Saluki football staff young, experienced


By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

When SIU football’s assistant head coach Kraig Paulson graduated college, head coach Nick Hill was 2 years old.

Hill will be 31 years old when the first snap of the 2016 season is played, and most of his staff will be about the same age.

Paulson, who is also the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, is the only staff member not to graduate college between 2003 and 2011. He received his bachelor’s degree in education from Montana in 1987. 


He has served as assistant coach and defensive coordinator as well as coaching defensive backs, linebackers, secondary and defensive ends in his career. He said his age can be a resource for younger coaches.

“I definitely haven’t seen it all, I don’t know that you ever do, but maybe there’s a situation that comes up I’ve experienced in the past and I can help out,” he said. “It’s all about experiences and what you do with them.”

Hill said he named Paulson the assistant head coach because of his experience, and the staff is exactly what he wanted.

“I wanted young, motivated coaches who are out to prove something … I didn’t want guys who had bounced around and were looking for a job for a paycheck,” he said. “We have experience from all different levels.”

For a comparison, five-time defending Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State has a median age of 40.1, while SIU has one coach older than 40.

Hill said age is only a number when it comes to coaching.

“If you can coach, you can coach,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your age is.”


John Van Dam, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, graduated from Michigan State in 2008 after serving as a backup for five NFL quarterbacks.

He said he has taken something from each of the coaches he has worked with.

“[Florida offensive coordinator] Doug Nussmeier has been an influential guy in my life as well as [Michigan State quarterbacks coach/recruiting coordinator] Brad Salem,” he said. “I try to take bits and pieces from everybody I’ve worked with and find what works best for me.”

Van Dam then served as a graduate assistant at Alabama in 2012 and 2013, which won the Football Bowl Subdivision national championship, offensive quality control assistant at Michigan and program assistant at Florida.

Hill said Van Dam brings experience from top-level coaches such as Nick Saban and Brady Hoke.

“He has been in the room with maybe the best college football coach of all-time [Nick Saban of Alabama],” he said. “Two years of sitting in those staff meetings and seeing how things work from practice schedules to meeting schedules to the recruiting … how you organize every little detail of a program.”

He also played and coached for Mark Dantonio, who has been with Michigan State since 2007. Dantonio and the Spartans have won three Big Ten Conference championships in that time.

Van Dam described his job at Florida as developing defensive breakdowns, working with running backs and quarterbacks, readying playbooks and scouting opponents. He met with SIU quarterbacks last week and said the guys are already learning and studying film, which will make for an exciting competition for starting quarterback during spring football.

Van Dam said having a younger staff also makes recruiting easier.

“Going into homes and being able to relate to them … It’s a great thing,” he said. “Coach Paulson is like the older guy in the room and he has been at really big programs and he brings us back down to the level. It creates a cool dynamic.”

Next up for the young staff: evaluating walk-on talent Feb. 1.

Sean Carley contributed to this story.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected]