Greg Nord has worked at Kentucky, East Carolina, and Georgia Tech, and he spent the past 15 years at Louisville. He admits the first few days at Illinois after all those years in one program were a tough adjustment.
"Yeah, it was. We had a good run there, but I'm looking forward to this. Moving into the Big 10, that excites me. We get a chance to come up and compete for Big 10 championships and play in some of the best bowl games there are in the country. I look forward to this opportunity."
Nord did his homework and believes in the program and Ron Zook. He is also rejoining offensive coordinator Paul Petrino and quarterback coach Jeff Brohm, with whom he worked successfully at Louisville.
"It's been a great time. The adjustment came pretty quick. Coach Zook's a great guy to work for. He's made everyone feel comfortable in our roles. It was easy coming in and joining Coach Petrino and Jeff (Brohm), who I've worked with before.
"Coach Gilbert (Joe, offensive line coach) worked with a couple of my friends before, so I know him, as DeAndre (Smith, running back coach) has. I've known Vic (Koenning, defensive coordinator) and Ron West (outside linebackers coach) from various other career moves. A bunch of us around here are eager for the season to start, but we've got some work to do."
Continuity and shared purpose are essential in establishing a new offense. Having everyone on the same page in the offensive meeting room makes the job easier.
"That's one thing that excites me about this opportunity. I know how well we worked together with this offense. I know what this offense can do. There's a lot of good football players here. They've bought in, they're excited to get started, moving in the right direction."
Tight ends and fullbacks will be needed in this new offense, and Nord understands how to get the most out of them.
"Yes, I work with the tight ends and fullbacks. We'll have different personnel groups. We'll have two tight ends in the game at the same time. I've coached tight ends and running backs all through my career. I'm excited getting to work with the tight ends and getting better. They can be a big part of the offense."
Tight ends he tutored at Louisville include NFL players Ronnie Ghent, Gary Barnidge and Richard Owens.
"We've had a guy that caught 70 balls in this offense and was the leading receiver from the tight end position in the country. You saw what the offense did when Coach (Petrino) was at Arkansas. Their tight end was All-Conference and led that league in receptions. We have ways to ulilize them.
"We also have had a guy who played three years for us at tight end and moved to a tackle position in the NFL and is playing for Green Bay now. It's an offense that's gonna be able to utilize the ones that we have."
In the Petrino offense, tight ends must be both good blockers and receivers.
"First off, we're gonna run the ball to win. That's one of the most important things there is in the offense. But we're also gonna throw the ball with great precision, great sophistication. We're gonna have big plays off our play action. That gets set up by being able to run the ball.
"We feel like it's real important that the defense has to not only defend the spread offense or a certain type of offense. We're gonna be multiple with different formations, different personnel groups. The offense is very sophisticated. It has a lot of components to it. I think that's part of what makes it work.
"We have ways to get the ball to the tight end. We've got many different kinds of routes and patterns that we can use to be able to get matchups. There's times when our tight end is gonna be able to beat a linebacker matched up.
"We're gonna be able to outnumber them at times and be able to get a guy in an open zone. And use them in the play-action game. We've got a lot of ways to get the ball to the tight end."
With all that complexity, will it be difficult for the players to learn?
"Yes and no. It's gonna take them awhile to learn the offense. Yet the great knack Coach Petrino has is utilizing the talent that we have and using that part of the playbook to be successful.
"Rather than put a square peg in a round hole just for the sake of being able to run something, we're gonna make sure we use the great players. Get the ball to the great players. You've already talked to Coach Petrino and know we're gonna feed the studs. That simply means get the ball to our best players and give them a chance to go do something with it."
Tight ends and fullbacks have been difficult to recruit to Illinois. The spread offense used the last five years has less need for them. Nord is unwilling to discuss specific players, but he will find a way to take advantage of what he has available.
"I think we have some guys there we're gonna coach up and see what they do best. That's part of the reason I'm here, to get them to be good enough so we can compete for a Big 10 Championship.
"Everybody who comes into the meeting room for the offense has some quality that they can bring to this offense. What we're gonna do is find out what that is and do our best to figure out how to get them on the field to use that talent."
There have been rumors of one or more athletes being moved to tight end to strengthen the unit. Nord remains tight-lipped on specifics.
"We'll make any announcements on personnel changes when it's appropriate. We're always gonna be looking for ways to make this offense better. We don't want to tip everything because when we line up to play Missouri, they don't need to know everything."
Nord leaves no doubt the key to success is everyone working for the same goals, coaches and players alike. Selfishness limits potential.
"What making great football teams is all about, it's not me or I. Whatever is best for this football team is what's gonna be done. I think that's something that Coach Zook has a great knack of. I think that's most important, and all of us realize we'll all win the same games on Saturday as long as we're all pushing in the same direction."
Nord is also the new recruiting coordinator for Illinois. He discusses his recruiting philosophy and overall plan in part 2.