Updated April 6, 2006
Before Jerry Kill arrived at Southern Illinois in 2001, the Salukis had never won a Gateway Conference championship. Now, they've won three straight. They had been to the playoffs only once in school history. Now they've gone to four. The team has set more school records and reeled in more accolades than anyone could've imagined.
Entering his sixth year at the helm of Southern Illinois, Kill has guided the Salukis to three-straight Gateway Conference championships and I-AA Playoff appearances.
In 2005, the Salukis beat Eastern Illinois to win their first playoff game since 1983.
In 2004, the Salukis spent 10 weeks atop the I-AA polls, and Kill was named the winner of the Eddie Robinson Award honoring the Coach of the Year in I-AA.
The list of accomplishments by the 2004 Saluki squad is remarkable. The defense ranked #1 in the nation in points allowed, while the offense ranked #3 in points scored. The team set a record for consecutive home wins with 12 and broke numerous statistical records on offense and defense.
The 2004 season came on the heels of a remarkable 2003 campaign in which Southern shocked the world of I-AA football by winning its first 10 games and advancing to the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. Kill was runner-up for the Eddie Robinson Award in `03.
When Jerry Kill showed up for the 2004 American Football Coaches Association meetings in the spring of `04, he was greeted by friends and colleagues who all asked him the same question.
"How on earth did you do it?" or words to that effect were spoken time and again.
The "It" everyone was referring to was no less than the resurrection of Saluki Football.
To fully appreciate SIU's 2003 season, which included a 10-game winning streak, a Gateway Conference Co-Championhip and the school's first playoff bid in 20 years, you must first understand how far the program had fallen.
After dropping to Division I-AA status in 1983 and winning a National Championship, the Salukis hit a 20-year dry spell without a playoff bid or conference title.
In fact, the program had posted 11-straight losing seasons heading into the 2003 campaign.
Five head coaches had tried and failed to right the ship.
So when Kill took the reigns at SIU in 2001, no one in the AFCA could have expected him to build a model program in a mere three years. No wonder the organization has named Kill a regional coach-of-the-year two years in a row (2003 and 2004) and asked him to deliver a speech to his coaching brethren to explain exactly how he and his staff did it.
Although he deflects praise and directs it toward his players and coaching staff, there is no mistaking who has orchestrated the Saluki revival.
Yet who is Jerry Kill, and how has he risen from football obscurity to coaching a team that can contend for a national title?
The Cheney, Kan. native describes himself as an overachiever. Clearly, he has excelled when others thought he couldn't.
Not an especially gifted athlete, he weighed 160 pounds as a freshman at Division II Southwestern College (Kan.) in 1979. His football coach encouraged him to play point guard for the basketball team.
Instead, Kill played linebacker and eventually became a starter, all-conference player and two-time captain. He was named the team's most inspirational player his senior year.
Raised in a working class family, Kill became the first member of his family to graduate from college. He earned a degree in teaching with a minor in biology.
His coaching career began shortly thereafter, and Kill paid his share of dues, earning a meager sum as an assistant coach to his mentor, Dennis Franchione, at Division II Pittsburg State. He was eventually promoted to offensive coordinator -- the title he held during PSU's 1991 National Championship run.
Kill worked his way up the coaching ladder, eventually landing his first head coaching job at Saginaw Valley State in 1994. He posted five-straight winning seasons at SVS, including back-to-back 9-2 campaigns in 1997 and 1998.
Yet after his father passed away from liver cancer in 1999, Kill took the head coaching job at Emporia State (Kan.) to be closer to his grieving mother. In the process, he left a program that was nationally ranked to coach one that had a losing record.
Kill came to SIU in 2001 and quickly sized up his predicament.
"I thought it would take at least five years to turn things around," he said. "But it was worse than I thought when I came for my interview."
Yet, Kill rolled up his sleeves and made incremental progress his first two years.
He was instrumental in striking a deal with the local electrical union to install lights at the stadium so the team could play night football again.
He reached out to the community, making himself and his team available for frequent community-service and goodwill projects.
The community, in return, rewarded his team with the biggest crowds at McAndrew Stadium in more than a decade.
Himself a generous donor to worthy causes, he has inspired others to contribute to the program, which helped renovate the locker room and replace the stadium's artificial turf.
Kill brings a no-nonsense approach. His work ethic, honesty and integrity are unparalleled.
A practice session under Coach Kill reflects his personality; crisp, well-organized and fiercely competitive. He is very demanding of his players on the field, but is also a friend off the field.
"I try to treat people like I want to be treated," he said. "It takes a while to build that family atmosphere. You do it by being around the players. You've got to have them in situations where you're not just talking football all the time. Being visible, communicating with the players and getting to know them is very important."
What does all this say about Jerry Kill? Plenty.
No matter what the odds, no matter what people might expect him to accomplish, he has consistently exceeded expectations.
And he has done it by following the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He cares about people. In June of 2004, Kill was shocked to receive a call from his alma mater. The reason for his surprise? They were calling to induct him into the school's hall of fame.
Hardly the kind of achievement anyone would have predicted when he first set foot on that campus 26 years ago. Or as Kill likes to joke, "not bad for a short, fat, bald guy."
|2001||Southern Illinois||Head Coach||1-10||1-6||--|
|2002||Southern Illinois||Head Coach||4-8||2-5||--|
|2003||Southern Illinois||Head Coach||10-2||6-1||I-AA Playoffs 1st Round|
|2004||Southern Illinois||Head Coach||10-2||7-0||I-AA Playoffs 1st Round|
|2005||Southern Illinois||Head Coach||9-4||5-2||I-AA Playoffs 2nd Round|
|2006||Southern Illinois||Head Coach||9-4||4-3||I-AA Playoffs 2nd Round|
|at Southern Illinois||43-30||25-17|