Kill, 44, has tumor removed from kidney

Updated: February 14, 2006, 2:31 PM ET
Associated Press

Southern Illinois football coach Jerry Kill had a cancerous tumor removed from a kidney last month, choosing to delay the operation until after the season. The 44-year-old coach expects a full recovery and doctors found no evidence the cancer spread.

"I'm doing fine," said Kill, whose cancer was first reported Tuesday by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper in Carbondale, home of the Salukis. Cancer "is just an obstacle that's come up, and now I have to overcome it."

Kill, who told the Salukis of the cancer last week, said doctors have trying to determine if the cancer was linked to his seizures last fall, including one on the sidelines in the waning seconds of an Oct. 15 home loss to Illinois State. Kill said it's possible the medical issues are related.

At that time, the university attributed the seizures to an unspecified condition that occasionally manifested itself with such episodes but was not considered life-threatening.

But on Tuesday, Kill said that while undergoing tests after the seizures, doctors uncovered the kidney problem not long after the Salukis notched their biggest victory of last season, knocking off Western Kentucky -- then Division I-AA's top-ranked team -- on the road Oct. 27.

Athletic director Paul Kowalczyk said Kill apprised him of the diagnosis from the outset, but the coach did not want to make his condition public, fearing it would become a distraction.

"He knew he had a window to work with," Kowalczyk said Tuesday. "It's his body, his issue and I've respected that. With anything else Jerry's taken on, I have all the confidence he'll win this, too."

The Salukis' season ended Dec. 3 with a loss to Appalachian State in the quarterfinals of the Division I-AA playoffs. Kill had the cancer surgery about a month later, spending a few days in the hospital before he resumed recruiting.

About 102,000 people worldwide die from kidney cancer every year. In the U.S., about 32,000 people are diagnosed each year with the disease, which accounts for 3 percent of all adult cancers and occurs most often in those 50 to 70, twice as often in men than in women.

On Tuesday, Kill was back in the office, arriving in time for 6 a.m. workouts and planning to head home 12 hours later.

"I really haven't had any recovery time," Kill said as he continued preparing for spring drills that begin March 29. "I'm still swelling and a little sore. But I'm not one to sit around. The busier you stay, the less your mind worries about something you can't control."

Kill is credited with resurrecting a Salukis program that last season -- his sixth at Southern -- won its third-straight Gateway Conference title and its first I-AA playoff game in 22 years.

Medical problems have never slowed Kill. A day after being released from the hospital after last October's sideline seizure, Kill was on the sidelines but largely an adviser when the Salukis beat Indiana State. Kill also had a seizure in November 2001 shortly after the Salukis lost to then-Southwest Missouri State, and he returned to coach the next week.

"I've been firmly committed to SIU, and I've given every ounce to SIU and its football program. I will continue to do that," he said. "Am I a little slower and at a different pace right now? Yeah. But I can be right now."

He expects to use the cancer as a motivator.

"When I tell the players, 'Hey, you've got to suck it up. Life's not always fair, and you've got to battle through adversity,' they can look at me and know," he said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press