Photo - Leon Halip (Getty Images)
By: Aj Mansour | KFAN.com
Minneapolis, MN - Minnesota Gopher's head football coach Jerry Kill has a saying that he uses to motivate his team or nearly 100 college athletes. "Next man up," has kind of been the Golden Gophers rallying point during Kill's tenure as coach in Minnesota. Whether it's being used surrounding an injury situation or a position battle, "Next man up," has been the Gophers rallying cry during their attempt to turn the football program around at the University.
While Kill surely meant to empower his players with this mantra, it's unlikely that he expected that the saying would be used in regards to him.
Such is the case this week as the Gophers prepare to head down to Chicago, IL and square off against the Northwestern Wildcats. After missing the team's last game against Michigan due to struggles with his case of epilepsy, Jerry Kill stepped away from his beloved football team last week to spend time focused on rectifying the problem that has sidelined him multiple times during his stint with the Gophers.
With Kill taking care of his health, it's been defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys who has stepped up to serve as acting head coach for the Gophers Saturday against Northwestern. Everyone involved is hoping that Claeys will be able to step in and pick up where Kill left off.
"It's more like he's doing exactly what Coach Kill used to do," Gophers tight end Max Williams said Tuesday. "It's kind of like, 'next man up,' as Coach Kill always talked about. Coach Claeys is stepping up and doing the same things that Coach Kill used to do."
Claeys, who has been in contact recently with Coach Kill, understands the situation because in some respect, they've been here before.
"I really don't look at it like I'm the head coach," Claeys said at his press conference on Tuesday. "It's Jerry Kill's program, it will always be his program."
As the acting head coach, Claeys has taken everything under his wing. From mapping out the game plan to blowing the whistle at practice, Tracy has done his best to keep everything ticking just the way that Jerry left it.
"He's a good friend and he's a great fan of the kids," Claeys said of Coach Kill. "That's where we miss him, having him on practice field."
Despite the fact that Kill is away from the team working on his medical situation, he's still got that coach's blood in his body. In fact, Claeys said that he will continue to leave the stream of communication open in case Kill has insight to offer leading up to gameday.
"[Jerry can call] as much as he wants," Claeys said. "If he calls me and he has something he wants to say, then we'll be more than happy to take all the advice that he gives us. At the same time, we're not going to be a burden and bother him."
As for where coach Kill will be during the game on Saturday, Claeys laughed saying that he had no idea what coach has planned.
"That's a good question, I didn't ask him at all," Claeys explained. "I've known him a long time and I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know if he could sit there and watch it or not or if he'd go on his walk on the river and find out what happened later."
The Gophers and Wildcats kickoff from Chicago at 11:00 on Saturday morning. Catch LIVE play-by-play action on your radio home for Minnesota football, 100.3FM KFAN.
Aj Mansour covers Minnesota Sports for KFAN.com. Feel free to leave comments and questions regarding this post in the space provided below. For Gophers updates and breaking Gophers news, follow Aj on Twitter. @AjKFAN