As a seasoned defensive coordinator, Mike Cassity brought a fire and confidence to an Illinois defense that made one of the most impressive about-faces in the country. After two seasons as cornerbacks coach, which yielded a second-round NFL draft pick in cornerback Eugene Wilson, Cassity will now move to tutor the safeties in addition to his coordinating duties.
Last season, Cassity?s defensive unit forced nearly two turnovers a game, while racking up 27 tackles for loss. Cassity also integrated a number of young defensive players to go with his returning starters to solidify the Illinois defense for years to come.
Before Cassity?s arrival, Illinois ranked 11th in the Big Ten versus the run and allowed 232.5 yards per game on the ground. In 2001, Cassity?s troops ranked fourth in the Big Ten in rush defense and allowed 147.0 yards per game, an improvement of 85.5 yards a contest. The defensive backs flourished under Cassity as each member of his secondary earned postseason awards from the conference. In addition to being an all-conference pick, cornerback Eugene Wilson was named to virtually every All-American award list released. The Illini allowed opponents to complete just 48.9 percent of their passes and picked off 18 balls. Four of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns, including two against then No. 15 Purdue. Cornerbacks Wilson (30) and Christian Morton (26) ranked one-two in the nation in passes broken up. In 2001, the Fighting Illini finished 10-2 as the Big Ten Champions and with a BCS Sugar Bowl appearance.
A 27-year veteran of the business, Cassity came to Illinois from Oklahoma State where he served as defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. In 2000, OSU held national champion Oklahoma to only 12 points, the lowest scoring total for the Sooners in two years, and Cassity?s defense held opponents to only 126 rushing yards per game. The 1999 season ended with the Cowboys ranked ninth in total defense. While at East Carolina in 1991, the Pirates had a No. 9 national ranking following an 11-1 season and Peach Bowl victory; their only loss was to Illinois. While at Western Kentucky, Cassity?s defenses were ranked in the Top-10 nationally in Division I-AA.
Cassity has over 13 years experience coaching in top-rated conferences like the Big Ten, SEC, Big 12 and ACC. Prior to his stint at OSU, Cassity was the assistant head coach and defensive coordinator at Baylor. He coached the secondary at Wisconsin in 1995-96, leading the Badgers to a Copper Bowl title in 1996. He has been a defensive coordinator at Cincinnati (1994), Georgia Tech (1992-93), East Carolina (1990-91), Northeast Louisiana (1989) and Western Kentucky (1983-88), worked with the secondary at Morehead State (1982), Kentucky (1979-81), Paducah Tilghman High School in Paducah, Ky., (1976-78) and as a student coach at Kentucky (1975).
As a two-sport athlete at Kentucky, Cassity lettered three times. In football, he played safety under then position coach John Cooper; the two remain close friends today. During Cassity?s senior year, he won the prestigious Kiwanis 110% Award. As member of the Wildcat wrestling team, he was an SEC runner-up at 190 pounds. He graduated in 1976 with a degree in physical education.
Cassity, a native of Fort Campbell, Ky., and son of a retired sergeant major, is an avid waterfowl hunter and bass fisherman. He is married to the former Colleen Hartman. Colleen is a native of LaGrange Park, Ill., and a Lyons Township graduate, who works in Illinois? College of Communications. Cassity has four children: Brooke, Hunter, Skyler, and Braden.
ILLINOIS NFL PLAYERS (coached by Cassity)
THE CASSITY FILE