Take a look at Illinois football’s finalized staff
March 29, 2016
After coaching in the NFL for 19 years, Lovie Smith is making
his return to college football as the new head coach at Illinois. Smith is
already familiar to the state, as he was the long-time coach of the Chicago
Bears. During his tenure with the Bears, Smith went 81-63 and led the Bears to a
loss in Super Bowl XLI. He also made it to the NFC championship games in 2006
Most recently, Smith served as the head coach of the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers. He went 8-24 with the Buccaneers and was let go following this past
season. Smith oversaw the development of rookie and pro-bowl quarterback Jameis
Before making the leap to the NFL, Smith coached 12 years of
college football with six different teams. Some of his more notable stops
include Wisconsin, Ohio State and Tennessee.
Smith is known as a defensive oriented coach, and his record
shows it. Until being named head coach of the Bears, Smith always had a role on
the defensive side of the ball.
Before coaching, Smith played college football at Tulsa where he
was a defensive end and linebacker. He was a two time All-American there.
McGee was appointed by head coach Lovie Smith on March 9. McGee was the offensive coordinator at Louisville, Arkansas and Northwestern before coming to Illinois. McGee led Louisville’s offense to an 8-5 record last year. He took over as head coach at UAB in the 2012-2013 season. Smith’s recent hire played quarterback with three different teams: Arizona State, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Oklahoma. Following his final year at Oklahoma, McGee was hired as the assistant coach at Langston University. McGee also has three years of experience as the wide receivers coach for three other teams: Northern Iowa, Toledo and UNLV.
Smith’s hire of Nickerson gives the Illini more NFL coaching experience in thebox. Nickerson spent the 2007 season with the Chicago Bears, the 2-14-2015 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was hired by the San Francisco 49’ers before coming to Illinois. Nickerson also compiled an NFL career in which he played linebacker for four different teams. He spent his first six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, seven seasons with the Buccaneers, two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars and one season with the Green Bay Packers. Nickerson was a five-time Pro Bowler and was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.
Butkus also brings some NFL experience to the Fighting Illini coaching staff. The former Illini center spent three years with the Jaguars as assistant offensive line coach, four seasons with the Bears holding the same position and one season with the Seattle Seahawks as offensive line coach. Butkus spent two seasons playing center in the NFL, one with the Bears in 2002 and one with the Chargers in 2003. Butkus returns to the Illinois staff after spending the 2012 season as the Illini’s offensive line coach.
Since 2004, Ligashesky has been associated with multiple NFL teams. He has spent most of his NFL coaching career as a special teams coach. Ligashesky was also the tight ends coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2011. He was a part of the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII victory over the Arizona Cardinals back in 2009. Ligashesky attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania, playing defensive back and earning a letter in three of his years. He will take over as both the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach for the Illini.
To coach the wide receivers, Smith brought in another familiar face. Andrew Hayes-Stoker was a a vital member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff, where he was the receiver’s coach and was a huge factor in the rapid development of pro-bowl receiver Mike Evans. Before being hired by Illinois, Hayes-Stoker was set to be the assistant to the head coach for the Indianapolis Colts this season. Before coaching he played college football at TCU, where backed up legendary running back LaDanian Tomlinson.
As part of the defensive staff, Smith has hired Chicago-native Tim Mcgarigle. Mcgarigle was originally brought on by former coach Bill Cubit, but after looking over the options Smith decided to keep him on the staff. In his college career, McGarigle played linebacker at Northwestern, and holds the FBS record for most career tackles. He was then drafted by the Rams, where he played for three seasons. Following his playing career, McGarigle went to Western Michigan to be the Linebackers coach. He served there since 2012, until he was recently hired by Cubit and Smith to come to Illinois.
Defensive Line coach Mike Phair also brings plenty of NFL experience. Phair coached the defensive line for the Illini last year as well, and was immediately retained by Smith. Prior to his coaching career, Phair played linebacker at Arizona State after walking on as a junior. He then coached for the Sun Devils as a graduate assistant, and after two years got his first NFL job as a scout for the Buccaneers. Phair took his opportunity and capitalized, by eventually going on to work in the league for 13 years. During his NFL career he worked under Smith in two separate stints. First, he coached the defensive line for the bears, and second, with the Buccaneers before coming to the Illini.
Thad Ward has joined the team as the new running backs coach for the Illini. He has coached for other college programs including Northern and Western Illinois. Most recently he worked as a wide receivers coach for Northern Illinois, where the team went 31-11. As a coach at Northern, he helped the team to three bowl games and a MAC championship. Smith is high on Ward as a recruiter and thinks that he will be a big asset to the team
Paul Williams is joining the staff as the defensive backs coach. After initially being hired by Cubit for the same position, Smith decided to retain him. He has plenty of experience, with this being his 20th season coaching at the collegiate level. Some notable stops include Temple, Delaware, and Miami. He helped lead his alma mater, Delaware, to a 15-1 record and an NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 2003. In the 2015 season with Miami, he limited the opposing offense to 219 passing yards per game and only gave up 12 touchdowns. Before his coaching career Williams played football and ran track with Delaware.