PJ Fleck greets Jerry Kill on field before Gophers host New Mexico State

The University of Minnesota football team hosts New Mexico State Thursday night at Huntington Bank Stadium, which marks Jerry Kill’s return to Minnesota.

Kill said a few years ago he would never set foot on the campus again, after PJ Fleck replaced Tracy Claeys as head coach following a 9-4 season in 2016. Kill had to step down as Gophers’ football coach seven games into the 2015 season, due to health issues related to epilepsy. Kill has made several critical comments about Fleck, adding intrigue to Thursday night’s match-up.

Fleck said last week he would seek out Kill for a handshake before the game on the field. He said, "I’ve been a head coach 10 years, I’ve never not shaken another head coach’s hand."

He kept true to his word, approaching Kill on the field at Huntington Bank Stadium, shaking his hand and engaging in conversation. The Gophers entered the night 36.5-point favorites against Kill’s Aggies.

After Fleck and the Gophers beat New Mexico State 38-0 Thursday night, Fleck spoke about seeking out Kill pregame and the brief conversation the two shared. Kill's return to Minnesota was one of the top storylines all offseason leading up to the game.

"That’s the tradition of college football, the midfield handshake is the tradition of college football. That’s way before me, it’ll be way after me. I’ve never not shaken the hand of a college coach, ever. I respect Jerry Kill wholeheartedly. I’ve never said one thing, ever, negative about Jerry Kill. In my opening press conference, I said I’m a Jerry Kill guy. What I told him at the beginning was thank you for all that you’ve done for my career," Fleck said. "Always had the utmost respect for you, I always will, simple as that. I know this, I appreciate Jerry’s passion because I know how bad Jerry loves this place. The one thing I’ll say is so do I. I know how he feels because I want to be here. It’s a very special place to me and I couldn’t imagine not being here."