Illinois, Bielema hire Mizzou’s Ryan Walters as defensive coordinator

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Photo Courtesy of UIUC Football Twitter

Ryan Walters was announced as Illinois defensive coordinator on Thursday.

By Gabby Hajduk, Sports Editor

Bret Bielema has officially found his defensive coordinator in Mizzou’s Ryan Walters. After reports surfaced from Football Scoop then ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg early Wednesday morning about the hire, Illinois football made the official announcement Thursday morning. Rumors about Walters taking the DC position at Illinois started circling earlier in the week after Football Scoop reported Walters, Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles and Wofford head coach Josh Conklin were all in the running.

“It is a great pleasure to bring Ryan here to the University of Illinois Football Family,” Bielema said in a press release. “Ryan has demonstrated great success in his coaching career as an assistant, as a coordinator and as a leader of young men. He’ll be a great addition to our staff to help us motivate, recruit and develop a roster full of champions. Ryan and his family will be a terrific fit in our program, at our university and in the Champaign-Urbana community.”

Stealing Walters from rival Mizzou is not only a big get for the fanbase and bragging rights, but it’s a monumental step forward for an Illini defense that struggled in 2020. Walter has spent the last six seasons with the Tigers, starting off as the defensive backs/safeties coach — a position he retained all six years — then moving to co-defensive coordinator for two seasons, and finishing his last three seasons as defensive coordinator.

Before going to Mizzou, Walters spent time at Colorado (his alma mater), Arizona, Oklahoma, North Texas and Memphis, working with defensive backs at every stop. Walters, 34, is Bielema’s fourth assistant coach hire, following offensive coordinator Tony Petersen, offensive line coach Bart Miller and running backs coach Cory Patterson. Bielema also hired Tank Wright as the strength and conditioning coach and Mark Taurisani as the chief of staff.

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