Big Ten: Joe Gilbert
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The assistants were irate and lashed out. Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert called the situation "very unprofessional." They even threatened to boycott Saturday's Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA, adding even more controversy to a game filled with it.
But the Bizzaro Bowl Boycott won't be taking place.
Zook told ESPN colleague Gene Wojciechowski on Friday night that his former aides will show up Saturday at AT&T Park.
"They're going to coach," said Zook, when contacted by ESPN.com Friday evening. "They're [the assistants] frustrated. But they're going to coach. They know it's about the kids. But they were trying to make a point. They've got careers, family, all of those things. They're class guys. And it's important that everyone knows they're really good people."
More from the story:
The dispute centers around a contract promise that Zook said was made to several of his assistant coaches by him and former Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther. According to Zook, the assistants -- Jeff Brohm, Ron West and Chip Long -- were told they would receive two-year deals which would run through the 2012 regular season. Assistant Joe Gilbert has told SI.com that he also was promised a multiyear contract.
"Somewhere -- I'm not sure how -- a couple of the contracts got changed," said Zook. "I truly believed they had two-year contracts. ... I'm not exactly sure how things got changed. I feel awful about it. They're great people and they did a great job. I don't know where it went wrong. I was under the understanding that they had two-year contracts."
I feel for the Illinois assistants. It's a bad deal for them, but it's because they signed bad deals. As athletic director Mike Thomas told SI.com, "We have a contract that's pretty clear, and we intend to honor that contract. We assume they'll honor it as well."
Boycotting would have been worse for the coaches and for the Illini players than it would have for the administration. If you want to stick it to your bosses, boycotting the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl probably isn't the best move. If you want to stick it to your players, boycotting is the way to go.
Plus, these assistants are looking for jobs. They have good credentials. But no employer wants to see "quitter" on a résumé.
Who knows what to expect Saturday afternoon in San Francisco? But at least the Illini assistants with be with the players they've coached all season.
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.
Dienhart reports on his Twitter page that Illinois has hired Smith as its new tight ends coach, though Smith could end up overseeing the Illini running backs. Former Louisville assistant Greg Nord was named Illinois' tight ends coach in December.
An Illinois official couldn't confirm the hiring and said no announcement had been planned as of early Monday afternoon.
Smith has coached running backs at UNLV (2009), New Mexico (2008), Miami University (2005-07), Northern Illinois (2001-04) and Indiana State (1999-2000). He helped to produce standouts like New Mexico's Rodney Ferguson and Northern Illinois' Michael Turner and Garrett Wolfe.
Illinois lost its running backs coach, Reggie Mitchell, the team's recruiting coordinator, to Kansas last month. Mitchell had been the team's top recruiter in the Chicago area, though Smith has ties to Chicago and the Midwest from his time at Northern Illinois and other spots.
Head coach Ron Zook already has hired three new offensive assistants: coordinator/wide receivers coach Paul Petrino, Nord and quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm. Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert likely will be the lone holdover from 2009.
And the new guy had better know how to recruit.
Recruiting was what Reggie Mitchell did best, especially in the Chicago area. Mitchell, who has served as Illinois' recruiting coordinator and running backs coach since 2005, will leave Champaign to take a position on Turner Gill's staff at Kansas.
Mitchell is expected to coach running backs at Kansas, where he served as an assistant for Glen Mason from 1988-96.
Mitchell and offensive line coach Joe Gilbert were the only offensive assistants retained at Illlinois, and Zook certainly wanted to keep Mitchell on board. Illinois' 2010 recruiting class doesn't look very strong, and time is running out. I'd expect Zook to act quickly to find Mitchell's replacement. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino undoubtedly will take an active role in the search as well.
The running back position should be strong for Illinois in 2010, as the team returns Mikel LeShoure, Jason Ford and Justin Green.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When Illinois scrimmages Wednesday afternoon in Memorial Stadium, Mike Schultz will coach from the press box.
It's part of Schultz's attempt to simulate a game situation, always a good idea for a new offensive coordinator going through his fifth practice with his new team. But there's another, slightly more embarrassing reason for Schultz's whereabouts.
It will get him out of the cold.
