Out with the old, in with the young

By Brent Meske, @brentmeskeDE

The firing of SIU football coach Dale Lennon was long overdue. Some fans wanted the change after last year and by the time the 2015 season rolled around, it was down to the last shot for Lennon.

With Lennon seemingly on the hot seat this year, fans neared their boiling point with every loss. Lennon was fired Monday, three days after the Dawgs finished 3-8, their worst record since 2001.

He led the Salukis to a 51-42 record and two Missouri Valley Football Conference Championships. While accolades and numbers don’t lie, the championships were not all Lennon’s doing.


SIU won MVFC Championships in Lennon’s first two seasons, with a combined record of 20-5. He was also named the MVFC and American Football Coaches Association Region IV Coach of the Year during both seasons. But, he did so with players recruited mostly by Jerry Kill.

The leading rusher, passer and receiver in 2008 were Kill’s recruits. The leading rusher, top two receivers and one of two starting quarterbacks in 2009 were also recruited by Kill.

In 2009, Lennon’s only recruit to make a major contribution was quarterback Paul McIntosh, who became the starter in week eight and led the Dawgs to a 5-1 finish.

Lennon finished the final six seasons in Carbondale with a 31-37 overall record after the majority of Kill’s recruits left.

He recruited four future NFL players in his time at SIU, including MyCole Pruitt who was drafted in the fifth round of the NFL Draft last year.

The Salukis struggled to mediocre records with his recruits, finishing above .500 twice in six seasons.

However, the team’s 3-8 record this season is deceiving. SIU lost six of its eight games this year by less than a touchdown. The problem was the defense, which allowed the most total yards, second most passing yards and third most total offense in SIU history.


The defense needs a shake-up. Director of Athletics Tommy Bell could hire a coach with a defensive background. Or, the new coach could shift defensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator David Elson to secondary coach and keep him in charge of recruiting duties as well.

Lennon’s interim replacement, Nick Hill, served as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach this year. The offense, led by a record-setting quarterback, worked for the Salukis and kept them in games.

Lennon recruited senior quarterback Mark Iannotti, but Hill made Iannotti an elite quarterback in the MVFC and Football Championship Subdivision.

Hill was Iannotti’s quarterback’s coach for both of his seasons at SIU and Iannotti became one of the best all-time Salukis. After struggling at times in 2014, Iannotti excelled this season and finished with the most total offense in MVFC history.

Iannotti and Hill are the only SIU quarterbacks to throw for 3,000 or more yards in a season. Iannotti is also the second SIU quarterback to throw for two seasons of 2,000 or more yards.

He finished his career in SIU’s top five for 250-plus yard throwing games, touchdown passes, completion percentage, pass attempts and pass completions.

While Hill doesn’t have collegiate experience as a head coach, he has proven he knows how to run an offense at SIU. He and assistant head coach Bill O’Boyle guided the offense to 5,479 yards — the third-highest in SIU history.

He led the Carbondale High School football team to the 2013 Illinois High School Association playoffs before coaching the Salukis.

Hill said if he was named SIU’s next coach, he would try to involve Kill and former running back Brandon Jacobs with the program.  

Jacobs, a two-time Super Bowl Champion, tweeted on Monday saying he would be willing to come back to SIU as a positional coach to help Hill. Hill said Jacobs, the New York Giants’ all-time leader in rushing touchdowns, is his biggest recruiting draw to the university.

If Hill kept current running backs coach Larry Warner and had Jacobs help with the backs while focusing on recruiting, the Salukis could have a dangerous ground game in the future.

Hill redshirted during 2004, Jacobs’ only year with SIU.

Kill is currently on the advisory committee to help Bell search through potential coaches.

Whoever is named as SIU’s next coach will have plenty of returning offensive firepower to work with. Barring offseason transfers, all seven running backs on roster will return to the team — five of which had a rushing attempt this season.

Freshman Daquan Isom, MVFC All-Newcomer team member, and junior Aaron Stanton were second and third on the team in rushing yards this season with 548 and 193 yards, respectively.

The Dawgs return three of their top six wide receivers: junior Billy Reed, redshirt freshmen Jimmy Jones and Darrell James who finished first, third and sixth in receptions. The trio finished with 91 of the team’s 280 receptions and 48 percent of the team’s receiving yards.

Much like last offseason, the Salukis are without a clear starting quarterback. Redshirt freshman Sam Straub and true freshman Tanner Hearn are currently the only listed quarterbacks remaining for next season. Straub played in one game this year and completed his only pass attempt for 12 yards. Hearn did not play.

SIU could continue using the wildcat formation and use redshirt freshman wide receiver Matt DeSomer at quarterback as well. He was three for four this season for 28 yards. His only incompletion was an interception.

The defense will return six of its top 10 tacklers. The returners combined for 459 yards, or 47.2 percent of the total tackles this season.

Bell needs to make the right choice with his first hiring of a football head coach. The current roster can be great, it just needs the right leader.

Brent Meske can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3333