Penn State Football

Penn State football: James Franklin addresses retirement of Jerry Kill after scaled-back practice

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley dodges a teammate with the ball during the Wednesday, October 28, 2015 practice in Holuba Hall.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley dodges a teammate with the ball during the Wednesday, October 28, 2015 practice in Holuba Hall. CDT photo

Head coach James Franklin has nothing but respect and admiration for Jerry Kill, who announced his immediate retirement from his head coach position at Minnesota during a very emotional press conference on Wednesday.

“The business lost a good man today, in terms of Jerry Kill retiring,” Franklin said after practice on Wednesday. “A guy that I love to spend time with, whenever the Big Ten would have any meetings, any coaches meetings, we’d get together. Just an unbelievable guy. Take football out of it, just an unbelievable person.

“Tremendous respect for him and his career, and how he handled his business. So the Big Ten lost a good man today, college football lost a good man today. But if I could imagine, he’s still going to have an impact on the game, somehow, some way. Sad to see Jerry go.”

Kill is leaving the position he’s held at Minnesota for five years (he got his first head coaching job in 1994), citing health reasons. The 54-year-old suffers from epilepsy, and has experienced seizures since 2005, the same year that it was discovered Kill had Stage 4 kidney cancer. Kill went into remission but still suffered frequent seizures, and had to take a leave of absence in 2013.

“I don’t want to be a liability,” said Kill to reporters during his press conference in Minnesota. “I don’t want somebody to have to worry about if I’m going to drop on the field…I don’t have any more energy. None. I’ve left it all here in the great state of Minnesota, and I have no regrets.”

Kill went on to share his fears about retirement — without football, he said, he doesn’t know what he’ll do.

“I ain’t done anything else, that’s the scary part,” he said.

Franklin said he watched the video of the heartfelt and emotional presser later that day.

“I mean, it’s hard to see something like that, hard to watch something like that, especially when you understand what he’s kind of going through and it’s obvious what the game means to him,” said Franklin. “And being around kids, young men, what that means to him. His family has sacrificed a lot for a long time and it’s hard emotionally to see someone going through that. But he made the right choice for his family and for himself, and I think everybody respects that.”

Franklin said he reached out to Kill Wednesday afternoon via text message. He also agreed that the somber news offered him some personal perspective.

“The demands of this game are challenging, especially at a place like Penn State,” he said. “But it obviously has to be family first, it has to be your health first. It has to be family. Jerry made that decision in the long haul.”

Dialing it back

Penn State practiced in Holuba Hall following some poor weather in State College. The team was not wearing any pads and was not going full-speed through drills and formations.

Franklin said on Tuesday that to preserve his players’ bodies during a long stretch without a bye week, he and his staff had made the decision to scale practice back this week, as the Nittany Lions prepare for Illinois on Saturday at noon.

“Yeah I mean today was really the first day (that we scaled practice back),” he said. “We cut some time off practice yesterday, but nothing significant. Today was the first day real difference. We’re usually in pads and bangin’ a little bit, we changed tempos up today, we did some walkthroughs, took the shoulder pads off, took the knee braces off, things like that.”

Even though the team has struggled in the last few weeks with tackling and full-contact drills may have helped rectify that, after watching his players on Wednesday, Franklin said he knew it was the right decision.

“We’ll watch the film but from what I saw at practice, I thought it was the right thing to do at the right time in our season,” he said. “It doesn’t guarantee we’ll do the same thing next week…we’ll see what we need to do moving forward.”

Right tackle Andrew Nelson, who went down with an apparent injury last week, was dressed out and at practice. Franklin said earlier this season that Nelson deals with an issue that “flares up” from time to time.