Illinois football’s Smith introduces new staff and talks spring ball

Lovie Smith at his introductory press conference

By Charlotte Carroll, Sports editor

For Illinois football’s new wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker, it was a phone call with a certain voice on the other end of the line that convinced him to come to Champaign.

Hayes-Stoker previously worked with head football coach Lovie Smith for the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This time around, Hayes-Stoker was adamant that Smith played the key role in moving from his most recent job with the Indianapolis Colts to the collegiate level.

“I wouldn’t have come,” Hayes-Stoker said on how Lovie was the deciding factor. “I wouldn’t have left the NFL.”

It’s a sentiment that many of the assistants echoed as Smith introduced his whole staff to media for the first time in a press conference Tuesday. Smith talked about his new additions while discussing spring football, which kicks off April 1.

A mix of collegiate and NFL experience compose the new coaching staff, but Smith said that all agree on how the game of football should be played.

As he put together an ideal staff, Smith said he secured most of those that first popped up in his mind.

“I think we have a great mesh on this staff, from diversity to everything,” Smith said “I had a picture in my mind, and this is it.”

Joining Smith and Hayes-Stoker are Garrick McGee as offensive coordinator and Hardy Nickerson as defensive coordinator.

McGee comes from Louisville where he was the team’s offensive coordinator. Before his stint at Louisville, McGee was a head coach at UAB, an offensive coordinator at Arkansas and an offensive coordinator at Northwestern.

As offensive coordinator in 2010, McGee helped lead Arkansas to a 10-3 finish and an appearance in the school’s first BCS bowl, a loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.

McGee said he’s watched every Illinois game from last season — along with some scrimmages — to see the younger quarterbacks’ performances.

He added that wide receiver Mike Dudek who sat out all of last season with a torn ACL has been running and looking healthy as he prepares for the season.

“We’ve been grinding and getting ready for spring ball,” McGee said.

On the defensive front, Nickerson worked under Smith in Tampa Bay in the 2014-2015 season and left his position as the linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers for the Illini. Nickerson played 16 years in the NFL for four different teams, before becoming a coach for the Bears in 2007.

Nickerson said he hasn’t had too many difficuluties as he’s adapted from the NFL to college.

“Football is a people game,” Nickerson said. “Getting to know the guys and developing that rapport with them has been the most important thing here recently.”

In just the last three months, Nickerson has gone from Tampa Bay to San Francisco and then Champaign, calling the moves a “whirlwind.”

But he’s confident in his decision.

“I feel really good about coming here and being part of tradition and history in terms of Illinois football,” Nickerson said.

With spring football around the corner, Hayes-Stoker and coaches want to instill a new culture in the program.

“A lot what I want to do is change the mindset around here and the expectations that people have,” Hayes-Stoker said. “The way that Illinois has been viewed in the past means nothing to me. It means nothing to me and the guys on this staff, and we want to breathe life into these guys.”

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