He was more than just a coach.
If there is one thing that comes out of conversations about the impact Jerry Kill had on Webb City’s football program, it’s that the man had a profound impact on the school far beyond the football field. Kill, who retired as the head coach at Minnesota on Wednesday, led Webb City’s program from 1988-90, earning a state title in the process. While he was with the school for just two years, Kill set the football program on a trajectory for success, an impact that has only become enhanced as the Cardinals have emerged as the foremost football dynasty in the state of Missouri, if not the Midwest as a whole.
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“The impact he had on our program at Webb City, 25 years later, we’re still growing off that and a lot of people in town still look back to the two years he was here and he really set a course for the success of our program,” said Webb City head coach John Roderique, who both played for and coached alongside Kill before returning to Webb City. “I have a close personal relationship with him and we had a kid who went up there to him this year. He was a great mentor for so many people, including me, But he’s just a better man than anything else. He’s a great man.”
Kill came to Webb City from nearby Pittsburgh State, where he served as the program’s defensive coordinator. He eventually returned to Pittsburgh State (as an offensive coordinator), but not before leaving an indelible impact on the Webb City program. According to Ron Lankford, the former Principal at Webb City who went on to become the district’s superintendent and now serves as the Deputy Commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Kill made the football program more than just a football program. It was a platform for the entire school.
“I can tell you that we’ve had a history of some extremely good coach in Webb City, but in my life of 43 years in public education he is the most contagious person I ever worked with,” Lankford said. “That’s what distinguishes him. He was an excellent coach, but what he did to bring the community, the school and the kids together; they all felt a part of the program. The band felt it was a part of it and everyone felt they were a part of it.”
That kind of remarkable impact on a broader community is not common. Nor is it easily forgotten. Both Roderique and Lankford spoke to Kill’s penchant for eschewing any and all excuses in favor of a laser-like focus on getting the best of his athletes. As with everything else he did at Webb City, that extended far beyond Kill’s football players to general members of the student body, some of whom were in greater need of special attention and favor than others.
“The kid who cried the most when Jerry Kill left was a special ed student who knew that every morning he could go to Coach Kill’s office and get a donut and do his homework while Coach Kill watched film,” Lankford said. “That’s the kind of person he is.
“I talked to him a few days around the TCU game, and you could tell that Jerry was tired. With all the health concerns, I’m glad that he’s made this decision for himself. He’s made a great decision, and he has so much to be proud of. He’s been a very positive influence in my life, and there are countless people whose lives are better because their paths crossed with Jerry Kill.”
Roderique certainly echoed that sentiment.
“The best way to sum it up is that the game of football has lost a great man with his retirement. Certainly, I completely understand where he’s at, and I’m really glad that he’s taking his health seriously because he’s just a tireless worker. He’s always been that way. He’s as genuine a man as you’ll ever know, a tremendous guy and great football coach.”