The temperature is hovering around 50 degrees Wednesday, which isn't bad for central Illinois this time of year. But for a Houston native like Schultz who spent the last 11 seasons at TCU, where he held the same job, this might as well be the Arctic. At least it's better than his initial trip to Champaign in January, when a cold front dropped temperatures to 10 below.
Schultz is slowly adjusting to the weather, but he'll get there soon enough. He's not afraid to adapt, which is a good thing in his new job.
"I have come in and fit myself to this offense," Schultz said. "We have new ideas coming in. But have we changed the offense? No. It's not like there's going to be a major overhaul of this offense. There's no need to.
"One of the things coach Zook and I both agreed on is we're going to try to keep everything the same as we can, so the only people really going through a transition are myself and [new offensive line coach] Joe Gilbert. It's two versus 40. Just common sense-wise, it just make sense to approach it that way."
In an age of my-way-or-bust playcallers, Schultz is unique in his willingness to be flexible. Since taking the job in January he has talked with his predecessor, New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley, but not about Illinois' personnel or schemes.
He wanted to come to Illinois with no preconceived notions. It's a clean canvas, and the players will be doing much of the brush work.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Illinois did a lot of learning last fall, even if it didn't do a lot of winning.
"I learned an awful lot last year," head coach Ron Zook said Tuesday morning. "Our coaches learned an awful lot last year. More importantly, our players learned an awful lot last year."
Zook hopes the learning experience pays off for the Fighting Illini in spring practice, which opens this afternoon in Champaign. The team comes off an extremely disappointing 5-7 season, one that began with a top-20 ranking and tons of national buzz following a run to the Rose Bowl.
Illinois returns the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback (Juice Williams), its most NFL-ready wide receiver (Arrelious Benn) and talented players at other spots, but Zook doesn't take much for granted after last season, where the team won consecutive games only once. Team chemistry wasn't a strong suit for Illinois in 2008, but Zook already has seen major progress in that department.
"This is a team," he said. "These guys are all excited about the University of Illinois football program. ... We all learned an awful lot last year. We got away from what's important. We started worrying about winning instead of letting the wins and losses take care of themselves.
"They're excited about being type of team they know they can be."
Here are some other nuggets from Zook's pre-spring news conference.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm not quite ready to put a stopper in the Big Ten coaching carousel for 2008-09, though the ride is pretty much over. Barring some unforeseen changes in the coming weeks, Minnesota's hiring of Richard Hightower as wide receivers coach will complete the staff shuffling for this year.
Here's a review of the coaching changes around the league this year. It's interesting to note that none of the league's top four teams in 2008 -- Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa -- lost an assistant. If it ain't broke ...
- Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement.
- Defensive line: Tom Sims was fired and replaced by hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore.
- Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Ron Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement.
Notes: Outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will now work with the quarterbacks.
- Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and was replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson.
- Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned and was replaced by Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch.
- Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned to take the same post at Auburn and was replaced by former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Defensive backs coach Ron Lee was promoted to co-defensive coordinator.
- Offensive line: Phil Meyer resigned and was replaced by Alabama assistant Tim Davis.
- Wide receivers: George McDonald left for a quality control position with the Cleveland Browns and was replaced by Hightower.
Notes: Davis will oversee Minnesota's run game. Lee will continue to coach the Gophers' secondary.
- Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left to become running backs coach with the New Orleans Saints. Superbacks coach Adam Cushing was moved to offensive line.
- Superbacks: Cushing became offensive line coach and Lafayette offensive coordinator Bob Heffner was hired as his replacement.
- Head coach: Danny Hope took over for the retiring Joe Tiller.
- Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
- Defensive coordinator: Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach and was replaced by Eastern Kentucky defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.
- Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
- Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired former Eastern Kentucky assistant Shawn Clark as his replacement.
- Special teams: Mark Hagen moved from special teams to linebackers, and graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney was promoted to this position.
Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.
Notes: Brad Pendergrass was named director of football operations. Pendergrass most recently served as assistant director for football operations at Mississippi State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Purdue's hiring of defensive coordinator Donn Landholm on Monday likely marks the end to the major coaching moves in the Big Ten this year.
