Big Ten: Dan Disch

The Illinois football program has had more downs than ups during Ron Guenther's 19-year tenure as athletic director.

There have been Big Ten titles in 2001 and 2007 but only six bowl appearances and several particularly rough stretches (1996-98, 2003-06).

But Guenther likes the direction the program is headed as he heads toward retirement July 1.

"Everything's in place here for football to have success," Guenther said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "We're coming off of a bowl-game win, we had an excellent spring. .... [Assistant] Dan Disch left to become a coordinator and we replaced him with an outstanding coach [Mike Gillhamer]. I feel very, very good about where we are in football. It still comes down to winning some games, but from the schedule to the facilities to the salaries and the budget, they have everything they need there to have success."

Guenther is right. The Memorial Stadium renovation was a big piece, and Illinois finally has a schedule set up for success this fall with eight home games.

The next step: Illinois needs to string together winning seasons and bowl trips. The Illini haven't made consecutive postseason appearances since a five-year run from 1988-92.

"I don't know if any one [Big Ten team] is going to dominate," Guenther said, "but I would hope to think we're going to be very competitive."

Guenther said that the decision to retire was a gut feeling and that while he'll serve as a resource in the school's search for a successor, he won't be taking the lead in providing names of potential candidates.

Opening spring ball: Illinois

March, 29, 2011
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Illinois hit the practice field early Tuesday morning for the first of 15 spring practices.

Here's a snapshot of what coach Ron Zook and the Illini can expect this spring:

The big story: Replacing three key pieces and taking the next step. The Big Ten lost only seven non-seniors to the NFL draft, but three of them came from Illinois. This spring, the Illini begin the process of replacing defensive tackle Corey Liuget, running back Mikel Leshoure and linebacker Martez Wilson. All three players were extremely productive, and while Illinois boasts decent depth at running back, both defenders leave major voids. After an encouraging end to the 2010 season, Illinois looks to take another step toward stability this spring. The Illini haven't reached back-to-back bowl games since the 1991-92 seasons.

Position in the spotlight: Linebacker. Illinois loses its top two tacklers in Wilson (112) and Nate Bussey (83), who combined for 20 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions in 2010. Veteran Ian Thomas returns and will lead the group much like he did in 2009, but the Illini must find others to emerge. Expectations are high for Jonathan Brown, who recorded 31 tackles as a true freshman last fall. Safety Trulon Henry could move to linebacker this spring.

Coaching changes: Linebackers coach Dan Disch left the program in February to become defensive coordinator at Southern Miss. Zook filled the staff vacancy with Mike Gillhamer, who has coached at eight college programs before serving as secondary coach for the Carolina Panthers from 2004-10. Gillhamer, who nearly joined Ron Turner's staff at Illinois in 1997, will coach Illinois' defensive backs. Coordinator Vic Koenning now will oversee the linebackers.

Keep an eye on: Tight end Evan Wilson. Illinois needs to complement top receiver A.J. Jenkins in the passing game, and Wilson should take on a bigger role this fall. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound Wilson recorded 10 receptions for 135 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010. He boasts the size and talent to do big things this fall for Illinois.

Spring game: April 23
It's official: Illinois has hired veteran NFL assistant Mike Gillhamer to fill its defensive staff vacancy.

The team didn't specify which position Gillhamer will oversee, but multiple outlets are reporting he'll coach the secondary and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will switch from secondary to linebackers. Gillhamer replaces linebackers coach Dan Disch, who left earlier this month to become defensive coordinator at Southern Miss.

"Mike is very detail-oriented, a great teacher, an excellent recruiter and understands defenses and the techniques required to be successful in the secondary," Illinois coach Ron Zook said in a prepared statement. "Being able to find a coach with Mike's NFL and collegiate background is a tremendous statement about how the Illinois football program is perceived by other coaching professionals."

Gillhamer has coached defensive backs for eight college programs as well as for the Carolina Panthers, where he spent the past seven seasons as safeties coach.
Illinois reportedly has filled its defensive staff vacancy with longtime NFL assistant Mike Gillhamer.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports Gillhamer will coach the Illini defensive backs. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning oversaw the secondary in 2010 but reportedly now will coach the linebackers.

Illinois linebackers coach Dan Disch left earlier this month to become defensive coordinator at Southern Miss.

Gillhamer coached the Carolina Panthers' secondary from 2004-10. He also has coached defensive backs at a number of college programs, including Louisville and Oregon. He served as Louisville's defensive coordinator in 2003 and worked alongside Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino with the Cardinals.

The Illinois vacancy generated good interest from candidates, and Gillhamer adds experience to the staff. He inherits a group that returns mostly intact and will regain the services of safety Supo Sanni this coming season.
Spring practice is creeping closer, and Purdue will hit the field in less than two weeks (March 1 to be exact) for the first of its 15 workouts.

Here's a snapshot of what to expect in the Leaders Division this spring.

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • New look at linebacker: Illinois loses first-team All-Big Ten selection Martez Wilson as well as playmaker Nate Bussey. They combined for 195 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Illini need a middle linebacker and could turn to productive senior Ian Thomas or promising sophomore Jonathan Brown. Illinois also is replacing linebackers coach Dan Disch.
  • Ford tough: All-American running back Mikel Leshoure departs, turning the spotlight to Jason Ford. At 235 pounds, Ford is a true power back who will give the Illinois offense a slightly different look in 2011. The Illini also want to build depth at running back with players like Troy Pollard.
  • Replacing Liuget: Illinois begins the difficult task of replacing the Big Ten's most disruptive interior defensive lineman in Corey Liuget, a likely first-round draft pick in April. Akeem Spence had a very solid redshirt freshman season and will take on a larger role, but Illinois must build around him with Glenn Foster and others. This is a major priority for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and line coach Keith Gilmore this spring.
INDIANA

Start of spring practice: March 8
Spring game: April 16
End of spring practice: April 19

What to watch:
  • Culture change: Kevin Wilson has talked extensively about changing the culture around the Indiana program, and the process begins in full force this spring. Players will have to adjust to the demands of Wilson and his staff, which still isn't in place but soon will be. There will be plenty of teaching and learning, as players must absorb Wilson's offense and a 4-3 defensive scheme (IU operated out of the 3-4 for part of last season).
  • Quarterback competition: Three-year starter Ben Chappell departs, and there's no clear-cut successor entering spring practice. Both Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker played sparingly in five games last season, and they bring different skills to the table. It'll be interesting to see who emerges under center this spring before acclaimed recruit Tre Roberson arrives for fall camp.
  • Identify defensive contributors: Indiana can't expect to get over the hump until it upgrades the defense, and co-coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory begin a crucial evaluation process this spring. The Hoosiers need to build depth and identify Big Ten-ready players throughout the defense, particularly in the back seven after losing standout linebacker Tyler Replogle and others.
OHIO STATE

Start of spring practice: March 31
Spring game: April 23
  • Suspension preparation: Ohio State knows it will be without four offensive starters and a key defensive reserve for the first chunk of the 2011 season. This spring, the Buckeyes start the process of evaluating who will step in, especially at the quarterback spot for Terrelle Pryor. Joe Bauserman holds an edge in experience (though little has come in games), and he'll compete with Kenny Guiton and heralded incoming freshman Braxton Miller.
  • Receiving orders for Drayton: Stan Drayton left Florida for Ohio State primarily to expand his coaching repertoire and oversee a new position group. The career running backs coach will work with a mostly unproven group of Ohio State wide receivers this spring. Ohio State must replace All-Big Ten standout Dane Sanzenbacher, and DeVier Posey is among those suspended for the first part of the season. Says Drayton of his receivers, "Personnel wise, they're in competition with the whole offensive unit."
  • Up-the-middle defensive replacements: Excuse the baseball reference, but Ohio State loses several standout players in the core of its defense: linemen Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, and safety Jermale Hines. Although the Buckeyes always find ways to reload on defense, it will be interesting to see who emerges this spring, especially at linebacker.
PENN STATE

Start of spring practice: March 18
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks, especially Rob Bolden: Penn State's quarterback competition should be wide open this spring, and it might be the most fascinating race in the Big Ten. You've got sophomore Rob Bolden, who asked for his release after the Gator Bowl but didn't get it from Joe Paterno, and has returned to compete for a job he thought he never should have lost. Junior Matt McGloin tries to redeem himself after the bowl disaster, and Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome also are in the mix.
  • Line play on both sides: The Lions boast enough at the skill positions on both sides of the ball to be a much improved team in 2011. But they have to get better and more consistent on both lines. The offensive line must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski and find the form it displayed in 2008. The defensive line tries to regain its swagger after backsliding in 2010, and identify a pass-rushing threat or two.
  • Kicking it: Collin Wagner was Penn State's top offensive weapon for much of the 2010 season, but the standout kicker departs the program, leaving a void. Punter Anthony Fera likely will handle the bulk of the kicking duties this spring until incoming freshman Sam Ficken arrives.
PURDUE

Start of spring practice: March 2
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Replacing Superman: Purdue returns nine defensive starters, but the Boilers lose Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kerrigan. The Boilers were the league's top pass-rushing team in 2010, but Kerrigan's production and presence played huge roles in the overall sacks and tackles for loss totals. The entire defensive line took a step forward last fall, and will need to do so again without No. 94.
  • The quarterbacks: Robert Marve is still recovering from his second ACL tear, so Rob Henry, Caleb TerBush and Sean Robinson will be in the spotlight this spring. Henry showed promise when healthy in 2010, and TerBush had a strong spring a year ago before being ruled academically ineligible for the season. The quarterback race won't be decided until the summer, but all the candidates can help themselves in spring ball.
  • The offensive identity: A wave of injuries forced Purdue to overhaul its plan on offense in 2010. Although several key players will be out or limited this spring, the Boilers can start to reshape their plan on offense. Coach Danny Hope is optimistic Marve and the others return at full strength, but he doesn't want to take anything for granted. This is a huge spring for players a notch or two down the depth chart to get noticed.
WISCONSIN

Start of spring practice: March 22
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Finding Tolzien's successor: After a one-year respite, Wisconsin's annual spring quarterback competition resumes. Sort of. Jon Budmayr will have every opportunity to establish himself as the Badgers' top option before Curt Phillips (knee) returns to full strength. Budmayr turned heads with his performance two springs ago, but played sparingly last season behind Scott Tolzien.
  • New leadership on defense: Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash are familiar faces who step into new roles this spring. Partridge and Ash were promoted to co-defensive coordinators following Dave Doeren's departure, and they'll get their first opportunity to shape the defensive vision this spring.
  • Reloading on the lines: Wisconsin loses three All-American linemen from 2010: Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt on the offensive side, and J.J. Watt at defensive end. Although the Badgers must replace more bodies on the offensive front, they boast excellent depth there and should be able to fill the gaps. Watt leaves a bigger void, and Wisconsin needs strong springs from players like Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 9, 2011
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The Big Ten blog community gets larger Thursday. Roll out your welcome mat.
Illinois linebackers coach Dan Disch is leaving the program to become defensive coordinator at Southern Miss.

Disch has served on Ron Zook's staff since 2004, first at Florida and then at Illinois, where he coached special teams and outside linebackers from 2005-06. Disch then served as Illinois' co-defensive coordinator alongside Curt Mallory from 2007-09, but both men were demoted following the 2009 season as Illinois brought in Vic Koenning.

This seems like a good move for Disch, who can become a coordinator again and work in the southeast, an area he knows well. Koenning did very well in his first season at Illinois, so there isn't much opportunity to move up.

Disch could be a significant loss for Illinois because of his recruiting skills, particularly in Florida, where he coached high school football from 1981-2003. He also helped mold standout linebackers at Illinois like All-American J Leman, Brit Miller and Martez Wilson.

His replacement inherits some promising players but will need to replace both Wilson and Nate Bussey, the team's top two tacklers in 2010.

It'll be interesting to see who Zook hires and whether Disch's successor also has ties to Florida and the southeast.
Indiana made things official Monday afternoon and announced Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory as its new co-defensive coordinators.

Ekeler comes to IU from future Big Ten member Nebraska, where he coached the linebackers and helped mold players like Lavonte David and Phillip Dillard into stars. Mallory, a very familiar surname to Indiana fans, served as New Mexico's defensive coordinator the past two seasons.

Ekeler will continue to coach linebackers with the Hoosiers, while Mallory, the son of former IU coach Bill Mallory, will work with the safeties.
"I am excited to have Doug, Mike and their families join the IU football family," new Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said in a prepared statement. "They are both great additions to our program, university and the Bloomington community. Both men bring unparalleled character, energy, experience, enthusiasm and winning attitudes. This is a great start to the foundation we are building here."

These are undoubtedly Wilson's most important hires as he forms his staff at Indiana. The Hoosiers' defense has been bad for more than a decade and has prevented the program from consistently competing in Big Ten play. Wilson has the track record and the personnel to make things happen on offense at Indiana, but if Ekeler and Mallory can't get the job done on defense, it won't matter.

I like both hires as individuals -- especially Ekeler -- but I've never been a fan of co-coordinators. It didn't serve Indiana well the past few seasons with Joe Palcic and Brian George. Illinois also encountered problems with Dan Disch and Doug Mallory's brother, Curt, before Ron Zook brought in Vic Koenning as the sole coordinator last year.

Maybe this time the pairing works, but the jury is out.

I'm very interested to see how Ekeler and Mallory will work together. Mallory brings a lot of experience to the table and served as Indiana's defensive backs/special teams coach in 1994-96. Ekeler is a rising star and did great work at Nebraska under Bo and Carl Pelini, but he inherits a much tougher challenge in Bloomington.

Indiana's defensive staff also will include Mark Hagen, who moves over from archrival Purdue to coach the Hoosiers' defensive line and special teams. Although IU hasn't officially announced Hagen's hiring, it's going to happen.

Hagen spent the past 11 seasons at Purdue, the past two as the Boilers' linebackers coach. The Indiana alum is no stranger to coaching line play as he worked with Purdue's defensive tackles for most of his tenure in West Lafayette and helped to mold players like Mike Neal and Alex Magee. He's a strong recruiter in the state and in the region.

Overall, I like these hires for Wilson at IU, but it all comes down to whether the co-coordinator thing can actually work.
Time will tell whether the Great Experiment of Champaign works or not, but one big piece of the puzzle seems to fit.

First-year coordinator Vic Koenning is having a positive effect on the Illinois defense.

[+] EnlargeRon Zook
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanCoach Ron Zook has seen results after taking steps to improve the Illinois defense.
Yes, it's still very early, but the Fighting Illini defense is showing promising signs after two games. Illinois limited Missouri to 23 points in the opener -- the Tigers' had averaged 43 points in its previous three games with the Illini -- and kept Southern Illinois out of the end zone last Saturday in Champaign. Despite losing three projected starters in recent weeks -- defensive backs Supo Sanni and Terry Hawthorne to injury, defensive end/linebacker Michael Buchanan to suspension -- the Illini are receiving production from a variety of sources.

Again, there's long way to go, but so far, so good.

"We're playing so much harder, we're tackling better, we're chasing the football better and we're not giving up the big plays," coach Ron Zook said. "That was the biggest problem we were having last year, the big plays. They're playing as a group, they're playing as a unit, they're flying around.

"It's hard to find a play where there's not at least eight guys around the football. It's team defense."

Zook's last phrase is the important one. Illinois never has lacked individual talent during Zook's tenure on both sides of the ball.

The two-deep on defense features heralded recruits like Martez Wilson, Corey Liuget and Whitney Mercilus. But since the Rose Bowl run in 2007, Illinois hadn't played well as a defensive unit, slipping to 67th in points allowed in 2008 and 96th last fall.

