Jeremy Werner // Illini Inquirer

Former NFL player, IMG Academy coach Donnie Abraham joins Illinois staff

Illini coach Lovie Smith fills assistant position with hiring of former NFL player, IMG Academy coach Donnie Abraham

Update: Feb. 15

Illinois has made Donnie Abraham's hire official. He will primarily coach the safeties.

"I'm very pleased to have Donnie Abraham join our coaching staff," Lovie Smith said in a statement. "Donnie was a great player during his long NFL career, and has gained some terrific experience coaching high school football in the Tampa area and at IMG. His background with our staff here at Illinois will be extremely helpful as we continue to implement our defensive philosophies. Donnie is an excellent communicator and will help in our recruiting efforts in the state of Florida and other places he has connections. I'm very pleased to be able to bring someone of his caliber to our staff."

Original story: Feb. 13

Multiple sources told Illini Inquirer that IMG Academy defensive coordinator Donnie Abraham will join the Illinois football coaching staff as an assistant.

Abraham would fill the vacancy left by linebackers coach Tim McGarigle, who took a defensive analyst position on the Green Bay Packers staff, though Abraham is expected to coach a secondary position. Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson is expected to coach the linebackers.

Illinois is not allowed to start the hiring process until the job has been posted for a week. The posting expires at midnight Monday, so Illinois cannot announce the move until Tuesday at the earliest.

Abraham -- a South Carolina native and East Tennessee State graduate -- checks a lot of the boxes for the open Illinois assistant coach position.

Ties to the Illini staff? Check. Abraham was a starting cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001, the first five seasons of which Lovie Smith was on the defensive staff. Also, Nickerson played with Abraham on the Bucs from 1996-99.

NFL experience? Check. Abraham finished his nine-year career, which included a Pro Bowl selection in 2000, with 112 starts, 361 tackles and 38 interceptions (including an NFL-leading 7 picks in 1999).

Deep recruiting ties to a priority area? Check. Abraham spent 10 years coaching high school football in the Tampa area.  He spent 2013-15 as the head coach at Clearwater High and was the defensive coordinator last season at prestigious IMG Academy, which has several top Illini targets including Chicago natives and Scout 300 prospects Verdis Brown and Houston Griffith (who is expected to visit Illinois this weekend).

Smith has made Florida a recruiting priority, signing seven out of the Sunshine State in the Class of 2017, and Abraham should help with those efforts.


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