Jerry Kill takes a sip of coffee, leans back in his office chair and smiles. It is 9:30 on a sunny Thursday morning and he is excited about the start of another work day that won’t end until the same time that night.
As Kansas State’s associate athletic director for administration, Kill has the schedule of two employees. He estimates he will work nearly 80 hours this week without a day off, doing everything from meeting with athletic director John Currie to studying future opponents with football coach Bill Snyder.
His responsibilities include helping K-State administrators run the day-to-day operations of the athletic department, interacting with donors, hiring football support staff, brainstorming creative ways to boost recruiting, adding teams to future schedules, mentoring football players and assistants, attending practice, watching game video and consulting with Snyder.
The average working man might not be so cheerful about that kind of hectic schedule, but to a retired football coach, it feels like vacation.
“I love everything about it,” Kill said. “I can’t be a 9-to-5 guy. I just can’t. I am still putting in 12 hours a day, but it is a different type of 12 hours. I don’t have a daily routine, and that is what is so great about this job. I have my own schedule. I can even go home early every once in a while if I feel tired.”
Kill, a Cheney native, never enjoyed such luxuries during his 32-year career as a football coach.
His daily routine used to consist of 20-hour work days and sleep cycles that could be measured in minutes.
“I only coached one way — hard as hell,” Kill said. “When I couldn’t do that anymore, I wasn’t going to cheat anybody. I retired.”
Kill worked so hard as a young coach that he found a way to win at every level, moving up the ranks from Webb City (Mo.) High. He won with Division II Saginaw Valley State and Emporia State. He won with FCS Southern Illinois. He won with FBS Northern Illinois. And, finally, he won in the Big Ten with Minnesota.
Kill won 156 games and claimed three national coaching awards, gaining the reputation of a program builder.
But that relentless work eventually caught up with him in the form of unpredictable seizures, which forced him to tearfully retire at Minnesota last year for health reasons.
The transition away from his dream job hasn’t been easy. He misses constant interaction with players and the thrill of victory. Part of him still wishes he was in Minnesota, helping the 7-2 Gophers finish off a promising season that has them in contention for a conference championship.
But the opportunity to “take it easy” while helping Snyder, a coach he has long respected, has done wonders for his health. A low-carb diet, prescribed by his epilepsy doctor, has helped him lose 25 pounds. He sleeps more and exercises daily. His energy is way up.
“I would say I feel about 90-percent better than I did a year ago,” Kill said. “I would probably still be coaching had I felt this good then. But I have changed a lot. I went from 2 1/2 hours of sleep for 12 years to six hours of sleep now. That is a huge deal.
“I have changed my life, and K-State has allowed me to change my life. I am more relaxed and I have been able to take time to take care of myself.”
For that reason, Kill says his time away from the headset has helped him come to terms with his coaching retirement. He knows he made the right decision.
Perhaps one day he will return to the sideline as an assistant or consultant if the job description keeps his work hours and stress levels low. But he has no desire to return to the life of a head coach.
“You always hear people say, ‘Never say never,’ and so forth, but I just don’t think it is in the cards,” Kill said. “From a standpoint of health and what is best for my family, the answer is no.”
Besides, he’s having too much fun with his current job, which returned Kill to his home state and pays him $150,000 per year.
He has already learned to care deeply about K-State football, and his enthusiasm is noticeable.
No one told Kill he had to watch every second of practice this season, but he’s doing it. No one told Kill he had to help K-State coaches scout opponents, but he is always in the video room.
Kill could watch games from the press box with most K-State administrators, but he prefers to watch from the sideline so he can encourage players between snaps, and, occasionally, argue with officials. He wants to be close with the team so he can be a voice for coaches and players.
In Kill, the Wildcats hired a high-level athletics staffer that doubles as an assistant football coach.
“Jerry is a good guy and I enjoy having him around,” Snyder said. “He comes up and watches tape and looks at opponents we are going to play and evaluates them. He really enjoys doing that. It’s a release for him.
“He’s a genuine guy, a good, old-school football coach, and he is enjoying that part of it, having the chance to do what he has always done. It always helps me to see it from another set of eyes.”
His new job allows Kill to scratch his football itch and find time for other things, such as his new book, “Chasing Dreams: Living My Life One Yard at a Time.” All proceeds go to cancer and epilepsy foundations created by Kill.
In little more than a year, Kill has gone from struggling with epilepsy to helping others combat it.
He didn’t envision this when he retired from Minnesota. But it’s been a successful journey for the former football coach who strives to take life one long work day at a time.
“I may have started a trend,” Kill said. “As much as I enjoy this job, you might see athletic directors start hiring more retired coaches for this type of position. It’s a perfect fit.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett