The 2011 Illinois football season will always be remembered as one of the most heartbreaking seasons in recent memory. In early October of that year, the Illini had gone undefeated for the first six game to lock up a bowl game and had been ranked as high as #15. But by late November, the Illini had dropped six straight games and Zook along with most of his assistants were looking for new jobs. So, where have these guys been and where are they now?
Ron Zook - Head Coach
The former head coach had a circuitous career path following his time in Champaign. Many head coaches respond to being relieved of their duties by taking a coordinator position or another head coaching position for a less prestigious team. Zook however left coaching entirely for two years, as he chose to work full time as the business development officer at Gateway Bank of Central Florida while also spending some time as a college football studio analyst at CBS. In 2014, Zook joined the Green Bay Packers as their Special Teams Coordinator, which is where he remains to this day. Many Illini fans, myself included, were baffled by this hiring, as Zook’s special teams play in Champaign was notoriously subpar.
Vic Koenning - Defensive Coordinator
Koenning’s Illini defense was one of the most highly effective units in the past decade, and the coordinator earned considerable loyalty from his players as a result. After playing the role of acting head coach during the Illinois victory over UCLA in the 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, Koenning stayed in the college game to become the Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator for North Carolina. He led the Tar Heel defense under Larry Fedora from 2012 to 2014, after he was let go and replaced with former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik. Koenning then took on defensive coordinator responsibilities at Troy University, where he is now entering his 4th season.
Paul Petrino - Offensive Coordinator
Once Petrino’s reliance upon the Nate Scheelhaase to AJ Jenkins connection was exploited by Ohio State in 2011, Illinois’ fate for the rest of the season was all but sealed. After being let go, Petrino spent a year at Arkansas as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Petrino then returned to his roots in the west by accepting the head coaching job at Idaho in 2013. He still coaches there today, and has compiled a lackluster record of 19-40.
Jeff Brohm - Quarterbacks Coach
Easily one of the most recognizable names on this list for Illini fans, the former Illinois assistant is now the head coach of a revitalized Purdue Boilermakers program, which he led to victory over Arizona in the Foster Farms Bowl last season. Prior to his arrival in West Lafayette, Brohm joined UAB and then-head coach Garrick McGee as offensive coordinator for the 2012 season. In 2013, Brohm joined Bobby Petrino at Western Kentucky as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He was then promoted to head coach in 2014, and faced off against the Illini that year before taking Darrell Hazell’s place at Purdue going into the 2017 season.
Keith Gilmore - Defensive Line Coach
Gilmore’s body of work with Illini defensive linemen like Corey Liuget, Akeem Spence, and Clay Nurse was enough to convince Tim Beckman to retain Gilmore as one of the few Zook-era holdovers in the 2012 season. Following Beckman’s disastrous first year, Gilmore bolted for North Carolina to join Vic Koenning as the Tar Heels defensive line coach. Gilmore stayed in Chapel Hill until the close of the 2015 season, when he returned to the Midwest as the defensive line coach for Notre Dame through the 2017 season. After being relieved of his responsibilities in West Bend, Gilmore has joined Mike Bobo’s staff as the defensive line coach at Colorado State for the upcoming season.
Chip Long - Tight Ends/Fullbacks Coach
Long joined Arizona State in 2012 as the Sun Devils’ TE coach and recruiting coordinator. He stayed at ASU through the 2015 season, and then took a promotion as Memphis’ offensive coordinator. He achieved considerable success at Memphis, and Long continued his meteoric rise by joining Brian Kelly at Notre Dame in the same capacity prior to the 2017 season. Chip Long has quickly become one of the brightest stars among this group of former Illini coaches.
- Offensive line coach Joe Gilbert left for the Indianapolis Colts following the 2011 season, and just recently joined Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Arizona.
- Secondary coach Mike Gillhamer also left for the Colts in 2012, and moved on to work with the University of Cincinnati as their secondary coach in 2015. He left Cincinnati after last season when Luke Fickell took over the Bearcats program.
- Running backs coach Deandre Smith took on the same role at New Mexico in 2012, Syracuse in 2013, Purdue in 2016, and North Carolina in 2017, before signing on to coach running backs at Utah State during the 2018 season.
- Outside linebackers coach Ron West joined Chip Long at ASU in 2012, before joining Koenning and Gilmore at North Carolina in 2013. West stayed in Chapel Hill until he joined Georgia Tech’s staff as their offensive line coach in 2015.