Jerry Kill has never backed down from a challenge, whether it's a Southern Illinois team that had no weight room or facilities when he took over as coach, to beating back cancer, to leading the Minnesota Gophers against college football blue blood USC in his first game.
When his hiring was announced, he had another challenge, and that was to quell a budding rebellion among Gopher fans who were angry that Athletic Director Joel Maturi didn't make a 'Tubby Smith hire' as he said he would. It became obvious about three minutes into his introductory press conference that he wasn't two things:
1) He wasn't Tim Brewster, who's bombastic personality had worn thin early on, and
2) He wasn't anyone's lackey--and Joel Maturi actually made a Tubby Smith hire, we just didn't know it at the time.
Kill is in the process of changing the culture in Dinkytown, a culture that had become complacent under former coach Tim Brewster. From the classroom to conditioning, things had become lax, and Kill's first task was to shock his team into a new way of thinking, acting, and ultimately playing.
That new attitude--The Minnesota Way, as Kill calls it- was ingrained from day one, and while the transition was an eye opening change for the team, they've bought in and are ready to go. When watching video of Kill on the practice field, he is everywhere at once, yelling, correcting...and encouraging, all at the same time.
Kill has also made inroads into recruiting, and has a promising class for 2012 developing. The biggest coup so far is OL Jonah Pirsig. The Blue Earth, MN tackle has been recruited by Wisconsin and Iowa...and he chose the Gophers. That NEVER used to happen.
But how will that translate on the field? Kill has done an excellent job of lowering expectations. Kill would have us believe that the Gophers can barely tie their shoes collectively, much less play decent football. And while the talent level at Minnesota is less than at a place like USC, this team is building excitement in Minneapolis. There is talent on this team, from MarQueis Gray, Da'Jon McKnight, and a LB corps that might be one of the Big Ten's best, the Gophers will be able to compete.
Kill's approach reminds me of Lou Holtz at the height of his time at Notre Dame--at his weekly press conference, when Holtz was done you'd believe that the Irish would lose to Western Kentucky...right before they went out and won 66-0.
I'm not saying that the Gophers are going to beat USC 66-0. I don't see them beating USC at all--but the days of embarrassing losses with the coach standing on the sidelines staring at the scoreboard with no clue as to what he should do next are over and done with.