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Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Koenning's exit disappointing for Illini

By Adam Rittenberg

Vic Koenning has made his decision, and it's not the one Illinois fans had hoped to hear.

Koenning won't remain Illinois' defensive coordinator on the staff of new head coach Tim Beckman, who offered him the job earlier this week. Koenning instead will take a position at another school, reportedly at North Carolina. He still will serve as Illinois' head coach in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 against UCLA.
"I was very honored to be considered by coach Beckman to remain at Illinois," Koenning said in a prepared statement. "After a great deal of prayer and discussion with my family, I feel it is best to explore other opportunities. Coach Beckman could not have been better during the process. I know the reason we had success the past two years was the players and coaches who all shared common goals and work ethic. It will be a positive for the returning players to have a new beginning with coach Beckman and his new staff. The support of the Illini Nation has been tremendous and hopefully they will continue to support this team in San Francisco and in the future."

Koenning has done an excellent job at Illinois since arriving after the 2009 season. He has coached two star defensive linemen in Corey Liuget, a first-round pick in April's NFL draft, and Whitney Mercilus, an All-American this season. Other players like Martez Wilson and Jonathan Brown also have developed under his watch.

Illinois ranks in the top 10 nationally in total defense, pass defense, sacks and tackles for loss this season. Although the team dropped its final six games, the Illini defense held up its end of the bargain. Koenning has ties to the ACC as he served as Clemson's defensive coordinator from 2005-08, so the North Carolina job seems to make sense.

Credit Beckman for trying to keep Koenning, who spoke Tuesday about the strong support he has received from Illinois players and fans. He also noted the importance of retaining his defensive staff with the Illini, which could have been a tougher sell for Beckman. New coaches want to have a say over their staff and often don't retain more than 1-2 of the previous coaches.

Then again, Beckman announced that defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will remain on staff in the same role.
"The defensive line was the strongest area of the team and coach Gilmore did a great job," Beckman said in a statement. "Whitney Mercilus' improvement this season under Keith was obvious, as he has been named an All-American by just about everyone. He also played a big part in Corey Liuget’s development into a first-round draft pick last year. He is a strong recruiter and will be a great asset for the program."

It will be interesting to see where Beckman turns for his defensive coordinator. His top offensive coordinator target, Toledo's Matt Campbell, is replacing Beckman as Rockets head coach.

Although Beckman's background is on the defensive side, his defenses at both Oklahoma State and Toledo weren't elite. Koenning's replacement will be crucial as Illinois returns some talented players on the defensive side.