There have been no head-coaching changes -- Danny Hope was named Purdue's head coach-in-waiting last year -- and unless Iowa's Kirk Ferentz bolts for the Kansas City Chiefs, which isn't likely, all 11 teams will have continuity on top. But there were several key changes among coordinators and key position coaches.
Here's a summary.
Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement.
Defensive line: Ron Zook fired Tom Sims and hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore.
Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement.
Notes: Arguably Illinois' biggest coaching move was one that didn't happen. Zook offered Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson the chance to be Illinois' defensive coordinator, but the ace recruiter opted to stay at State College.
Notes: Despite a 3-9 season that saw regression on both sides of the ball, head coach Bill Lynch said he didn't expect to make any staff changes for 2009.
Notes: Ferentz is being mentioned as a candidate for the Chiefs' head-coaching vacancy because of his ties to new general manager Scott Pioli, but it appears likely he will remain at Iowa for an 11th season. He will hold a signing day news conference scheduled for Feb. 4 and has talked with athletic director Gary Barta about a contract extension.
Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and later took the same job at Syracuse. Michigan hired former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson as Shafer's replacement.
Notes: Head coach Rich Rodriguez took his time with the search, and Robinson actually reached out to him about the defensive coordinator vacancy.
Notes: Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was in the mix for several head-coaching spots (Miami University, Boston College) but will stay put for 2009.
Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned Jan. 6 to pursue other professional opportunities. Minnesota hired former Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch as Dunbar's replacement.
Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned Jan. 6 to take the same post at Auburn. Gophers head coach Tim Brewster hired former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, who will share coordinator duties with defensive backs coach Ron Lee.
Notes: Fisch will call the offensive plays, but he must collaborate with Tim Davis, the team's new offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Davis, who replaces Phil Meyer, was hired in late November to transform Minnesota's run game and return the team to its roots as a dominant rushing attack.
Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left for the New Orleans Saints. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald told me he's not concerned about naming a replacement until after signing day, but indications are Adam Cushing, the H-backs coach and recruiting coordinator, will be promoted to line coach.
Notes: Athletic director Jim Phillips wants to work out a contract extension for Fitzgerald and likely will announce one in the coming weeks or months.
Notes: Some expected offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman to get the axe, and while it still could happen, head coach Jim Tressel is the primary playcaller and responsible for the unit's success. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell was mentioned as a candidate for the head-coaching vacancy at Bowling Green.
Notes: Penn State retained Larry Johnson despite Illinois offering more money and a coordinator position. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley also remains despite some rumors that he was a candidate for the top job at Syracuse.
Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
Defensive coordinator: Longtime Boilers defensive coordinator Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach. Hope hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Landholm as Spack's replacement.
Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Shawn Clark to replace him.
Special teams: Hope moved Mark Hagen from special teams to linebackers and promoted graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney to this post.
Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009, and a replacement hasn't been named. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.
Notes: After firing veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and seeing offensive line coach Bob Palcic leave for UCLA last year, head coach Bret Bielema is keeping his staff in place despite a very disappointing 2008 season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Two quick items for you before the weekend.
- Illinois head coach Ron Zook further strengthened the team's new pipeline to Texas by hiring University of Houston offensive line coach Joe Gilbert to take on the same position with the Illini. Gilbert, who oversaw a line that helped Houston rank second nationally in passing and 10th in scoring this season, joins an offensive staff now led by former TCU coordinator Mike Schultz. Both men have extensive experience recruiting in Texas.
In a statement Gilbert said he felt "fortunate to be coming in at the same time as coach Schultz so we can carry on the successful offense that has already been created. I was able to watch film on my visit and I am excited about the young players coming back and the chance I have to help them grow as players and people."
Gilbert replaces Eric Wolford, who left Illinois for South Carolina.
- Michigan State has moved a Nov. 7 game against Western Michigan to Spartan Stadium from Ford Field in Detroit.
"The economic climate has changed dramatically in the last seven months, and considering the financial risks, it was in the best interest of all parties for this game to be played on campus," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said in a statement.
The relocation gives Michigan State seven home games next fall. Western Michigan's game against Illinois on Nov. 8 at Ford Field drew an announced crowd of 12,865.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Illinois 18 Louisiana Tech 35 Final Rutgers 40 North Carolina 21 Final North Carolina State 34 UCF 27
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State