Although much of the criticism in 2009 was directed toward Mike Schultz and an offense that took eight weeks to get on track despite a fourth-year starter at quarterback (Juice Williams) and an All-America candidate at receiver (Arrelious Benn), the defense didn't hold up, either. Illinois allowed 102 points in its final two games, losses to Cincinnati and Fresno State.

As part of a major staff overhaul in December, Zook demoted co-defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory and brought in Koenning (Mallory left for Akron, while Disch remains on staff as linebackers coach). Illinois beat out Georgia for Koenning's services, and the move seems to be paying off.

Here's what cornerback Tavon Wilson told the (Decatur) Herald & Review this week.
"Coach Vic is more of an enforcer. If the [team] leaders are not taking charge, he will. He won't sit around and let practice go mediocre. He will make sure everyone is running to the football on every play. He'll run to the football with you if he has to. That's probably the biggest difference from coaches in the past. Past coaches wouldn't let it slide, but they weren't enforcing it as much as coach Vic would. He doesn't take a play off just like he expects you not to take a play off."

The Illini are receiving strong performances so far from safety Travon Bellamy (19 tackles, 3 tackles for loss), linebacker Ian Thomas (17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) and Martez Wilson (14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble.

Five players already have recorded multiple tackles for loss in the first two contests.

"Everyone's involved," Zook said. "It's not just one player that's playing hard. They're all playing hard."
The Big Ten was the only major conference to avoid head-coaching changes this offseason, but the league certainly had its share of staff shuffling with assistants coming and going. Indiana's hiring of Mo Moriarity as offensive line coach on Monday marked one of the last turns on this year's Big Ten coaching carousel. Wisconsin still needs to hire a defensive assistant, but things are just about wrapped up.

Barring any late coaching changes, here's a look at who's gone, who's back and who's in new roles.

ILLINOIS

Offensive coordinator


  • Who's out: Mike Schultz (fired)
  • Who's in: Paul Petrino (previously offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Arkansas)
Defensive coordinator

  • Who's out: Dan Disch and Curt Mallory both were demoted to position coaches. Disch is staying on staff as linebackers coach.
  • Who's in: Vic Koenning (previously co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State)
Quarterbacks coach

  • Who's out: Kurt Beathard (fired)
  • Who's in: Jeff Brohm (previously quarterbacks coach at Florida Atlantic)
Tight ends coach

  • Who's out: Jim Pry (fired)
  • Who's in: Greg Nord (previously running backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Louisville)
Running backs coach

  • Who's out: Reggie Mitchell (left to become running backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Kansas)
  • Who's in: DeAndre Smith (previously running backs coach at UNLV)
Other moves

  • Mallory left his position as secondary coach to become defensive coordinator at Akron.
  • Special-teams coordinator Mike Woodford was fired along with Schultz, Beathard and Pry.
  • Ron West was hired as a defensive assistant. His official responsibilities have not been announced.
INDIANA

Offensive line coach

  • Who's out: Bobby Johnson (left to become assistant offensive line coach with the Buffalo Bills)
  • Who's in: Myron "Mo" Moriarity (previously served as head coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School
IOWA

No staff changes, but recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson was named tight ends coach. Wide receivers coach Erik Campbell previously had worked with the tight ends, while Johnson had helped Darrell Wilson with the linebackers.

MICHIGAN

Linebackers coach

  • Who's out: Jay Hopson (left to become defensive coordinator at Memphis)
  • Who's in: Quality control assistant Adam Braithwaite was promoted to outside linebackers/strong safeties coach. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will take a more active role with the linebackers in 2010.
Other moves

  • Secondary coach Tony Gibson will continue to work with cornerbacks and free safeties, and also serve as special-teams coordinator.
MICHIGAN STATE

Running backs coach

  • Who's out: Dan Enos (left to become head coach at Central Michigan)
  • Who's in: Brad Salem (previously served as head coach at Augustana College)
MINNESOTA

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach

  • Who's out: Jedd Fisch (left to become quarterbacks coach with the Seattle Seahawks)
  • Who's in: Jeff Horton (previously served as quarterbacks coach with the Detroit Lions)
Wide receivers coach

