While other schools are getting ready for their bowl game, Illinois is trying to shore up their defense. After former Illinois defensive coordinator Mike Cassity took the fall for the 1-11 season, head coach Ron Turner must find a replacement. With the entire staff looking at being shown the door if the team doesn't improve next year, it's not going to be easy for Turner to find someone to come onboard.
You can pretty much rule out any former Division 1 head coaches that have been fired in the last year. They would most likely try and catch on with a more successful program and improve their stock and try to get another head coaching job. Also, don't look for any current Division 1 defensive coordinator to take what would either be a backwards step or lateral move to Illinois.
Here are a few types of candidates that you can expect:
The most likely scenario is that a current defensive coach will be promoted to defensive coordinator and then a new coach will be brought in to take over at that coach's position. The most likely person to be pushed up the ladder is linebackers coach Mike Mallory. This scenario will most likely save some money and be the easiest way to fill the vacancy. But, most fans will agree that a defense that played as poorly as Illinois' shouldn't earn a coach a promotion.
If Mallory does in fact get promoted, Illinois will need to fill that position. Many fans would love to see someone with ties to the Fighting Illini program be brought in to take over the linebackers. How about coach Dana Howard or coach John Holecek?
Welcome to the Next Level
Another scenario that could play out is bringing up an assistant from a strong Division 1-AA school. Many of these guys would love to coach at the next level and would be willing to hook up with a struggling program like Illinois, just to get their foot in the door. Ohio State and Navy have hired head coaches from smaller schools like Youngstown State and Georgia Southern, and those programs have had recent success. Who's to say that a small school defensive coach couldn't breathe some life into the Illinois defense?
Turner would be wise to study some tapes from the teams that made the Division 1-AA playoffs and watch how their defenses play. He might not have to go far, maybe just to Macomb or Carbondale.
From Sundays to Saturdays
The word on the street is that Coach Turner wants somebody from the NFL. Why would anybody want to leave the luxurious life of an NFL assistant to come to Champaign for what could only be one season? Maybe this assistant wants to jump ahead quickly, instead of babysitting millionaire defensive players in the NFL. You see more and more coaches leaving the NFL and taking college jobs because they want to actually coach and teach.
Now, here comes the tricky part. He's got to find someone willing to do that and come try their hand in the Big Ten. In this situation, you need to look to the NFL staffs that are in trouble of not having a job. Also, you don't want to look to a franchise that has struggled mightily over the last few years. You want to find somebody that you could convince to take the job and somebody who has had some success with their position, but the whole team just hasn't lived up to expectations. Plus, it wouldn't hurt to have a previous relationship with the coach and have somebody you trust recommend the potential hire.
So, all those things I described take us to Miami, Florida. The Dolphins have been expected to win a Super Bowl for the last couple years, but they can't seem to get things going on offense. Their defense has been pretty strong. Also, Ron Turner was the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears when current Dolphins head coach Dave Wannstedt was the man in charge for the Bears. Plus, Turner's brother Norv is now the Dolphins offensive coordinator.
It's very possible that the next Illini defensive coordinator comes from the current Miami Dolphins staff. Miami defensive line coach Clarence Brooks was on the Bears staff with Ron Turner during the 90's. From 1976 until 1992, Brooks coached in college at Massachusetts, Syracuse and Arizona. After leaving the Bears in 1998, Brooks worked in Cleveland for a year and has been in Miami since 2000.
Brooks has coached in college and the NFL and can use his NFL experience in landing recruits. He has worked with Turner and his brother. He has never been a coordinator, so it's conceivable he would jump at the opportunity to work with his old colleague. I'm not saying that Turner will definitely bring in Brooks, but it is a seemingly good fit for the position.
I have used common sense in naming the types of coaches who might want this job, so far. Now, I'm going to dream a little bit. There's one current NFL linebackers coach who has strong ties to the state of Illinois, especially Chicago. If I were a high school linebacker, I know that I would want to play for him. What Illini fan wouldn't love to see Mike Singletary calling the defense from the press box at Memorial Stadium?
Singletary is in his first season as linebackers' coach with the Baltimore Ravens. He has let it be known that he is looking to move up the coaching ladder kind of quickly. Plus, how long will a nice guy like Singletary want to be around an egomaniac like Ravens head coach Brian Billick. Also, it's not like Ray Lewis needs one of the best linebackers in NFL history to be his coach. Lewis could destroy offenses throughout the league with me as his position coach.
Now, you ask why would Singletary come on board for one season? Because if he turns around the defense at Illinois, but the team still under performs and Turner is sent packing, Singletary steps to the front of the line as possible Illinois head coach and will probably get head coaching offers from teams throughout college and pro football.
I know that the last option is mainly a fantasy that I have dreamed up and tried to rationalize, but will not happen. The promotion of Mallory is the most likely outcome, followed by an NFL assistant coming to take over the defense. Whoever gets the job has their work cut out for them.