CARBONDALE — Jerry Kill called a full staff meeting for 10 a.m. Monday, and calmly told them he was on the move again.
A three-time national coach of the year that resurrected the football program at Southern Illinois University, Northern Illinois and Minnesota, Kill, 58, stepped down as the Salukis' athletic director to join Virginia Tech's program as the special assistant to fourth-year head coach Justin Fuente.
Interim Chancellor John Dunn appointed Liz Jarnigan to replace Kill as athletic director Monday. Jarnigan joined the Saluki athletics staff in July 2018 as associate director of athletics, overseeing all aspects of the program's internal operations and serving as the program's senior woman administrator (SWA). Jarnigan is the first appointed female athletic director in SIU history to oversee the entire department. Dr. Charlotte West was SIU's athletic director of the women's athletic department from 1975-86, before the two departments merged in 1986, and the interim director of the program from August in 1987 to the summer of 1988.
Kill came to SIU as the special assistant to the late Chancellor Carlo Montemagno in February 2018, and was later appointed interim athletic director when Montemagno did not renew Tommy Bell's contract. Kill got the full-time title in February, and raised millions of dollars in private money in order to replace the turf at Saluki Stadium, resand the floor at the Banterra Center, and start the first women's soccer program in school history.
He hired an astonishing seven new head coaches, including Bryan Mullins for men's basketball, Ed Allen for volleyball, and most recently, Lance Rhodes, to take over the baseball program.
"The opportunity to serve as an administrator at SIU has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career, and it was a difficult decision to leave so many wonderful friends and colleagues at Southern Illinois," Kill said in a statement Monday from SIU. "There is an outstanding leadership team in place within athletics and I'm confident they will continue to build upon the foundation we've laid, allowing me to return to my passion, which is coaching football. I've tried to get away from football, but I just can't."
Kill went 55-32 in seven years as SIU's football coach, leading the Salukis to the FCS national semifinals in 2007. Only William McAndrew, who went 83-79-20 in 22 years from 1913 to 1916, and then from 1921 to 1938, won more games here. Kill took over a team that won one game in 2001 and tied for the Gateway Conference championship two years later. SIU made the playoffs for the first time since winning the I-AA national championship in 1983, and reached the postseason each of his next four seasons.
After leaving SIU in 2007, he made stops at Northern Illinois and Minnesota before moving into an administration role at Kansas State as assistant athletic director.
Kill returned to the sideline as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in December 2016 at Rutgers, but retired a year later after increasing seizures. Kill, who has battled epilepsy for years, retired from Minnesota because of health reasons in 2015.
"I had several seizures throughout the season," Kill revealed in an interview with NJ Advance Media in 2017. "It's hard for me, but when I say retired that doesn't mean I'm going to lay around on the beach. I don't want nobody to feel sorry for me. I've lived a blessed career."
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Kill helped orchestrate the richest naming rights deal in SIU history earlier this year, a multimillion-dollar deal with Banterra Bank to rename the SIU Arena the Banterra Center. He also has a long list of civic honors, stemming from his public advocacy for worthy causes, such as the Coach Kill Cancer Fund he started in Southern Illinois and the Epilepsy Chasing Dreams Fund he began while at Minnesota.
"We're grateful to Jerry for taking on the leadership of Saluki athletics at a critical time, and we respect his decision to return to his passion," Dunn said. "He has worked diligently on behalf of the university and the athletics program. In just over a year, he has hired seven head coaches, reorganized the program's administrative structure and dedicated himself to fundraising efforts.
"Notably, he was an architect of the 20-year, $10 million agreement with Banterra Bank to rename the SIU Arena the Banterra Center. We are fortunate to have had his energy and enthusiasm focused on SIU and know he will continue to do great things moving forward."
SIU football coach Nick Hill, who played under Kill from 2005-07, said he would miss his leadership.
"I think that every person that he's walked into their life, they have their own coach Kill stories in the way that he's impacted them," he said. "The one thing that I think we all know is coach Kill does it his way, and he has a passion, and he goes at things 100 miles an hour, and he gets things done. It's been awesome having him around here. I think that he has pushed me. He's made me better. His presence has made me better, because he's always gotten the best out of me, whether it was as a young player or now as a coach, and I think you need people in your life that are not always gonna tell ya what you wanna hear, but push you to be your best."
Kill also restructured the athletic department, bringing in Jarnigan from the Air Force Academy to be an associate athletic director and former colleague Jeff Jones. He also hired several other senior-level administrators, such as Jimmy Karayiannis (community outreach), Kate Hanson (development), Katie Gerlach (facilities), Hilary Wittenborn (academics) and David Rule (athletic training).
Jarnigan came to SIU after serving for two years as senior women administrator for the Air Force Academy's athletics program. Prior to that, she worked for eight years at San Jose State University, starting as the director for student-athlete success before being promoted to senior woman administrator. During her tenure at San Jose State, the department's overall Academic Progress Rate (APR) rose from 925 to 972. The football team's APR increased from 888 in 2008 to 975 in 2015. The overall student-athlete GPA reached an all-time high in 2016.
Jarnigan has also served as coordinator of student services and an associate athletic director at the University of Tulsa. The 1987 graduate cum laude of St. Olaf College was a four-year letter-winner in volleyball. She received her master's degree in athletic administration from Fort Hays State University in 1988.