January 2009 Archives

Caught up with Juice Williams at the basketball game Saturday, and he's enthusiastic about Illinois' new offensive coordinator, Mike Schultz, who ran a high-octane offense at TCU.
``It's a good step. I don't think we'll miss a beat,'' the Illinois quarterback said. ``I see him as a competitive guy who wants to be great. It gives you confidence, knowing that he knows what he's talking about. It'll be the same type of offense, with a few wrinkles.''

Cincinnati assistant Keith Gilmore, who was first identified in this space last Thursday, has agreed to become Illinois' new defensive line coach coach Ron Zook announced Tuesday.
Gilmore, who was the Bearcats' assistant head coach as well as their defensive line coach, brings recruiting ties to Washington, D.C., where he coached at Howard University; Michigan, where he coached at several schools, and Ohio.
A 1981 graduate of Wayne State in Detroit, Gilmore moved from Central Michigan to Cincinnati in 2007 with head coach Brian Kelly, who guided the Bearcats to the Big East title this season and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Cincinnati finished 31st in the nation in total defense (321.9 yards a game), 19th in run defense (115) and led the Big East in sacks (2.86).
In 2006, Gilmore's only season at Central Michigan, two defensive linemen earned all-league honors. In 2002-05, Gilmore was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Howard University. He also was the defensive line coach for the Bison, who led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in total defense in 2004 and 2005.
In 1998-2001, Gilmore was the special teams coordinator and coached the defensive line and running backs at Norfolk State. He began his coaching career at Wayne State in 1985. He also was an assistant at Michigan State (1988), Northern Michigan (1989-90), Grand Valley State (1991-93), Wayne State (1994), and Eastern Michigan (1995-97).

All indications are that Cincinnati assistant Keith Gilmore will be hired as Illinois' new defensive line coach. But a source close to Illini coach Ron Zook adamantly denied an online report Monday that there already is a deal.
``They must be talking to God,'' the source said, adding that Zook had a deal with Larry Johnson for 36 hours to come to Illinois, but Johnson wound up deciding to stay at Penn State because his wife opposed the move.
Gilmore is in Champaign, where he primarily spent time Sunday with co-defensive coordinators Curt Mallory and Dan Disch. He is going to meet with Zook today (Monday) after touring Illinois' football facilities.



While continuing to look into hiring Cincinnati defensive line coach Keith Gilmore to fill his defensive assistant vacancy, Ron Zook hired Houston offensive line coach Joe Gilbert as Illinois' new O line coach.
In 2008, Gilbert's only season at Houston, the Rockets ranked second in the nation in passing and total offense and 10th in scoring offense. His most recent coaching stops before Houston were Toledo and Central Florida.
Zook is scheduled to meet with Gilmore in the next few days, a source said. Whether Gilmore would come to Champaign as defensive coordinator or defensive line coach has not been determined.
The flirtation with Penn State assistant Larry Johnson was very serious, a source said: Johnson agreed conditionally to become Illinois' defensive coordinator, but wound up remaining with the Nittany Lions because his wife did not want to leave State College.

Penn State  defensive line coach Larry Johnson has decided to turn down an offer to become Illinois' new defensive coordinator, sources said Thursday. A top recruiter as well as a respected position coach, Johnson will return for his 14th season at Penn State, where he is the key assistant on 11 of the Nittany Lions' 23 commitments for signing day, Feb. 4.
With Johnson out of the picture, a source said Illini coach Ron Zook will focus his attention on Cincinnati defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, who also is the Bearcats' assistant head coach. Gilmore, a 1981 graduate of Wayne State, moved from from Central Michigan to the Bearcats in 2007 with head coach Brian Kelly, who guided Cincinnati to the Big East title this season and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Cincinnati finished 31st in the nation in total defense (321.9 yards a game), 19th in run defense (115) and led the Big East in sacks (2.86).
It's not clear whether Gilmore would be defensive coordinator or focus on Illinois' defensive line, which under-achieved last fall.
In 2006, Gilmore's only season at Central Michigan, two defensive linemen earned all-league honors. In 2002-05, Gilmore was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Howard University. He also was the defensive line coach for the Bison, who led the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in total defense in 2004 and 2005.
In 1998-2001, Gilmore was the special teams coordinator and coached the defensive line and running backs at Norfolk State. He began his coaching career at Wayne State in 1985. He also was an assistant at Michigan State (1988), Northern Michigan (1989-90), Grand Valley State (1991-93), Wayne State (1994), and Eastern Michigan (1995-97).

