Chad Creamer wants to be a head college football coach. He has been driven to that end since he was young and has been fortunate to get some excellent experience in a short amount of time.
"I went to Ohio State. I didn't play, I was a student coach for three years. I worked in the weight room for a year. Then I worked with Coach (Taver) Johnson, who was the corners coach and was the interim head coach at Arkansas until recently. He's the associate head coach there.
"And then I worked with Coach (Jim) Heacock, who was the defensive coordinator at Ohio State my final year. So those three years, I got a lot of experience. I was around good football, a good program.
"After that, I went to Austin Peay University and was a graduate assistant for a year and a half there. I worked with their safeties; they run a similar program to what we do here. I worked with the outside backers and down safeties.
"Then I got a full-time job at Capitol University. That's where I got back with former Illini Director of Player Personnel John Hauser's brother Chris, who was on the staff at Toledo as well. I coached defensive backs there for one year. Then Chris left, and I took over last year as defensive coordinator for the 2011 season. Then I came here in February."
Going from being a full-time assistant to an office job with no field work is tough for a football coach, but Creamer is gaining valuable insight that will aid him later in his career.
"I'm planning to be a GA in the fall. I'm not taking any graduate courses right now; I came in with the new staff. I knew a few of the guys from previously working with them. I worked with Coach Beckman and Coach Golesh. And I worked with John Hauser's brother. So I had that connection here.
"I got in anyway I could. I wanted to be involved with the program. I wanted to get back to the Big 10, this level of athlete and football. I also wanted to learn the ropes of recruiting at this level; it's good experience for me.
"Ultimately, I want to be coaching on the field. The experience I've had has all been with field coaching, but I do want to see and learn about the recruiting aspects of things. I eventually want to get back on the field, but I'm taking this year or two to really learn the ins and outs of recruiting at this level. I want to help build this program anyway I can."
His is a thankless job that requires many man-hours beyond the normal work week. Everything he does directly aids Illinois coaches in their recruiting and decision-making.
"I will be doing all the recruiting things and player personnel stuff. I work with Paul (Nichols), doing a number of different things. Obviously, recruiting is the biggest. Helping with the database, all the on-campus visits and the Junior Days, player film evaluation, all those things.
"And then I also help out with the guys once they're here. So kind of a wide variety of things, the biggest area being with recruiting student-athletes."
Like Hauser before him, who missed coaching so much he joined the Citadel coaching staff shortly after beginning at Illinois, Creamer admits it's a hard adjustment for him.
"It's a struggle. Coming from always being on the field and coaching, and molding life experiences along with that, at first it wasn't too bad. Off-season workouts were going on, and we were evaluating film. But once spring practices began, those guys were out on the field doing the workouts and drills and teaching. That's when it's tough."
Creamer's personal sacrifice will pay off for him in the long run.
"This was a good opportunity I couldn't pass up, to work with some good guys, be around a good program and help build that. But at the same time, it is tough. I definitely know it's worth it. I just take this as a crash course in recruiting.
"At the end of the day, you have to give up some things to get things. Right now, it's for me giving up field coaching. Hopefully, I can gain some knowledge and learn from these guys how to run a program and what it takes to recruit."
One must be highly motivated to recruit, and Creamer is motivated. Adding all the details and their implications to his mindset will make him a more complete coach.
"No doubt, and that's the way I look at it. I did have experience with that at different levels, but to be here and as hands-on as I am with recruiting is definitely a good experience.
"I learn something new every day. Some things that work, some things that don't work. I hope to take that and apply it through the remainder of my career. Wherever you go, whatever you do, it's about recruiting."
Creamer's OSU background has been a big help to him. But he admits recruiting is much easier at such a nationally prominent program. It is more of a challenge at Illinois, but his present situation is much more typical of what Creamer will face in his future coaching assignments.
"It was. I wasn't terribly involved; they have a fairly large player personnel office. They have that going, and I didn't work directly with them. I did some things from a distance and got to see that.
"When I was there, they'd already established their program. They had already won a national championship and had a lot of success. So I didn't see the building of that.
"Here, it's kind of ground zero...from scratch. So I'm getting it from a different angle. It's still a great program, it's still in the Big Ten, and there are a lot of similarities with the Midwest and whatnot.
"Where the programs are at in terms of years is different, and that's where for me it's exciting. You're at the beginning of that. What we're doing in recruiting, evaluation and finding that talent, is really essential. So you feel like you're really a part of something big."
In part two of this four-part interview, Creamer provides more detail on his job responsibilities.