Search for head football coach narrowed to four finalists

By Luke Nozicka, @lukenozicka

SIU is one step closer to having a permanent head football coach.

This week the search committee interviewed SIU interim head coach Nick Hill, former University of Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover, former Texas Longhorns offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and Syracuse running backs coach DeAndre Smith. 

Jonathon Howard, a first-year law student from Provo, Utah, said the committee interviewed the candidates on campus Sunday through Wednesday. Howard, the only student representative on the committee, said the committee generally liked Limegrover, who was fired Nov. 29 by Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys. Claeys took over the Minnesota program after Jerry Kill’s unexpected retirement.

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Howard, who said the interviews were about two hours each, does not know which candidate Athletic Director Tommy Bell will pick. He said Bell previously told the committee a press conference to announce the finalist would be held Friday, however, Bell told Mike Reis during the Saluki basketball pre-game show that he has chosen the finalist and the announcement will be made early next week. Bell also told Reis that about 40 people expressed interested in the position. 

The search committee consists of former interim Athletic Director Harold Bardo, Faculty Athletic Representative Julie Partridge, former Saluki football player Joel Sambursky, former Saluki head coach Jerry Kill, and former SIU foundation president and Saluki Athletics donor Greg Cook.

Originally, there was no student representation on the committee, Howard said. Brandon Woudenberg, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, said he reached out to Bell with the help of interim Chancellor Brad Colwell in order to add a student to the committee. 

Nick Hill

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Hill, who Howard described as the “local favorite,” was a Saluki quarterback from 2004-07 and returned in 2014 as quarterbacks coach. He was promoted to co-offensive coordinator before this season, while retaining duties of quarterback coach. The offense averaged 498.1 yards per game this season and led the Missouri Valley Football Conference in passing yards, passing touchdowns, total offense and scoring offense.

Howard said the committee raised concerns about Hill’s age, considering he “doesn’t have many years behind him.” Following the removal of Dale Lennon on Nov. 30, Bell named Hill interim head coach on Dec. 1.

Hill, a native of DuQuoin, is a 2007 graduate of SIU. 

Before returning to SIU, Hill coached Carbondale Community High School’s football team in 2013, played in the Arena Football League and signed contracts with the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.

Hill, who played for Kill, set the single season passing yard, completion percentage and passing touchdown records in 2007 with 3,175, 71.5 percent and 28, respectively. 

Matt Limegrover

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Limegrover, a Pittsburgh native, is a graduate of the University of Chicago and holds a masters degree from Northwestern, where he was a graduate assistant coach.

Limegrover, who has served as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator for the previous three seasons, started with Kill as an offensive line coach at Emporia State in Kansas in 1999.

After Kill became SIU’s head coach in 2001, Limegrover took over SIU’s offensive play calling duties. He coached five FCS All-Americans at SIU and set school records for yards, points per game and touchdowns in 2004.

When Kill moved to NIU, Limegrover continued to run SIU’s offense, which ranked No. 7 in the nation in rushing yards in 2010.

Shawn Watson

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Watson, a Carbondale native, began coaching at SIU in 1982 as a graduate assistant.

His longest tenure was from 1999-2005 as quarterback coach and offensive coordinator at Colorado.

He served from 1994-96 as SIU’s head coach, with an overall record of 11-22.  

In the past 35 years Watson has coached in the Big 12, Big Ten and the Big East conferences. His most recent position as Texas’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach ended this season when the Longhorns chose not to renew his contract.  

DeAndre Smith

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Smith, a St. Louis native, has 16 years of coaching experience. He attended Southwest Missouri State, where he was a four-year quarterback and a 1990 Offensive Player of the Year for Division I-AA.

He started coaching at Syracuse in 2013. Before Syracuse, Smith served as the running backs coach at the University of New Mexico in 2012, the University of Illinois from 2010-11 and the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 2009.

He coached at the University of New Mexico in 2008, the University of Miami Ohio from 2005-07 and Northern Illinois University from 2001-04. Smith began his coaching career at Indiana State University as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1999 to 2000.

Howard said Smith is his favorite candidate. He said if Smith were head coach and Hill were his assistant coach, the two could create a “powerful, energetic young team.” 

Evan Jones and Kayli Plotner contributed reporting.

Luke Nozicka can be reached at 618-536-3326, [email protected] or on Twitter @lukenozicka.

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