courtesy HuskieWire

Official: NIU's Thad Ward joins Illini staff

Lovie Smith reportedly will fill last coaching staff spot with NIU assistant Thad Ward

UPDATE (March 11, 2:20 p.m.): Illinois made it official with Lovie Smith announcing that Northern Illinois assistant Thad Ward will fill the last opening on his coaching staff.

"Thad Ward will bring a new level of energy to our program," Smith said in a statement. "He has been successful at each stop of his career, and is a proven recruiter. Thad has helped develop several outstanding players along the way, and I'm confident our current players will respond to his coaching in a positive way."

Ward's Coaching History

2002 Florida A&M Graduate Assistant
2003-04 Tallahassee Rickards H.S. WR/DB (Interim head coach in 2004)
2005-10 Western Illinois Running Backs
2011 Gardner-Webb Wide Receivers/Passing Game Coordinator
2012 Western Michigan Wide Receivers
2013-15 Northern Illinois Wide Receivers
2016 Illinois Running Backs

Lovie Smith's staff

Head coach: Lovie Smith

Offensive coordinator/QBs coach: Garrick McGee (official)

Defensive coordinator: Hardy Nickerson (official)

RBs coach: Thad Ward (official)

WRs coach: Andrew Hayes-Stoker (official)

OL coach: Luke Butkus (official)

DL coach: Mike Phair (official)

LB coach: Tim McGarigle (official)

DBs coach: Paul Williams (official)

Special teams coordinator/TEs coach: Bob Ligashesky (official)

Original story (March 17)

READ: Illinois hires NFL special teams coach Bob Ligashesky

Northern Illinois assistant Thad Ward will fill the final opening on Lovie Smith's initial Illinois coaching staff, according to

Ward seemed to make it pretty official on Twitter on Thursday morning.

Ward, a Florida native, spent the last three seasons at NIU and likely will be the running backs coach at Illinois. Under Ward's tutelage, Da'Ron Brown was a two-time All-MAC selection and was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Ward also coached for a season (2012) at Western Michigan and a season at Gardner-Webb (2011), and spent six seasons (2005-10) as the running backs coach at Western Illinois.

Ward played defensive back and graduated from Central Florida in 2001 and spent two seasons at Coffeyville C.C.

Smith, who was hired on March 7, has filled all nine of his assistant spots in 10 days. He will now turn his focus to his support staff. Smith dismissed the strength staff on Wednesday, including strength coach Aaron Hillman.

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