Jerry Kill is an instantly recognizable name in the Midwest. The three-time national coach of the year who led Southern Illinois University (SIU) to five consecutive NCAA playoff appearances and three bowl games in four-and-a-half seasons at the University of Minnesota has made rebuilding programs his calling card. What’s less known is Kill’s prowess at building facilities—he’s managed to get facilities built at every coaching stop along the way.
It’s why at the end of a long and successful coaching career, Southern Illinois University has brought the coach who turned around their football program in 2001 to make the same positive impact on SIU’s entire athletic offering. The new director of athletics has thirty years of coaching and a mastery for fundraising to help reinvigorate and renew sports at SIU.
He served as associate athletics director for administration at Kansas State but even short of that, Coach Kill says that it doesn’t matter the sport, the business, or the team, he breaks it down all the same. “What you’re trying to do to build success is to build a big team, and it’s just like football,” Kill says. The coach’s expertise to easily break down these issues has led to numerous public speaking engagements from the educational to the corporate.
It’s also meant a strange vacation regiment for Kill as of late. “I went on vacation and people sort of laughed at me because I went up to TCU to take a look at Coach Patterson’s crew to give them an outsiders’ view of what they’re doing, and then Virginia Tech flew me down to do the same thing,” Kill laughs. “I don’t think I did the vacation right because I was pretty tired when I came back.”
When it comes to his own team at SIU, Kill says the ingredients are fairly simple. “I’ve surrounded myself with good people that work hard. I don’t think it’s complicated; I want to work with people that I know a lot about.” The coach brought in Liz Jarnigan, senior woman administrator, and Jeff Jones, associate athletic director for internal operations, to round out the day-to-day affairs while he attends to matters of fundraising. “I lean a lot on people that I’ve had relationships with that I know are going to get in a foxhole with me,” Kill says.
“I’ve surrounded myself with good people that work hard. . . . I lean a lot on people that I’ve had relationships with that I know are going to get in a foxhole with me.”
Fundraising is an area where Kill doesn’t need to lean much. “That’s really my wheelhouse,” he says. “I’ve taken over programs that were not as successful and had to help fundraise. I’ve been in it the whole time with every program I’ve ever had.” The coach says he looks to the example set by Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez in building a career on relationships and utilizing those in order to help build out SIU’s sports potential. “Raising money is recruiting,” Kill says. “That’s all it is. You go recruit players and get the players. You recruit money to get us scholarships to get those players to win.”
In coming back to SIU in a wider role, Kill said he and his team had to essentially break down each department to see what was needed from academics to Title IX to training facilities to budget. “We basically audited ourselves,” Kill says. “Overall, we just had to get the right people in the right spots, and like a football team, you have to change the culture if it’s not successful.” Kill says it’s his and his team’s job to give coaches at SIU every opportunity to win and if it will help, whatever it may be, he’ll do what he can to make it happen.
There are some new faces in the department. Kill hired the school’s first-ever women’s soccer head coach Grant Williams, women’s golf head coach Danielle Kaufman, volleyball head coach Ed Allen, men’s basketball coach Bryan Mullins, and track & field coach Rosalind Joseph. The new AD sees the Saluki turnaround project as a three-to-five-year project that will take time, commitment, and intelligence.
Kill says part of his job is educating potential students about what a fantastic experience SIU offers its students. “The biggest thing here is that we’re kind of an unknown secret sitting on a national forest,” Kill says. “We’re surrounded by lakes, pretty country, and down-to-earth people. That’s what attracts people like me here.” The coach thinks that when seen up close, the school does a fantastic job of selling itself.
“Raising money is recruiting. That’s all it is. You go recruit players and get the players. You recruit money to get us scholarships to get those players to win.”
From a wider perspective, Kill says no one is operating under the assumption that he’s planning to spend another thirty years in an athletics director position. After all, he deserves an actual vacation at some point. But he’s determined to get SIU back to the glory days of when the then up-and-coming coach brought its football program into its prime. If Coach Kill has turned it around once before, he’ll do it again.
Editor’s note: At press time, Jerry Kill had left his position at Southern Illinois University to join Virginia Tech’s football program as special assistant to head coach Justin Fuente.
Banterra became SIU’s first corporate naming-rights partner of an athletic facility with the renaming of SIU Arena to Banterra Center in 2019. We did so, because of our faith in Jerry Kill. His leadership, character and vision are a driving force for SIU’s success and provides confidence in this commitment.