Coaching Staff: Attention Turns to Defense

With Mike Schultz on his way to Champaign and defensive line coach Tom Sims on his way out, the remaining question on the Illinois staff is who comes in to coach the defensive line. And although there is great speculation that the new hire will also serve as a coordinator -- and that indeed could be the case -- it is far from a given.

First, some thoughts about Sims. He was a solid defensive line coach, well-liked by his players, a good technician and a good guy. Illinois coach Ron Zook was quick to point that out to me last night.

"Tom is a good guy," Zook said. "He did a good job. But there are times when change is in everyone's best interest. I really want things to work out well for Tom and I believe they will. I really do."

So why is Sims out? Sometimes, it just comes down to a coach and assistant being on a difference page philosophically. That sounds vague, but in this case, is accurate. Good assistants do what the head coach asks, but if there is an underlying difference of how to approach this or that, sometimes that can rear its head.

Doesn't mean both parties aren't smart, clear thinkers -- there certainly is more than one way to skin a cat. But you do need all parties, eventually, on the same page with what you are teaching, what you are trying to accomplish. When that is not the case, a split can be best.

So who is next? Zook hasn't decided that yet. He also is far from deciding that the next defensive line coach is going to be the coordinator, as some have assumed. That may turn out to be the case, but it is not yet a certainty.

If Zook believed Curt Mallory and Dan Disch, the two co-coordinators, were abject failures, that decision already would have been made. But he believes they were far from that.

They only had the job two years and one of those two years ended with Illinois playing in the Rose Bowl. At most, they had one bad year. And in fairness, considering the players they lost and the position the defense was put in by the offense and special teams at times, makes you wonder if they had much of a fighting chance. None of that is lost on the head coach.

Still, the bottom line is to have the absolute best staff you can. And if that means add a defensive line coach and the coordinators stay in place, so be it. If it means bring in a coordinator who also coaches the line, so be it. I can assure you it hasn't yet been decided.

Finally, who are the candidates? Zook isn't likely to make that known any time soon. In all likelihood, one candidate will be in this week to discuss the positions, both the line and the coordinator. It isn't a case in which a number of visits are scheduled, as was the case with offense.

With defense, they are bringing in one potential guy for now. All decisions will be made after that visit.

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