New Illini coordinators understand urgency

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
2:00
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When Vic Koenning sent his seventh-grade son off to a new school in Illinois, he talked about the importance of going in with a clean slate.

What happened in the past didn't matter, he said. This was a fresh start.

When Koenning meets with Illinois' players on the field in late March, he'll convey the same message. Every one of the Illini defenders will get a chance to prove himself.

Koenning finally got to focus on football this week after spending most of his time recruiting since he was hired as defensive coordinator in mid December. But he isn't poring over tape from the 2009 season. He doesn't want to enter spring practice with preconceived judgments.

"It's a clean slate for them," Koenning said. "Everyone will have opportunities."

Koenning also realizes Illinois has no time for growing pains.

"We've got to be a lot better than 91st," he said, referring to Illinois' national ranking for total defense in 2009.

Paul Petrino has taken a slightly different approach with Illinois' offense. The team's new coordinator has had video cutups made of every returning player, as he tries to figure who fits where in his system.

Petrino expects to be very multiple on offense, implementing the scheme that has worked successfully for his older brother Bobby at both Louisville and Arkansas.

[+] EnlargeJacob Charest
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJacob Charest threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns last season.
He's very pleased with Illinois' returning talent at running back with Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, who combined for 1,322 rushing yards and nine touchdowns last season. Petrino also remembers recruiting running back Justin Green while he was at Arkansas.

"I really like what we've got at running back," he said. "But it always comes down to the quarterback position, and we'll build things around what those guys do best."

The competition is wide open at quarterback entering the spring, as Illinois must replace four-year starter Juice Williams. Jacob Charest and Eddie McGee both have game experience, while Nathan Scheelhaase and early enrollee Chandler Whitmer also will be in the mix.

Petrino pointed out that his offense can adapt to the quarterback's strengths, whether it's a dual threat signal-caller like former Louisville star Stefan LeFors or a true drop-back passer like Arkansas standout Ryan Mallett. Quite possibly the biggest challenge for Petrino and his staff will be determining how much of the system can be installed, and how fast.

"We're going to install as much as they can handle," he said. "We'll install for seven straight days during the spring, and then we'll go back and let them review it. When we get to two-a-days in August, we'll do more install."

Both Koenning and Petrino understood the challenge they took on by accepting their new jobs. Illinois has endured consecutive losing seasons and support for head coach Ron Zook and the program is fading.

Koenning sees some similarities between Illinois and Clemson, where he worked from 2005-08.

"They were always after [head coach Tommy Bowden] every year down there," he said.

Last week, Zook referenced the negative recruiting tactics Illinois faced this year, and Koenning said he had never seen it so bad before.

"It was crazy," he said. "I'm a member of the American Football Coaches Association, and they talk about avoiding negative recruiting, but we saw plenty this year."

Koenning doesn't want to create a make-or-break attitude inside the program for 2010, but he knows his players will have a chip on their shoulders this fall. Petrino sees the same thing on the offensive side.

"You always have something that you want to prove," Petrino said. "The biggest thing I've talked to the offensive guys about is, 'Every time we take the field, let's believe we're going to go score.' It's always us against the world. I've never been one of those guys who's buddy-buddy with the people you play against anyway. So let's go get after it."

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