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Ex-Minnesota coach Jerry Kill on P.J. Fleck: ‘He’s about himself’

By Andy Greder
St. Paul Pioneer Press
P.J. Fleck

Former Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill said he aired his grievances with current coach P.J. Fleck in a phone call with him a few years ago. On Tuesday, he shared his “disappointment” publicly in an Sirius XM radio interview.

Kill, who was named the permanent athletics director at Southern Illinois last week, told Matt Schick and A.J. Hawk on “Big Ten Today” he spoke with Fleck after Fleck got the job at Minnesota in January 2017.

“Oh, yeah, it wasn’t good,” Kill said. “… And it will be the last time.”

Kill was head coach at Northern Illinois when Fleck was an assistant there in 2008-09. Kill said he then helped Fleck get his first head coaching job at Western Michigan in 2013.

“He coached with me, but after that he changed a lot,” Kill said. “I’ll just be honest with you guys. … I just think sometimes ego gets carried away.”

After Fleck’s son, Colt, died in 2011, Fleck developed the “Row The Boat” culture at Western Michigan. It is based on never giving up, “serving and giving” in the community and holding players up to high standards on and off the field.

Fleck has previously praised Kill. “Coach Kill taught me a lot how to care for players,” Fleck once said. “When I already did care for players, he taught me how to care more.”

Fleck replaced Tracy Claeys, who was fired, in part, because of fallout of 10 players implicated in a sexual misconduct incident during the 2016 season. Fleck didn’t retain any of Kill’s assistant coaches but has retained some of the support staff from that era.

“When (Fleck) went to Minnesota and treated the people the way he treated my guys and telling them he had to go in and completely change the culture,” Kill said. “… He made it sound like we didn’t know what we were doing, and I took it personal.”

Jerry Kill

In early January 2017, Kill was critical of the University of Minnesota; it came days after Claeys was fired and just before Fleck was hired.

“I won’t be stepping foot back in the stadium,” Kill, then Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, said on KSTP-AM. “And I won’t be stepping back into the university.”

Fleck inherited a roster that had major holes along the offensive and defensive lines, and he often brought it up during his first spring practices.

Kill took exception in an interview with Big Ten Network in March 2017. “We inherited a mess,” Kill said. “(Fleck) has walked into a gold mine.”

On Tuesday, Kill again made it personal.

“Do I still root for the Gophers? I do,” Kill said. “Do I enjoy him running up and down the sidelines? No. Do I think he’s about the players? No. He’s about himself.”