Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Most Awkward Situation

The Americans With Disabilities Act holds that people cannot be fired from their jobs due to medical conditions--provided you are qualified for the positions and can perform the essential functions of the job with or without special accommodation.  But what if adhering to that law negatively impacts every other person in the organization?  That is the very sticky situation the University of Minnesota finds itself in with its Head Football Coach Jerry Kill.

Kill has epilepsy.  University officials knew that before hiring him to take over the pathetic Gophers football program in 2011.  At the time, Kill told the Athletic Director that he and his doctor were working on a medicine regiment that would control seizures and not cloud his mental capacity.  But since then, Kill has suffered four major seizures either right before or during Gopher games--in each case requiring transport to the hospital--and the coach being unavailable for the game.

The most recent episode took place last weekend in the Minnesota game against Western Illinois--when Kill had to be taken from the stadium to the hospital at halftime--leaving his assistant coaches to run the show in his absence.  The situation was taken to a new level Sunday morning, when Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan became the first person to publicly call for Kill to step down because of his medical condition.

Having worked around Souhan--and reading his columns while in the Twin Cities myself--I can tell you he is not a "Fire the coach because we lost this week" kind of guy.  He is just pointing out how unfair it is to the players, to the assistants and to the fans to have a head coach that has proven to be unable to stay on the sidelines for entire games. 

As you might expect, the column has created a firestorm of controversy--with Souhan being accused of discrimination and Kill being elevated to the status of "poster boy" for those with epilepsy.  Several of Kill's assistants have lashed out--calling Souhan "ignorant".  The U of M Athletic Director--Norwood Teague--is making sure to say all of the right things, going so far as to claim that being a head coach is "so much more than just Saturday."  I'm sure that comment perked up the ears of 200 or so other Division I football coaches--all of whom stand to lose their jobs for failing to go to bowl games or beating their big rivals every year--even if they graduate all of their kids, the players never get arrested and donors give to the new weight room project.

If being on the field for games is not going to be considered an "essential function of the job" as Minnesota Head Football Coach, why have the position at all?  Why not just have an offensive and defensive co-ordinator--and let them make all of the decisions on game day?  They can each handle all of the recruiting for their respective sides of the ball--and let the special teams coach round out the roster with guys he needs for the kicking game?  All of the off-the-field stuff can be handled by Athletic Department staff.

The way the Jerry Kill situation is being handled gives us a pretty good idea of why the University of Minnesota has not played in the Rose Bowl since 1962--and probably won't be a threat to go to Pasadena for at least another 51-years.

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