Twelve days after his first day on the job, Lovie Smith has checked one major box on his to-do list. The Illini have announced Thad Ward as the club’s new running backs coach, completing Smith’s initial coaching staff.
“Thad Ward will bring a new level of energy to our program,” Smith said in a statement. “He has been successful at each stop of his career, and is a proven recruiter. Thad has helped develop several outstanding players along the way, and I’m confident our current players will respond to his coaching in a positive way.”
Ward replaces former former Illinois quarterback-turned-running backs coach Nathan Scheelhaase, who remained on staff in an off-the-field role.
Ward spent the past three seasons upstate at Northern Illinois as wide receivers coach. Prior to that he deposited a year at Western Michigan, a year at Gardner-Webb, and six at Western Illinois. That six-year run with the Leathernecks, from 2005-10, represents the last time he coached running backs.
Illinois finished last season ranked 111th nationally in rushing at a shade below 130 yards per game. Sophomore Ke'Shawn Vaughn is the club’s leading returning rusher with 723 yards and six touchdowns accumulated in 2015.