Desperate to get a struggling football program headed in the right direction, Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi spent two months conducting an exhaustive search to find the right man for the job.
The process was completed Sunday night when Maturi agreed to terms with Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill on a five-year contract to take over the downtrodden Golden Gophers.
"We cast a wide net in this search, but the name we kept coming back to was Jerry Kill," Maturi said in a statement. "Coach Kill has won at every level of coaching and has a history of rebuilding programs. I'm confident we have chosen the right man to lead the Golden Gopher program."
Kill went 23-16 and led the Huskies to bowls in all three of his seasons there. Northern Illinois went 10-3 this season, including a 34-23 victory at Minnesota that laid the groundwork for Gophers coach Tim Brewster to be fired.
Minnesota went 3-9 and 2-8 in the Big Ten this year. Brewster was fired in October after the team started 1-6 in his fourth season on the job. Interim coach Jeff Horton finished the season with wins over Illinois and Iowa.
Kill went 6-7 in his first year in DeKalb, Ill., and 7-6 last year before the breakout season in 2010. The Huskies lost to Miami of Ohio in the Mid-American Conference championship game on Friday and were ranked as high as No. 24, the first time Northern Illinois has been in the AP Top 25 poll since 2003.
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The Huskies will face Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise, Idaho on Dec. 18.
"It is a tremendous opportunity and, I think, great timing," Kill said in a statement. "I can promise all the people at the University of Minnesota and throughout the entire state that I am going to give them every single ounce that I can give them. I have done that on every job that I have taken."
It might just take everything he's got. Kill inherits a program in shambles.
Maturi made a big gamble when he hired Brewster, a tight ends coach for the Denver Broncos at the time who had no previous experience as a head coach or coordinator in college or the pros, to take over for Glen Mason.
It was a disaster from start to finish. Brewster went 0-10 in trophy games, lost home games to North Dakota State and South Dakota and wasn't able to capitalize on brand new TCF Bank Stadium, a shimmering $300 million project that was supposed to put the once-proud program back on the map.
Brewster's lack of success quickly took the shine off the wonderful new stadium, with the student section half-empty for most games and a lack of energy and excitement that was supposed to have been created when the Gophers moved back to campus after more than two decades of playing in the Metrodome.
At the press conference to announce Brewster's firing on Oct. 17, Maturi acknowledged the mistake and said one of the biggest selling points the university had for the new coach was, "You're not following Vince Lombardi here."
"This is a situation where, you know what, somebody can come in and win some games and people are going to feel good about him and they win a few more games and they're going to feel really good about him," Maturi said then. "And if we go to the Rose Bowl, we might even put a statue of them outside of TCF Bank Stadium."
He promised to attack the process with vigor and said he wanted to make a "Tubby Smith-type hire," referring to getting the big-name basketball coach away from Kentucky three years ago.
Head coaching experience was a must this time around after the Brewster move failed so badly, but Kill doesn't bring the big-name recognition that some of the initial names mentioned - Boise State's Chris Petersen, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer and former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti - brought to the table.
Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach openly campaigned for the job, but the Gophers never strongly considered him.
Kill went 4-5 in playoff games while coaching at Southern Illinois and 0-2 in bowl games with Northern Illinois. His head coaching career started at Saginaw Valley State in 1994 and went through Emporia State and Southern Illinois before he landed at Northern.
"Played hard, physical, I was cheering for him all the way this year because I know him very well," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "He plays a Big Ten style of football. Line up, play physical, play hard. He's a good coach."
He's had a few health problems in the past, including a bout with kidney cancer in 2005 at Southern Illinois. He also was hospitalized for dehydration in September, but returned in time to attend the Huskies' 28-22 loss to Illinois.
"He's a very true guy. A very, very good football coach," Bielema said. "He's won everywhere he's gone. I called him this year because I knew he probably wasn't paying attention to his doctor's orders, and I said, 'Please listen to the doctors.' I'm excited if it is true for him to come into the league. He's a tremendous ball coach."
AP Sports Writer Colin Fly in Madison, Wis., contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)