CHAMPAIGN – Jerry Kill wasn't 100 percent healthy for Saturday's game against Illinois. No one with Northern Illinois was going to tell the head coach he would have to miss it, though.
Kill wasn't even warm to the idea of coaching the Huskies from the press box.
"I didn't want to go up in the press box, that's not me," Kill said after NIU lost, 28-22, to Illinois at Memorial Stadium. "The only thing I can say is I've been through some things over the past five years. I know what my body can and can't do."
Put a check mark in the can box for the following: coach twice after stays in the hospital in two-plus weeks, perfect the water-cup toss after officials miss a pass interference call, inspire a group of young men and fail to surprise a group of older men just by showing up to work.
Kill didn't want Saturday to be about him. That proved as hard as it was for the Huskies to stop Illinois' powerful rushing attack at Memorial Stadium.
He was the story all week leading up to Saturday's game against Illinois, with constant updates on his health while he was holed up in a room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital following dehydration, surgery a little more than a week prior to that and electing to consult with his personal physician on an illness that remains private.
Kill's toughness and courage are beyond reproach, that much was known before the game. And if Kill's just being out on the field didn't prove it, his response on the decision that led to him coaching Saturday made it clear. His mindset wasn't going to allow him to sit this one out.
"There wasn't any decision to be made (on coaching Saturday). I ain't going to miss [any] ballgame," Kill said. "I've been coaching ball for 27, 28 years. I've got a great wife, she understands me. I appreciate everything that Kishwaukee Hospital did for me. I appreciate everything from the [paramedics] coming to my house. The people at Northwestern treated me first class and everybody gave me the opportunity to get out on Thursday night and coach the great game which I love."
A five-day stay in the hospital didn't do anything to affect Kill's sense of humor, either.
"I'm doing fantastic, a little warm out there today," he cracked in the postgame news conference.
Whether he came back too soon last week or this week is up for debate, but almost impossible to judge without all of the facts. Outsiders only can hope that Kill knows what's best for his health and follows what his doctors say.
That included making sure he was hydrated on Saturday, which his family took care of as one of Kill's daughters provided the coach plenty of water throughout the game.
Kill's return to his team was a boost without much fanfare inside the Yordon Center offices. He walked into the building, which immediately lifted the spirits of his assistant coaches, then got down the to the business of catching up on the past five days.
"He came and walked in the office and he is ready to go," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "He was very business-like. He let us go ahead and let us finish our preparation... I just said, 'Good to see ya.' And he said, 'It's good to see you, too, and all the kids.' "
He wanted to see his coaches, his players. Unable to for most of the week, Kill wanted to gameplan for a big interstate game with Illinois.
"They did an outstanding job," Kill said of his assistants. "They deserve all the credit in the world, God bless them. And the players, they just locked into what they're doing.
"Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, I really wasn't coherent as to do anything or even talk to them. I talked to (offensive coordinator) Matt (Limegrover) on Wednesday. Then I certainly tried to find out what we needed to do. We call it adversity. If a player goes down, the next player has to step up. In our case, the coach goes down, next guy steps up."
Saturday, NIU's coaches and players did just that, performing pretty well but unable to make enough plays or catch enough breaks to get a road win against the Illini.
The Huskies went through a strange week filled with enough news to last a few months. With their coach back with the team, they now hope the next week can be about just one thing – football.
• John Sahly is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org