The Big Ten Network is going to show Illinois' Elite Eight 2005 thriller vs. Arizona at 6 p.m. Tuesday, with a second airing at 10 p.m.
I've been to a lot of great sporting events, as a fan and in my newspaper career, but this one might be the best comeback I've seen. (Another that comes to mind is the 1973 hockey Final Four, before it was called the Frozen Four, in which Wisconsin, down 4-0, came back to defeat Cornell 6-5 in overtime at Boston Garden.)
Anyway, the Arizona-Illinois rebroadcast should should warm the hearts of Illini fans on a cold winter night.
Here's the deadline game story I filed from Allstate Arena that night. (By the way, I still have the alternate lead, the one in which Arizona wins, in my computer. It was a tight deadline.)



By Herb Gould
Staff Reporter
Maybe the real Assembly Hall has been louder than Assembly Hall North by Northwest. Maybe not.
What's certain is that in Allstate Arena, a teeming tenement of orange-clad fans hungry for a Final Four, Illinois made a comeback that was as good as it gets.
Down by eight with 1:15 left, Illinois scored 10 points in 36 seconds to force overtime. And then the Illini held off Arizona 90-89 to earn their first trip to the Final Four since 1989.
``What an unbelievable game,'' said Bruce Weber, who broke down and wept afterward. ``It seemed like we were dead, but our kids didn't quit. It was pretty much a blur. Our kids just had tremendous heart. My mother was looking down on me tonight.''
For Weber, whose mother, Dawn, passed away on the day Illinois began its amazing March journey at the Big Ten tournament, the emotions poured out.
When Illinois reached its low point at 75-60 with 4:04 to go, it looked like a point of no return. Even when the Illini cut the lead to 78-70 with 74 seconds left, it appeared that their dream of reaching Assembly Hall Southwest, St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome, was going to remain out of their grasp.
Then the Illini refused to lose.
``It was just meant to be,'' Dee Brown said. ``This is amazing, an unbelievable game. I'm just going to wake up [this morning] and feel happy that we can go to St. Louis and play another game.''
First Deron Williams cut it to 78-72 with a drive to the basket with 1:08 left.
After a pair of Arizona free throws, Luther Head took a pass from Williams and drained a desperate three to make the score 80-75 with 54 seconds left.
After that basket, Dee Brown got up on on Mustafa Shakur near midcourt and tipped the ball to Williams. He tossed it back to Brown, who slid in on a drive that closed the gap to 80-77 with 45 seconds to go.
After an Arizona turnover, Williams calmly drained a three that tied the game 80-80 with 38 seconds left.
The Wildcats had a couple more opportunities. But Illinois held.
In overtime, with more than 16,000 in the crowd of 16,957 seemingly wearing orange, Illinois finished it off.
Williams hit a three for an 83-80 lead. When Wildcats big man Channing Frye powered in twice to put Arizona on top 84-83, Williams dished to Roger Powell for an inside basket that gave Illinois an 85-84 lead.
Williams, who was voted the MVP of this Chicago Region final, then drilled a three for an 88-84 lead with 2:14 left. When Head stole the ball and went in for layup, Illinois was in command 90-84.
But not for long. Hassan Adams made a three-point play, then knocked in a putback to make the score 90-89 with 51 seconds left.
When Head's straining drive to the basket failed to drop, Arizona had the ball for one last chance. It came out of a timeout with 11.8 seconds, but Adams put up a 17-foot shot that never had a chance.
And Illinois, which has won seven straight tournament games, including three in winning the Big Ten tournament, was St. Louis bound.
``I'm tired. Man, I'm tired,'' said Williams who scored 14 of his 22 points after Illinois was down 75-60. ``But I feel great. This is the best feeling in the world. It took all we had to get this win.''
Head, who scored 10 of his 20 points after Illinois fell behind 75-60, joined Williams on the all-tournament team.
Williams also spearheaded the defense that held Wildcats star Salim Stoudamire to nine points on 2-for-13 shooting. The problem was, Illinois had a ton of trouble with Arizona center Channing Frye, who wound up with 24 points on 11-for-14 shooting. In the second half, they couldn't deal with Hassan Adams, who scored 17 of his 21 points after intermission.
Although Illinois was outshot, 52.5 percent to 45.1 percent and outrebounded 37-32, it survived with a school-record 16 three-point baskets (16 for 35, 45.7 percent). Arizona was 7 for 18 (38.9 percent) on threes.
``You can see why they're 36-1,'' said Arizona coach Lute Olson. ``They're not a team that's ever going to give up. They got interceptions on us annd they knocked down threes under the most extreme pressure. I thought Deron Williams was absolutely fabulous the entire game.''


