After coaching at Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, North Texas, Memphis and Missouri, Ryan Walters has decided to join Bret Bielema’s staff as the Illini defensive coordinator.
The move was officially announced Thursday morning after being reported first by Football Scoop on Wednesday.
While Bret Bielema is a primarily defensive-minded coach, he has hired a coordinator with Power Five experience on both sides of the ball, first with Tony Petersen as OC and now with Walters as DC.
“It is a great pleasure to bring Ryan here to the University of Illinois Football Family,” Bielema said in a statement. “Ryan has demonstrated great success in his coaching career as an assistant, as a coordinator and as a leader of young men. He’ll be a great addition to our staff to help us motivate, recruit and develop a roster full of champions. Ryan and his family will be a terrific fit in our program, at our university and in the Champaign-Urbana community.”
Walters comes from his most recent job at Missouri, where the Tigers gave up 32.3 points per game in 2020 — however, that included facing teams like LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida and Georgia.
In the SEC, Missouri ranked 8th in yards per game and 9th in points per game in 2020. Since becoming the Mizzou DC full-time, the Tigers rank 14th in total defense and top-20 in scoring defense in the NCAA.
Walters reportedly beat out Oklahoma State DC Jim Knowles, Wofford’s Josh Conklin and Baylor DC Ron Roberts among others.
“I’m thankful and grateful for the opportunity that Coach Bielema is giving me to coach with him at the University of Illinois,” Walters said in a statement. “Coach B is one of the most respected defensive minds in college football, and, as a young defensive coordinator, this is an opportunity I can’t pass up. Coach B has a proven track record of incredible success in the Big Ten, as well as his years working in the NFL, that will put our program in position to win at a high level. I appreciate the time and opportunity that I had at Missouri, but my family and I are looking forward to the new challenge in front of us as we build a championship football program.”
Missouri responded to Walters’ move in a tweet, with head coach Eli Drinkwitz saying he wishes Walter and his family the best, calling him “a coach of great character, work ethic, and leadership.” Walters was a holdover on Drinkwitz’s staff when he went to Columbia before last season.
Walters will inherit a defense that has excelled in taking the football away, but has struggled preventing points under Lovie Smith.
Missouri is one of Illinois basketball’s biggest rivals, but the football programs haven’t met since 2010 and aren't scheduled to play each other again until 2026.