- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Ron Zook will return for his sixth season as Illinois head coach, but he'll be working with a very different staff of assistants.
As ESPN.com reported earlier today, Illinois has announced the departures of four assistant coaches: offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, quarterbacks coach Kurt Beathard, receivers coach Jim Pry and special teams coordinator Mike Woodford.
In addition, Zook announced that co-defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory both will be demoted to position-coach roles next fall.
So Illinois will be replacing coordinators on both sides of the ball.
"These are some major coaching staff changes," Zook said in a statement. "Obviously we are not happy with the way the past two seasons have gone, but we believe in this program and its ability to rebound with the necessary decisions. I can't thank these coaches and their families enough for how hard they worked, for the heart and soul they poured into Illinois football. These are good, good people. These are the most difficult days in our business. I really wish all of them the very best in any future endeavors. I truly mean that."
Illinois has no news conference scheduled regarding the staff changes.
Athletic director Ron Guenther said Oct. 24 that changes would be coming, though Zook would be back in 2010. Guenther since has made no public comments about Zook or the program.
After a miserable 3-9 season, the coordinators figured to be in trouble, but this is quite a dramatic shakeup.
You have to wonder if Illinois wouldn't be better served to bring in an entirely new regime, but Zook will have one more chance to turn it around in 2010. Few head coaches will have a hotter seat than Zook, who now must revive Illinois' recruiting efforts and hope more players don't hop on the transfer train out of Champaign. Boosters are unhappy with the program's direction, and attendance likely will drop next fall.
The offense was a disaster during the first half of the season but seemed to be making progress since a 38-13 win against Michigan on Halloween. Schultz spent just one season at Illinois after an 11-year run with TCU. Think he'd rather be preparing for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl right now?
The defense was a disaster late in the season, as Illinois allowed 102 points in its final two games. It seemed likely that at least one of the coordinators would go, but instead they'll move into lesser roles. Zook tried to hire Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson as his defensive coordinator last year, and Disch turned down a coordinator job at South Florida to remain with Illinois.
Several of Zook's remaining assistants, namely Disch and running backs coach Reggie Mitchell, are also some of his top recruiters.
The coordinator hires will be absolutely critical for Zook, but he needs to find coaches willing to be part of a win-or-else season in 2010. Should be interesting to see where this goes.
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