ENDIT



Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson is weighing an offer to become Illinois' defensive coordinator at an annual salary of at least $400,000, nearly twice his current salary, after meeting Saturday in Champaign with Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther, sources said.
Johnson, who met with head coach Ron Zook in Champaign several days ago, is expected to give Illinois his decision soon, presumably after seeing what incentives Penn State might come up with for its top recruiting assistant. Johnson is an accomplished recruiter in the Washington, D.C.-Maryland area that was the specialty of former Illini offensive coordinator Mike Locksley.
Johnson is paid $200,000 to $250,000 by Penn State. Illinois is prepared to pay $400,000 to $450,000 as well as give him more responsibility, sources said.
Johnson's second meeting with Illinois is seen as a sign that he's moving closer to joining Zook's staff unless Penn State comes up with a counter-offer Johnson can't resist.


 Illinois is in discussions with Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson about becoming the new Illinois defensive coordinator, but Michigan also could be interested in hiring Johnson, sources said.
Johnson would be a great addition. He's done an excellent job of recruiting the Washington, D.C./Maryland turf vacated by Mike Locksley, including landing standout receiver Derrick Williams and a bunch of other top recruits. Although Penn State's defensive line had troubles against USC in the Rose Bowl, Johnson is a widely respected defensive line mentor. The Trojans give a lot of D lines trouble.
Coach Ron Zook and Johnson have scheduled a meeting for this weekend, sources said.  Johnson is a veteran Penn State assistant, whose two sons, Tony and Larry, played at Penn State, Tony at wide receiver, Larry at running back. But as a defensive coordinator, Johnson would receive a salary increase from his estimated $200,000 salary. Penn State is not known for boosting its assistants' pay, and Illinois is apparently willing to pay what's necessary in the increasingly competitive world of assistant salaries. That might be even more true after it lost offensive line coach Eric Wolford, who will make $325,000 a year with his move to South Carolina.
Due to the departure of Locksley, who was making $500,000, Illinois has money available for assistants. (Locksley's replacement at offensive coordinator, Mike Schultz, won't be making Locksley money.) Bringing in Johnson as defensive coordinator could be a delicate matter with current co-defensive coordinators Curt Mallory and Dan Disch. But Zook seems determined to upgrade his staff, and if he needs to use the coordinator position as a bargaining chip, that doesn't seem to be out of the question.


Even after hiring Mike Schultz as offensive coordinator, Ron Zook still has two coaching vacancies to fill. Highly thought-of offensive line coach Eric Wolford, 37, has left for South Carolina, where he will coach the offensive line and be running game coordinator. Wolford reportedly received a three-year deal worth $300,000 a year, which was coordinator money not that long ago. Zook also is looking for a replacement for defensive line coach Tom Sims, who was dismissed after Illinois' defensive line under-achieved this season. Whether Zook will hire a defensive-line coach, or shuffle his defensive position coaches is not clear. It appears that Zook will not bring in a defensive coordinator in the defensive staff remake.
In case you missed it, I filed the following for the Saturday print edition. . .
An update: It's confirmed that defensive line coach Tom Sims has been let go. I'm also hearing that Illinois may bring in a high-profile defensive coordinator, too, although that is not a certainty yet.


Ron Zook may be opening a new recruiting pipeline to a football-rich state.
TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz , who led the Horned Frogs to single-season school records for points scored (420) and touchdowns (54) this season, will be Illinois' new offensive coordinator, sources said Friday.
Schultz will be introduced as the replacement for Mike Locksley, who was hired as head coach at New Mexico, at a press conference early next week, the sources said.
In an unrelated move, defensive line coach Tom Sims reportedly was dismissed after a disappointing season for a unit that had been expected to be a team strength.
Schultz, who turns 51 today, spent 11 seasons at TCU, which finished 11-2 this season, losing only to Oklahoma and Utah before beating previously unbeaten Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl. Before becoming the Horned Frogs' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2007, Schultz was TCU's running backs coach for nine years. His prized pupil was San Diego Chargers standout LaDainian Tomlinson, who set a TCU record with 2,158 yards in 2000 and was the NFL's MVP in 2006.
A Houston native, Schultz played at Sam Houston State. His coaching stops include his alma mater, UTEP, Kansas State, Texas and New Mexico.
When talking about the Dec. 9 departure of Locksley, who had brought in a number of top recruits from his hometown of Washington, D.C., Zook had hinted at where he was headed. While not conceding that Illinois would stop landing D.C. recruits, he said that if, for example, he hired a coach with Texas roots, Locksley's successor might wind up opening a whole new area to Illinois recruiting.
It appears that Schultz will bring connections to fertile recruiting turf as well as a history of success as an offensive coach.

About the blogger

Herb Gould started with the Sun-Times in 1977 and has covered several teams, including the Blackhawks. He is a long-time beat reporter covering the Fighting Illini and the Big Ten for the Sun-Times.

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