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REWIND: Kill's health could affect Bohl's future

by Mike McFeely

(UPDATE: I am re-running a blog post I wrote 3 weeks ago because it still fits perfectly today. I wrote the blog originally because I wanted to take a look at the chances of NDSU's Craig Bohl taking the job at Minnesota, IF (repeat IF) Gophers coach Jerry Kill steps aside because of health problems related to epilepsy. Kill, unfortunately, had another seizure this Saturday and had to miss the entire Gophers-Michigan game. So ... the points I made about Bohl 3 weeks ago still fit.) 

We'll get the disclaimer out of the way early: The rest of this blog post is based on what-ifs and if the first what-if doesn't happen, then the rest are irrelevant, too.

What-if No. 1: What if Minnesota Gophers football coach Jerry Kill decides to resign during or after this season after suffering another epileptic seizure on the sidelines Saturday?

Kill suffered his third seizure during a game in three seasons in Minnesota's victory over Western Illinois in Minneapolis. It happened at the beginning of halftime, on the field, and Kill missed the second half after being hospitalized.

 Jerry Kill
After the previous two seizures with the Gophers, Kill and his bosses showed no inclination that he should step down. But, in a tremendous story about Kill and the management of his epilepsy written by Joe Christensen in the Star Tribune last summer, the coach made the following statement: 

“The worst thing that’s ever happened to me is the ­Michigan State situation. You can’t be the head football coach and miss half of a game. I mean, I’m not stupid, I realize that.

“If I was doing those things, the university wouldn’t have to fire me. I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it. But that won’t happen because you’re talking to a guy that wasn’t supposed to be here anyway.” Christensen went on to write: That last line was in reference to a 2005 seizure Kill suffered on the sideline while coaching at Southern Illinois. Besides being the first time he was diagnosed with epilepsy, that episode helped doctors discover that Kill was suffering from stage 4 kidney cancer. He had surgery to remove the cancer and has been in remission. 

So Kill clearly believes he can do his job and manage his epilepsy, as most of the 3 million Americans who have epilepsy do. But ... he did leave the door open to the possibility that missing large chunks of games could lead to his resignation. He missed the entire second half Saturday. That is a large chunk of a game. We won't know what the Gophers administration thinks until next week, when athletic director Norwood Teague is expected to speak to the media about Kill's seizure. Both the A.D. and Minnesota president Eric Kaler have previously stated they fully support Kill.

But ... Kill did leave the door open.

Which could lead to ...

What-if No. 2: What if Minnesota decided to look three-and-a-half hours to the northwest for its next coach?

North Dakota State's Craig Bohl is a hot commodity in college football right now. His team has won two straight Football Championship Subdivision national championships (something Kill, a former coach at FCS Southern Illinois, never came close to doing) and is coming off a nationally-televised victory over the Big 12's Kansas State and legendary coach Bill Snyder. That's led to ESPN's College Football GameDay scheduling a trip to Fargo next Saturday.

Bohl's stock has never, and may never, be higher.

Bohl is a popular figure among the Twin Cities media, not only because of his recent success but because he's done it with key players recruited from Minneapolis-St. Paul and their suburbs. NFL-bound cornerback Marcus Williams played high school basketball at Hopkins and wasn't recruited by the Gophers. NFL-bound offensive lineman Billy Turner played in the suburbs and was not recruited by the Gophers. 

It helps, too, that Bohl's Bison defeated Minnesota in 2007 and 2011.

 Craig Bohl

That Minnesota would pursue Bohl seems obvious, but this is an athletic program and specifically a football program mired in decades of mediocrity and delusion. Gopher boosters, fans, administration and media mysteriously seem to believe the Gophers are a big-time football program and seem to hold out hope that Nick Saban will leave Alabama to coach a team that hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since the Kennedy administration. The rest of the world, including the coaching fraternity, views Minnesota as just another Indiana -- a bottom-feeding Big Ten team. Worse, the Gophers play in a metro area and state that will forever and always be Vikings Country.

But it is certain Bohl's phone will be ringing off the hook after (and perhaps during) the 2013 season and if the Bison win their third straight national title he will get opportunities numbering in the double-digits.

Minnesota would be smart to at least call the 701 area code.

And if it does, that would lead to the final what-if.

What-if No. 3: What if Bohl was offered the Gophers job?

 Would he take it? Chances are he would. I base this on several known factors.

  • He interviewed for the Gophers job in 2007 with then-AD Joel Maturi. Many schools have called NDSU inquiring about Bohl, but it is believed the secretive coach hasn't interviewed many times. He saw fit to interview for the Gophers job, which says something about his interest in coaching in Minneapolis. Maturi, by the way, hired Tim Brewster, who lost to Bohl in '07 and whose brief tenure at Minnesota was filled with mostly incompetence.
  • Minnesota fits the profile of schools Bohl would be interested in coaching. While not open about his specific list, Bohl has said he won't leave NDSU for just any FBS job, usually saying something along the lines of, "I've coached Nebraska's defense against Miami in the Orange Bowl. I don't need to take an FBS job to soothe my ego or build my resume. I've been there, done that." But Bohl hasn't ruled out leaving NDSU. Bohl has generally said he wants to stay in the Upper Midwest and would take a job at a school that has a chance to win. It is believed he would only take a job at a major-conference school. That would seem to narrow the conferences to the Big Ten and the Big 12. He likes the idea of coaching at a school in a region that he knows and where he can play a style of football based on big hogs up front playing straight-forward, no-gimmicks football.
  • And, as I said earlier, his stock will never be higher. Bohl can't do much more than win national titles and beat a perennial top-25 team like Kansas State. The current three-year run he's enjoying at NDSU is unparalleled. He is the king of the town, if not the state, and other than a handful of well-publicized missteps by his players his team is wildly popular. There have been no major scandals, no crippling controversies, no nastiness like he experienced in his last couple of years as defensive coordinator of Nebraska. There's little left to accomplish in Fargo and he'd leave a conquering hero, with an open invitation to come back any time as an administrator, fund-raiser or corporate vice-president.

There is also the financial incentive for coaching the Gophers. Though Bohl has never seemed driven solely by money and has often said that would not be the top consideration in taking an FBS job, he is human. Bohl's contract at NDSU (which runs through 2021) pays him a base salary of about $210,000 per year. With incentives, he likely pulls in between $350,000 and $400,000 a year.

Kill is working under a seven-year contract that runs through the 2017 season. He makes a minimum of $1.2 million per year, according to media reports. That means Kill will make $8.4 million if he fulfills the contract. That is a sum much more significant than Bohl's earnings in Fargo.

Who could blame Bohl for taking that kind of money?

The first what-if domino -- Kill resigning -- would have to fall for the next two to become relevant. If it does, I'd be willing to bet a $5 bill that Bohl is coaching the Gophers at this time next year.


ESPN's College GameDay coming to Fargo 

Aerial photo of Bison fans tailgating outside Fargodome 

UND could learn from Bison's success 

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)