After just one season, Illinois Football Head Coach Bret Bielema is making some changes.
Offensive coordinator Tony Petersen was fired Tuesday night, in a move first reported by Illini Inquirer’s Jeremy Werner and later confirmed by the program.
“After my evaluation of our 2021 season, I have decided to make a transition from offensive coordinator Tony Petersen,” Bielema said in a statement Friday night. “I would like to thank Tony for his work and commitment to our football program over the past year.”
Petersen was hand-picked by Bielema last year ahead of his first season at the helm with the Illini, and while Illinois as a team exceeded expectations — five wins, including two on the road over ranked opponents — the offense often left something to be desired.
It’d be fair to say Illinois’ offense was anemic at times, and the reason the Illini missed out on a bowl game for the second season in a row. Over a four-game stretch from Virginia to Wisconsin, Illinois scored a total of 54 points (13.5 points per game).
And in wins over Penn State and Minnesota, the Illini still only averaged 17 per contest.
But total points don’t tell the whole story here.
Despite having an experienced offensive line and a veteran QB, Petersen couldn’t get the most out of his guys. The Illini switched often between Art Sitkowski and Brandon Peters, and one of the few bright spots was Chase Brown’s breakout season in the backfield (1,005 yards and five touchdowns).
Here’s a look at some of the other numbers from our Mihir Chavan.
this was unexpected. but lets see where Illinois ranked in offense this year: 116/130 in Scoring offense, 55th in Rushing offense, 121 in passing offense. https://t.co/vYrh3fkiSb— Mihir Chavan (@MihirChavan_) January 5, 2022
Early reports show University of Texas-San Antonio offensive coordinator Barry Lunney as the leader in the clubhouse for the job.
Illinois got its first look at Lunney in September when the Illini fell to the Roadrunners, 37-30. In its first win ever over a Big Ten team, UTSA QB Frank Harris completed 20-of-32 passes for 280 yards and one touchdown. Lunney’s offense also added three scores on the ground.
Can confirm that UTSA OC Barry Lunney is the top candidate for Illinois' open offensive coordinator role, per a source. @zach_barnett had it first.— Chris Hummer (@chris_hummer) January 5, 2022
This one could happen quickly.
That was just one game in a dominant season for UTSA and its offense, which scored 30 or more points nine times in 14 games.
Of course, Illinois’ defense stepped up this season after Bielema poached Ryan Walters from Missouri. The Illini rewarded him with a lucrative extension during the season.
Whoever it ends up being for OC, let’s hope Bret’s second pick is a guy who can run his system and get Illinois above six wins with a young squad in 2022.