  • Who's out: Richard Hightower (left to become assistant special-teams coach for the Washington Redskins)
  • Who's in: Steve Watson (previously served as associate head coach with the Denver Broncos in 2008)
Other moves

  • Running backs coach Thomas Hammock was named co-offensive coordinator
NORTHWESTERN

No coaching changes

OHIO STATE

No coaching changes

PENN STATE

No coaching changes

PURDUE

Defensive line coach

  • Who's out: Terrell Williams (left to become defensive line coach at Texas A&M)
  • Who's in: Gary Emanuel (previously served as defensive line coach at Rutgers). Emanuel also was named co-defensive coordinator with a focus on run defense.
WISCONSIN

Defensive backs coach

  • Who's out: Kerry Cooks (left to become outside linebackers coach at Notre Dame)
  • Who's in: Chris Ash (previously served as defensive backs coach/recruiting coordinator at Iowa State)
Other moves

  • Randall McCray, who served as Wisconsin's recruiting coordinator and assistant secondary coach, left to become defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee. Wisconsin has yet to fill the vacancy.
Illinois' massive coaching staff shuffle is now complete, as the school named veteran Ron West as a defensive assistant on Monday.

No role was specified for West in a news release, but he will reportedly work alongside Dan Disch, the team's former co-defensive coordinator who will now work with the inside linebackers. West replaces Curt Mallory, who left last month to become Akron's new defensive coordinator.

The Illini also named new tight ends coach Greg Nord as recruiting coordinator and added assistant head coach to offensive line coach Joe Gilbert's title. Nord served as recruiting coordinator at Louisville, his last coaching stop.

West previously served as co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at Tulsa. Before Tulsa, he spent 10 seasons on Clemson's staff, where he worked under new Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. West coached both sides of the ball at Clemson.

"[West] and Vic have a great working relationship and that will add a needed cohesiveness as we move forward on the defensive side of the ball," Zook said in a statement. "Ron shares our passion for getting this program back on track and will be a great teacher and leader for our young men."



The connection with Koenning clearly fueled the move for West, who said in a statement: "I am excited about being reunited with Vic. The last time we were together, the defense was in the top 10 in the country. We'll expect to create that passion on defense that puts us in national rankings."

Although the shuffling on Illinois' defensive staff wasn't as dramatic as the offensive side, it will be interesting to see how these coaches work together. Disch's role is much smaller, Koenning and West are new and line coach Keith Gilmore is the only holdover in the same position.
After finishing as a finalist for Central Michigan's head-coaching job, Illinois defensive backs coach Curt Mallory secured his next best option.

Mallory, demoted from his post as Illinois co-defensive coordinator after the 2009 season, will become Akron's new defensive coordinator, The (Champaign) News-Gazette is reporting. Mallory told the newspaper that he wanted to continue coaching in a coordinator role, and new Akron head coach Rob Ianello will give him the chance.

"I thought I really had a good chance [at the Central Michigan job], but it didn't work out," Mallory said. "That's OK. So you just move on to the next one."

Mallory, the son of former Indiana head coach Bill Mallory, has been at Illinois since 2005, first as defensive backs coach and then sharing the coordinator duties with Dan Disch. Though Mallory survived Ron Zook's staff overhaul at Illinois, he would have been serving under a new coordinator, Vic Koenning. Also, Zook tried to bring Penn State's Larry Johnson as defensive coordinator last year, so it's hard to blame Mallory for looking elsewhere.

The big question is whether Disch remains on Illinois' staff as linebackers coach. Disch is one of Zook's top recruiters, especially in the state of Florida, but it wouldn't be a stretch to see him depart as well.

Mallory will be the sixth assistant Zook must replace since the end of the 2009 season.
There's a 66.7 percent chance that Central Michigan's head-coaching vacancy will be filled by a Big Ten assistant.

Two of the three remaining candidates for the Chippewas' top job hail from the Big Ten: Michigan State running backs coach Dan Enos and Illinois defensive backs coach Curt Mallory.

