Yesterday I watched the Northern Illinois University Huskies defeat the Fresno State Bulldogs 40-17 in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl. Being a Northern Illinois alum, the game itself was entertaining but the fact that it was Tom Matukewicz’s first game as a head coach was less than ideal. It should have been coach Jerry Kill walking the blue-painted sidelines in Boise yesterday.
Jerry Kill was NIU ‘s head football coach for the past 3 seasons but accepted a head coaching position with the Minnesota Golden Gophers on December 6th. This in itself is perfectly reasonable and I harbor no hard feelings towards Kill’s taking the job. The Minnesota position is viewed as a better one since the school is a member of the Big Ten and I expect the pay raise was hard to pass up. What is less forgiving is that Kill did not close out his stint with the Huskies by coaching them in the bowl game. Starting quarterback Chandler Harnish summarized it well for Husky nation when addressing the subject stating “I have a horrible taste in my mouth”. Whether it was pressure by the University of Minnesota or his own eagerness to start building a new program, Kill should have been the one coaching NIU ‘s final game of the season in Idaho.
Most college football coaches are looking for the next best job. Behind pressure from top donors, Athletic Directors are constantly searching for promising coaches to improve their programs. This translates to ‘out clauses’ added to contracts which allows a coach to leave before the final year of their contract. Though not ideal, it is a necessary evil in today’s college environment. Though an Athletic Director can’t force a coach to work through the final years of a contract, the NCAA should mandate they complete the season including bowl games before moving on to the new program.
The NCAA was formed to determine student athlete eligibility and enforce rules established to protect students, colleges and promote fairness across college sports. A coach leaving a school before the end of a season for another school should be restricted under NCAA rules. What if NIU was playing Minnesota in the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl? Though he wouldn’t coach the Golden Gophers in that bowl game could Kill sit down with the current Gopher staff to pass along some insight? Doesn’t taking some of his current staff with him before that final game put his former team at a disadvantage? The NCAA places a lot of emphasis on recruiting violations and also penalizes players for transferring schools but it does little to prevent coaches from job hopping before the end of a year. It needs to take a hard look at the state of college coaching and find a way to prevent this from happening in the future.