New Coaches Bring Work Ethic, Knowledge, Humor to Illini

Paul Petrino is one of six coaches that are new to the Illini staff this season.
Paul Petrino is one of six coaches that are new to the Illini staff this season.

Sept. 16, 2010

By Libby Knight, Illinois Sports Information
This story appeared in Sept. 11 Illinois Football Gameday Program

The six new Illinois football coaches hail from six different states - Oklahoma, Montana, Missouri, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia - but the main thread that Vic Koenning, Paul Petrino, Jeff Brohm, Chip Long, DeAndre Smith and Ron West have in common is the passion they have for the game of football and the pride of being part of Illinois athletics. Get to know these six individuals through the eyes of their players, the people aside from their families that they spend most of their time with.

The first time junior defensive back Tavon Wilson met defensive coordinator and secondary coach Vic Koenning, he was impressed.

"He's turned some teams around the past few years and he has a very impressive background," Wilson said. "He comes out to the football field and he gets after it every day. He gives his best effort and he expects you to give yours."

Koenning and most of the staff are known to tell funny stories to lighten the mood at times. "One time he told this story about his kids trying to catch snakes," Wilson says. "He said they had tied a bullfrog to some string, so the snake would try to come get the bullfrog. If the snake got the bullfrog, the hook would catch the snake.

"He's a great coach and I think he's going to be good for our program," Wilson said. "He brings a lot to the table. He expects a lot from us and we're willing to reach those expectations."

When talking about offensive coordinator and receivers coach Paul Petrino, senior wide receiver Eddie McGee states that there are two words that best describe Petrino: passionate perfectionist.

"He lives football," McGee said. "He knows a lot about the game. He's passionate about it and very intense."

Early in the summer, Petrino had the team out to his house. "We all went out there, cooked, ate, just chilled and got to know him," says McGee. "He's a very cool guy. He knows a lot of funny stories. In meetings, he tells a lot of these stories about him playing, him growing up, about him being a tough guy. He's just lets you into who he is."

McGee notes a funny moment that happened at Camp Rantoul involving Petrino.

"It was the funniest and I think most gratifying moment," he said. "We were catching the Jugs machine at Camp Rantoul and A.J. Jenkins tried to throw the ball back to one of the managers, and it slipped out of his hands and hit Coach Petrino right in the face. He went ballistic. It was classic for myself and the rest of the guys. He'll get mad if you say something about it, but it was funny."

Junior running back Mikel Leshoure was excited about running backs coach DeAndre Smith and what he could bring to the team.

"Coach Smith is a real cool guy," Leshoure said. "He's a player's coach. You can talk to him about anything, not just football. If you have problems off the field, you can talk to him about that.

"He's very funny, too. He's definitely about his business, but sometimes in meetings he likes humor. He keeps guys up and keeps guys fresh. We expect to make his job easier this year."

Leshoure and the other running backs on the team like to tease Smith about certain things he does.

"We always mess with Coach Smith about the way he says the running back's names," Leshoure said. "He always has a little accent or something that sounds like that when he says our names. We always mess with him about that in the meeting room."

Redshirt-freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was nervous about having a new coach, but his questions were answered quickly.

"The biggest thing for me was the things that he was teaching me were working on the field," Scheelhaase said. "That's what made me gain confidence in him, just because whenever he told me something that I tried out, a lot of times I felt more comfortable with it and it worked."

Scheelhaase also enjoyed getting to know Brohm's family, especially his son, Brody.

"His family's been great and is around a lot of the time," Scheelhaase said. "A funny story about Brody is this one day I had earrings in and I was walking by when Coach Brohm comes over and says Brody had a question for me. Brody's in kindergarten and he says `If you're a boy, why are you wearing those earrings?' And it's really been the toughest question I've had to answer in anything, including in the media and interviews."

The moment junior fullback Zach Becker met tight ends coach Chip Long, he knew he was a competitor.

"He hates losing," Becker said. "He instills that spirit in us because since he's gotten here, you can tell the guys are trying that much harder and playing harder and faster. They're playing to the whistle and trying to win every play."

"Everybody's really starting to trust him more and just believe what he and Coach Petrino and the rest of the staff are trying to instill in us," Becker said. According to sophomore Ashante Williams, outside linebackers coach Ron West is full of excitement.

"He has a lot of energy," Williams said. "He gets the players going. He's a great, great individual. He's taught me a lot since he's been here and he's helped me mature a lot this year. I thank Coach West a lot; he's a tremendous coach."

According to Williams, West has a motto that has become very familiar to the players.

"Every time in the meeting room, he always gives everybody a laugh or two," Williams said. "His motto is `We always have time.' He makes sure that he uses all his time to the T and makes sure he gets everything in."

Whether the six new coaches on the Illinois staff are working to raise the team's competitive spirit or teaching with a sense of humor in the meeting rooms, one thing is certain: the players on the Illinois football team respect their new coaches and are eager to continue learning from them heading into a new and promising season.