The other candidate, current Central Michigan offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, is reportedly the frontrunner. After the success Central Michigan has had on offense under previous coaches Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Bajakian makes a lot of sense. Then again, Enos' recruiting exploits for Michigan State make him an attractive candidate as well.

Interviews are complete, and athletics director Dave Heeke is expected to make a decision in the next 24 hours.

Even if Mallory doesn't land the CMU job, expect him to keep looking. Both Mallory and Dan Disch were demoted from their defensive coordinator duties after the season. They'll be retained under new coordinator Vic Koenning, but you couldn't blame either guy from wanting to go elsewhere.

Big Ten assistants in mix at CMU

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After its dramatic GMAC Bowl victory on Wednesday night, Central Michigan will accelerate its search for a new head football coach.

Two Big Ten assistants reportedly are in the mix for the top job in Mount Pleasant: Michigan State running backs coach Dan Enos and Illinois defensive backs coach Curt Mallory. Enos and Mallory are among six candidates, including two current assistants, being considered for the job, according to the (Mount Pleasant) Morning Sun.

Enos, a former Michigan State quarterback, has been instrumental in the team's recent recruiting success within the state, particularly the Detroit area. I talked to him last summer for a story about Michigan State's turnaround and he mentioned how he spends three weeks every spring recruiting in Detroit, regardless of who's available. Enos definitely strikes me as a future head coach, and he would certainly help CMU's recruiting if he gets the job.

Mallory was in the mix for Miami (Ohio)'s coaching vacancy last year, and he comes from a strong coaching family. But he recently was demoted from his post as Illinois co-defensive coordinator along with Dan Disch. It could be an awkward situation if he stays in Champaign, and this would obviously be a big step up.
After a wild night of rumors and negotiations, Illinois got the man it wanted to run its defense.

[+] EnlargeVic Koenning
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIVic Koenning left Kansas State to take a similar position at Illinois.
Illinois officially named Vic Koenning its new defensive coordinator at a news conference today in Champaign. Koenning, who previously served as Kansas State's co-defensive coordinator, replaces Dan Disch and Curt Mallory, who were demoted to position coaches.

"I’m ready to jump in there with coach [Ron] Zook, start to watch some recruiting tape, start to watch some games and get going," Koenning said Friday. "I couldn’t be more excited to be here. In so many things in life, timing is everything, and the timing has worked out fantastic."

Illinois' hiring of Koenning had been expected for several days, but things got interesting Thursday night as Georgia re-entered the mix for his services. Koenning recalled how Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder came into his office several days ago and asked where Koenning was headed.

Ultimately, Koenning settled on Illinois, calling it a "much-needed change."

"There was some dialogue [with Georgia]," Koenning said. "It made for an interesting last 16, 18 hours, but when push comes to shove, the character and the drive and the enthusiasm that coach Zook exhibited made sure there was no doubt in the outcome."

A week after dismissing four assistant coaches and demoting two others, Zook has filled all four positions and has his staff in place for a make-or-break 2010 season. We can certainly debate whether Zook should still be at Illinois and whether the fired assistants were scapegoats for a miserable season, but you've got to give the team credit for its bold approach to finding replacements.

Time will tell if these hires can turn things around, but the early returns are favorable.

New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has been around great offenses for some time, and he seems excited about the chance to break away from his brother Bobby and call his own plays. Petrino and new offensive assistants Jeff Brohm (quarterbacks) and Greg Nord (tight ends) were all at Louisville when the Cardinals lit up the scoreboard from 2003-06.

Koenning spent only one year at Kansas State, which ranks 40th nationally in total defense and 16th against the run. He built his reputation as a strong defensive coordinator at Clemson, which finished in the top 25 nationally in scoring, total defense, and pass efficiency defense in each of his four seasons there (2005-08).

Koenning had never been to Champaign and arrived "in the dark of night" early Friday.

"There may be some dark circles under my eyes," he said. "But you have an adrenaline rush when you come into a place like this. We're ready to go."

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