down as Minnesota head coach this season due to health reasons, Reeves is now working for his longtime friend Tracy Claeys, who was elevated to head coach. Reeves was promoted to interim offensive coordinator from his tight ends position after Claeys relieved Matt Limegrover of his duties in late November.
So, is this an audition for Reeves to get the permanent offensive coordinator job after being alongside Kill and Claeys for more than two decades?
"It's really not an audition, and I'm not looking at it that way," Reeves said. "Coach Claeys knows what he wants to do and he's definitely looking at bringing in an offensive coordinator from the outside. We're going to keep doing what we do as a group and that's putting players in position to make plays.
"If Tracy wants to talk to me about being offensive coordinator I'd love that, but at the same time I'm not pushing for it because this is his opportunity as a first-time head coach and it's going to be a big hire for him, and he has to do what he feels is right. By no means do I want to be in his office putting pressure on him saying, 'I think you should hire me.'
"Tracy gave me the chance to be in this profession. I've been with him for 21 years. I got my start playing for Coach Kill at Saginaw Valley. I was a grad assistant for two years at Saginaw Valley making absolutely zero money and I was fortunate to be able to move in with Tracy. Then I was making $9,000 at Emporia State and Tracy had a two-bedroom condo and invited me to stay with him there, too."
Claeys said he would consider his longtime coaching colleague for the permanent offensive coordinator job.
"When I first got to Saginaw Rob was still playing quarterback," Claeys said. "I kind of recruited him into the coaching thing. He's got a great football mind and loves the game. He'll do a great job at the bowl game and getting the kids prepared."
Kill, plagued by seizures the past few years, retired in October after guiding Minnesota to a 4-3 start. Kill is the godfather of one of Reeves' four children.
"It's been a tough, emotional year for all of us," Reeves said. "Coach Kill without question was like a father figure to me and a lot of us. I've been with him for 22 years -- 20 as a coach and two as a player. Not only is he an outstanding football coach, but he's an even better person, and that's why we all stayed with him all these years.
"With Coach Kill it was special because there's not many coaching staffs around the country that has our type of continuity. When we won, we won as a family, and the same could be said about the losses. He demanded a lot out of his coaches and players -- mental toughness, work ethic, being extremely detailed and being accountable for your mistakes."
Reeves was heartbroken when Kill stepped down, but also thrilled to have him regain his health with a less stressful lifestyle.
"I'm extremely excited for him that he was able to make that decision because first and foremost is his health," said Reeves of Kill. "We want him around and healthy for a long time. He will always be around and be a major part of our lives."
Quick Lane Bowl
Central Michigan vs. Minnesota
When: Monday, 5 p.m.
Where: Ford Field
Records: Central Michigan 7-5, Minnesota 5-7
Line: Minnesota by 4