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Harsh criticism: Jerry Kill says he thinks P.J. Fleck is about himself and not the players

There was a time when Gophers football fans proudly wore their “Jerrysota” T-shirts and celebrated the aw-shucks coach from Cheney, Kan. These days many of those fans probably wish Kill would just keep quiet — at least when it comes to talking about the current Gophers coach.

Kill, however, is doing no such thing. Now the athletic director at Southern Illinois, Kill went after P.J. Fleck during an interview Tuesday with Sirius XM College’s “Big Ten Today,” in which he took a personal shot at Fleck and criticized him for how he handled things when he took over for Tracy Claeys after the 2016 season.

“Sometimes ego gets carried away,” Kill said. “When he went into Minnesota and treated the people the way he treated my guys, telling them he had to go in and completely change the culture and that it was a bad culture and bad people. He made it sound like we didn’t know what we were doing. I took it personal. You just don’t treat people that have been with you and helped your career, and you don’t even talk to them once you get the job.”

Kill’s issues with the University of Minnesota extend beyond Fleck. Kill stepped down during the 2015 season for health-related reasons related to epilepsy and was replaced by Claeys on an interim basis. Claeys, who had been Kill’s long-time defensive coordinator, was named the program’s permanent coach in 2016 but was fired after that season.

The Gophers went 9-4 and won the Holiday Bowl, but that success was overshadowed by the suspension of 10 players that was part of a Title IX investigation into sexual assault allegations. The team threatened to boycott the bowl game — players believed their teammates had been denied due process from the university’s Title IX office — but eventually dropped that threat. Claeys appeared to do himself no favors when he published a tweet that supported his players.

Kill was unhappy when Claeys was dismissed with his anger directed at Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle, who did not hire Kill or Claeys. When he fired Claeys, Coyle talked about looking to build a program that operates with “integrity and class academically, athletically and socially.”

Kill, appeared on 1500 ESPN (now SKOR North) at the time, and said: “I feel like he threw me in there. We have done nothing but represent the state of Minnesota. … I won’t be stepping foot in the stadium. I won’t be stepping foot back at the university.”

Kill had previous experience with Fleck as the latter worked on Kill’s coaching staff at Northern Illinois at one point. Kill also told SiriusXM that he helped Fleck land the head coaching job at Western Michigan in 2013.

If the two had been friends then, they certainly aren’t now.

“He coached with me, but after that, you know, he changed a lot,” Kill said. “I’ll just be honest with you guys.”

Kill pointed to when Fleck left Northern Illinois to work as the wide receivers coach on Greg Schiano’s staff at Rutgers in 2010 as to when he changed. “People that have known him before — when he got with Schiano … his personality changed a lot,” Kill said. “And I knew his first wife, and he just changed a bunch.”

Kill also said he had an unpleasant conversation with Fleck shortly after Fleck left Western Michigan to coach the Gophers. “Yep, and it will be the last time (we talk),” Kill said. “Do I still root for the Gophers? I do. Do I enjoy him running up an down the sidelines? No. Do I think he’s about the players? No. He’s about himself.”

The Gophers went 5-7 overall and 2-7 in the Big Ten in Fleck’s first season in 2017. This past season, they went 7-6 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten and beat Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.

The 57-year-old Kill, who was 29-29 overall at Minnesota, 14-21 in Big Ten games and 0-3 in bowl games, returned to coaching as offensive coordinator at Rutgers in 2017 but stepped down after that season.


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