Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson resigns


Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Illini defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson on the sidelines during a game. Nickerson announced his resignation from the football program Monday.

By Tatiania Perry, Staff writer

The Illini football program announced Monday morning defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson will be resigning due to personal reasons. 

Nickerson informed head coach Lovie Smith of the pending resignation Sunday, coming off the 63-33 loss to Maryland on Saturday.

“Hardy informed me yesterday that he felt it was in the program’s best interest to leave our staff,” Smith said. “I’ve known and coached with Hardy for many years and know what an outstanding person he is. We are all disappointed in the performance of our defense this season and we all bear responsibility for that. I wish Hardy nothing but the best as he moves forward with his career.”

Nickerson has spent the last two seasons at Illinois coaching the linebackers and serving as the team’s sole defensive coordinator under Smith. Before heading to the Illini, Nickerson was a member of the San Francisco 49ers staff coaching the linebackers. 

Nickerson’s first season in Champaign featured senior defensive ends Carroll Phillips and Dawuane Smoot, and his son, Hardy Nickerson, who led the team in tackles with 107. The Illini were No. 10 in the nation in team tackles for loss per game with 5.5.

“When I was contacted about being offered this job back in 2016, I was excited for the opportunity to come in to coordinate and run Illinois’ defense,” Nickerson said. “I had every intention of helping put our defensive student-athletes in the best possible position to win and, ultimately, to make the University of Illinois community and fans proud of our results. Due to health-related circumstances beyond my control, I must step aside at this time.”

During the 2016 season, Phillips was named Illinois’ first All-Big Ten first team selection in five years after finishing the regular season ranked seventh in the nation in TFLs per game with 1.7.

Smoot, who was drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, added 15 TFLs as they combined for the second-most TFLs between teammates in the Big Ten.

In 2017, Nickerson coached safety Bennett Williams to ESPN’s Freshman All-America honors and the BTN All-Freshman Team. Williams led Illinois with three interceptions and was fifth on the team in tackles.

Smith said in a statement they were all disappointed in the performance of the defense this season, but he wishes Nickerson the best in the rest of his career.

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