In-season coordinator changes have been becoming more and more of a thing in college football but Illinois is suddenly dealing with one out of the blue.
In a statement provided by the school on Monday, the Illini confirmed that defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson had abruptly resigned from his position with the program as the result of health-related circumstances.
“Hardy informed me yesterday that he felt it was in the program’s best interest to leave our staff,” head coach Lovie Smith said. “I’ve known and coached with Hardy for many years, and know what an outstanding person he is. We are all disappointed in the performance of our defense this season, and we all bear responsibility for that. I wish Hardy nothing but the best as he moves forward with his career.”
“When I was contacted about being offered this job back in 2016, I was excited for the opportunity to come in to coordinate and run Illinois’ defense,” Nickerson added. “I had every intention of helping put our defensive student-athletes in the best possible position to win, and, ultimately, to make the University of Illinois community and fans proud of our results. Due to health-related circumstances beyond my control I must step aside at this time.”
Nickerson, a former linebacker who played for Smith in the NFL, will be replaced on the coaching staff with Miles Smith, the son of the head coach. The elder Smith confirmed later in the day that he would take over play-calling duties on defense in the wake of Nickerson’s departure as well.
The only silver lining for the changes is that Illinois has nowhere to go but up on the defensive side of the ball. Sitting at 3-5 overall on the season heading into a home game against Minnesota on Saturday, the Illini are ranked 127th in FBS in total defense and are giving up 37.6 points per game.