Big Ten: Tom Sims

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

On their way to winning a Big East championship last fall, Cincinnati's defensive linemen came up with a motto, which lingers with their former coach. 

"Get sacks, get stacks," Keith Gilmore recalls. "Guys thought that third down was the money down, and we prided ourselves on rushing the quarterback in those situations. And I'll carry a lot of that over."

After coaching a line that led the Big East and ranked ninth nationally in sacks (40), Gilmore took the same position at Illinois, which is looking for better results after a 5-7 season. Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook dismissed D-line coach Tom Sims and brought in Gilmore, who helped Cincinnati produce a top-20 rush defense last fall.

Zook also had a catchphrase with the defensive line in 2008. Before the season he openly labeled the line the strength of the team, and with good reason.

Despite having several NFL prospects in Will Davis and Derek Walker, Illinois finished ninth in the Big Ten in both rush defense (152.9 ypg) and scoring defense (26.6 ppg). Illinois too often lost the battle at the line of scrimmage, and Zook brought in Gilmore to change things. 

"We really didn't talk about what happened last year," Gilmore said. "He expects me to coach these guys hard and be demanding and confront negative performances and demand that they play well. I'm all for that, so it wasn't a big deal."

Gilmore takes over a group that he admits is young but boasts a few veterans, namely end Doug Pilcher and tackle Sirod Williams, both fifth-year seniors. Another key contributor, tackle Josh Brent, is indefinitely suspended after a DUI arrest in February. 

Pilcher, who recorded 2.5 sacks last fall, has helped Gilmore organize young players during spring practice and even eased Gilmore's transition to a defensive system run by co-coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory.

"If I've got a question on a few techniques or things they've done in the past, he's the guy that I'll bounce those type of things off of," Gilmore said. "He's real mature about it."

Williams returned to the field this spring after tearing his ACL in preseason camp. He's participating in all drills so far but might be limited in contact later this spring.

Also back is sophomore tackle Corey Liuget, who saw significant action as a freshman following Williams' injury and recorded 26 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. 

"In the first day of [spring] practice, he used his hands really well and ran to the football," Gilmore said. "He's a guy who's been coached. All I've got to do is keep trying to polish him up and take him to the next level." 

Gilmore has mentioned Cincinnati's motto from 2008 to his new players, and he expects them to brainstorm their own rallying cry when the season rolls around.

"It's all about what they identify with," Gilmore said. "I'm sure during the course of the spring and summer camp, we'll come up with something. But it's got to mean something to them."  

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 ... 

ILLINOIS

  • 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.

INDIANA

No changes

IOWA

No changes

MICHIGAN

  • Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and was replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson. 

MICHIGAN STATE

No changes

MINNESOTA

  • 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. 

NORTHWESTERN

  • 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. 

OHIO STATE

No changes

PENN STATE

No changes

PURDUE

  • 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.

WISCONSIN

No changes

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

Before the blog shuts down for the weekend, a few items:

  • The Kansas City Chiefs' hiring of Todd Haley erases any concern about Kirk Ferentz leaving Iowa after 10 seasons as head coach. This doesn't seem like the time for Ferentz to return to the NFL, especially with a strong team coming back in 2009 that includes his son, James, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman. 
  • Michigan's schedule addition of Delaware State is official, and the Wolverines became the ninth Big Ten team to finalize the 2009 slate. Though Illinois and Indiana haven't completed their 2009 schedules, I'll begin a team-by-team schedule analysis next week.  
  • Congratulations to Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his wife Stacy, who delivered the couple's third child at 7:58 a.m. CT today. Brendan William Fitzgerald checked in at 9 pounds, 4 ounces. The Fitzgeralds have two other sons, Jack (4) and Ryan (2), and are well on their way to fielding an entire defensive front seven for Northwestern in 2027.
  • Missed this one from earlier today, but you can count Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel among those who would like an early signing date. The story by Doug Lesmerises also dispels rumors that Terrelle Pryor had a shoulder injury in the Fiesta Bowl.
  • Former Illinois defensive line coach Tom Sims has found a new home at Kansas

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. 

ILLINOIS

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. 

INDIANA

No changes.

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

IOWA

No changes.

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.

MICHIGAN

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.

MICHIGAN STATE

No changes.

Notes: Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was in the mix for several head-coaching spots (Miami University, Boston College) but will stay put for 2009.

MINNESOTA

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.

NORTHWESTERN

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.

OHIO STATE

No changes.

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.

PENN STATE

No changes.

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.

PURDUE

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. 

WISCONSIN

No changes.

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

Illinois just announced the hiring of Keith Gilmore as its new defensive line coach.

Gilmore, who replaces Tom Sims, spent the past two seasons as defensive line coach and assistant head coach at Cincinnati. He served as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1988.

Here are statements from Illinois head coach Ron Zook and Gilmore:

"I am thrilled to have Keith Gilmore join our staff," Zook said. "He is experienced at almost every level of football and his knowledge of the game will be a great addition to the defensive room. He has had great results along each of his coaching stops and I know he will bring that work ethic to this Illinois defense. Cincinnati has been a great defensive team these past two years and certainly Keith has had a lot to do with the team's success." 

"I am very excited about this opportunity," Gilmore said. "I have always dreamed of coaching in the Big Ten Conference and working for someone like coach Zook who has such vast experiences and knowledge. This is a great move for me to become a better football coach. It also is a great university, one that has a lot of football tradition and history. The Champaign-Urbana area really seems like a great place to raise a family. My wife was able to come up and see the area as well and we feel we will be very happy there."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After failing to land Penn State recruiting whiz Larry Johnson, Illinois head coach Ron Zook has found another top assistant for his defensive line vacancy. 

As my colleague Brian Bennett reported, Zook will hire Cincinnati defensive line coach Keith Gilmore for the same position at Illinois. Gilmore replaces Tom Sims, who was fired last month. 

Gilmore has a good track record under Brian Kelly at both Central Michigan and Cincinnati, where former tight end Connor Barwin emerged as a star this season, tying for the Big East lead in sacks (11). Cincinnati led the Big East in team sacks with 38 this fall. 

So this appears to be a solid hire for Illinois.

The more interesting development might be what happens between Zook and co-defensive coordinators Curt Mallory and Dan Disch. Zook had offered the defensive coordinator position to Johnson, who turned down a sizable pay raise to remain at Penn State. Whether Zook downgrades Mallory's and/or Disch's responsibilities remains to be seen after the Illini strugged on the defensive side of the ball. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There are no scheduled interviews today at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, so posting will be light for a while. If you need your fill of Big Ten news, check out these links. 

"Yeah, I did before the operation," he said when asked whether he considered immediate retirement. "But I think I got the worst behind me now."

"So much comes down to the man under center. One Big 12 coach said the differences between quarterbacks in his league and the Big Ten are gaping. Michigan recently lost one of its quarterback commitments to, gulp, Tulsa.

'What I saw in evaluating the Big Ten and Big 12 is the difference at quarterback play,' a Big 12 coach said. 'It's obvious. You see spots that are open, and the ball [from Big Ten quarterbacks] doesn't get there.'"

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