Football Staff Turnover

Jan 27, 2018

I mean, if the roster is going to completely turn over, why stop there? Lovie will now have four new faces on the sideline (or up in the booth) next season, so let's talk about that.

The biggest thing I see: the offense has completely changed with a new coordinator, but the defensive coaching might be changing more? As in, when they break out into position groups at practice, the players on the defense might have more adjustments to make to their new position coach. Let's break that down. Offense first:

2017: Garrick McGee OC/QB, Thad Ward RB, Andrew Hayes-Stoker WR, Luke Butkus OL, Bob Ligashesky TE
2018: Rod Smith OC/QB, Thad Ward RB, Andrew Hayes-Stoker WR, Luke Butkus OL, Cory Patterson TE

The offensive scheme changes with the switch from McGee to Smith, and Coach Lig is no longer coaching the tight ends - he's just covering the special teams. But for the position groups with tons of players - RB, WR, and OL - they keep the same position coach.

With Mike Phair leaving for the Indianapolis Colts, and with Paul Williams being fired as the cornerbacks coach, the defense is now up in the air.

2017: Mike Phair DL, Hardy Nickerson DC/LB, Paul Williams CB, Donnie Abraham S
2018: ??? DL, Hardy Nickerson DC/??, ??? CB, Donnie Abraham ??

Why so many question marks? Because we don't know how they'll set it up. In Lovie's first season (2016), Hardy Nickerson was the DC but he also coached the safeties. Then Tim McGarigle left, Nickerson took over the linebackers, and they hired a safeties coach (Abraham). So now that pretty much every position is open, what will they do with these hires? Phair was "run defense coordinator", which is almost like a co-DC, so will they do that when they hire these replacements? Options:

  • Nickerson stays as DC/LB coach, Abraham stays as safeties coach, and they hire a replacement for Williams as CB coach and a replacement for Phair at DL coach. That's the simplest solution.
  • But what if Nickerson goes back to DC/safeties and they move Abraham over to the cornerbacks to replace Williams. Then you're hiring a new DL guy and a new LB guy.
  • Or what if you just make Nickerson the coordinator (and don't give him a position group - this is fairly common with college defensive coordinators) and then you have three position groups - Abraham takes over the entire secondary and they hire a linebacker coach and a defensive line coach.
  • They were paying Phair a lot of money, they cut $150k from the payroll switching from McGee ($650k) to Smith ($500k), Patterson costs less than Williams, so what if they take all of that money they saved and invest in a co-DC guy? Those bigger names are hard to pull but if we could toss all of that money together and invest in one guy, what if it's a co-DC/LB guy, you have Nickerson as the co-DC/corners guy, and then it's Abraham with the safeties and a replacement for Phair at DL.

The offense has been overhauled, and with Phair leaving and Williams gone, I do think this is an opportunity to tweak the defense a little bit. Every school had to decide what to do with their new 10th assistant this month, and Lovie chose to move Lig to just special teams and hire Patterson for tight ends. The offense is now set, but the defense only has a coordinator and a safeties coach. Lots to learn in the next few weeks.

I was chatting (over text) with Craig about this yesterday and he floated an idea: what about Joe Fotu as the defensive line coach? He was Mike Phair's graduate assistant the last two years, coaching alongside him during every drill, and Lovie wants to keep rolling with this same defensive line framework (and technique). What if the two hires are an older, wiser linebacker coach who is the "run defensive coordinator" like Phair was and then Fotu takes over the defensive line?

My first reaction: you crazy, Craig. But the more I've thought about it, the less I hate it. I mean, Fotu is better prepared to be a college position coach than Patterson, and he knows the Phair system (played in it, coached as a GA for two years in it). He's really young, but so was Chip Long when Paul Petrino brought him from Arkansas (where he was a Graduate Assistant) to be our TE coach in 2010, and seven years later Chip Long is Notre Dame's offensive coordinator. Everyone goes from a GA or Analyst to position coach at some point (see Scheelhaase, Nathan), so why not Fotu? Charismatic guy, would be a great recruiter... I'm intrigued by the idea.

Whatever happens, it feels like this is Lovie's chance to tweak and move things forward. First two years - 5-19, crazy youth, no offense to speak of, defense plays OK but just can't get off the field on third down. This offseason, revamp the offense and tweak the defense and then hopefully hit the accelerator. Last summer I wrote that 2017 would be bad but then the next three seasons should all be better than the last. I think I even proposed adding two wins to each season. As I recall it was 3 wins (in 2017) and then 5 wins, 7 wins, 9 wins (or something like that). Or, if we somehow won 5 games in 2017, it would be 5-7-9-11.

Well, we went 2-10. And 2-4-6-8 doesn't sound very good (especially the suggestion of 6-6 in 2019). But this seems to be a moment where Lovie can maybe tweak some things and accelerate that process? Maybe something like... 5 wins, 7 wins, 10 wins?

OK, yes, that's silly. Way ahead of myself. It could just as easily be 4 wins, 3 wins, fired. But this is still a moment for Lovie. According to my future depth charts we'll return at least 17 starters each of the next three seasons (at a minimum). It could be something like 19-18-18. That usually means rapid improvement.

How much "improvement"? Pretty much depends on these hires right now - Rod Smith plus the two defensive hires. The two recruiting classes which will make or break Lovie are now in place. We're down to 13 Beckman recruits and 14 Cubit recruits on the roster, so the complete and total overhaul of the roster in the first 24 months is almost complete as well. All of the foundational stuff is complete, save for two defensive assistants being hired.

You know how on a construction site there's sometimes a celebration when the final steel beam is hung? It looks nothing like a building yet but the structural work is complete and now all of the "building" can finally begin? This feels like that. The two defensive hires complete the structure and now it's time to rapidly produce something that looks like a finished product.

Onward and (hopefully) upward.


Bear8287 on January 27 @ 08:37 PM CST

And 2-4-6-8

Who do we appreciate? Probably not the coach that does that... although 4 wins in 2018 likely means 2 non-conference wins + 2 conference wins (which would be a significant improvement over 2017).

Illini still the youngest starting lineup in the B1G in 2018?
Yeah, that...

alotofpeoplegotoschoolfor7years on January 29 @ 07:51 AM CST

2-4-6-8 really doesn't seem all that bad at this point. Especially, if it's 7-10 thereafter.

MoCoMdIllini on January 28 @ 03:16 PM CST

Joe Fotu would be an interesting pick. He's definitely a guy I'd follow.

Heck I'd run through a brick wall after watching him do this:

thegoah on January 30 @ 10:18 PM CST

Wait. I thought putting a system in place and leaving it alone for many years was the only thing you cared about. Yet this article makes it seem like maybe changing the system will...Help? “Revamp” seems like a bit of a positive term given your railing on system turnover.

Please elaborate.

thegoah on January 30 @ 10:19 PM CST

Clarification: I’m talking about the offense.

Speak Your Mind

Please login or register to post comments on the IlliniBoard.