CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- New Illinois head football coach Bret Bielema has hired his offensive guru.
Appalachian State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen has been hired for the same position on the new Illini staff being formulated by Bielema.
Bielema has elected to go hand the Illini offense off to somebody he’s prepared defenses against in the Big Ten Conference.
Petersen, 54, Petersen has directed offenses during his 30-year college coaching career at Marshall, Minnesota, Louisiana Tech, East Carolina and Appalachian State. However, it is a three-year period that Bielema references that led him to give Petersen this opportunity at Illinois.
From 2000-2006, Petersen worked under Minnesota head coach Glenn Mason as the co-offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator but was not the Gophers offensive play-caller. During his time working with the Minnesota passing attack, Petersen’s quarterback (Bryan Cupito) set the school's all-time career passing yardage mark of 7,446. During those seven seasons in Minneapolis, Bielema’s Wisconsin defenses had to face Petersen’s passing attack from 2004-2006 (04-05 with Bielema as a defensive coordinator and 2006 with Bielema as the Badgers head coach).
“After competing against Tony and his offensive style and game plan I have had tremendous respect for him as a coach,” Bielema stated in a university release. “Throughout his career he has blended the roster and skill sets of the players to maximize the results. Here at Illinois, we will build an offensive identity that will provide balance, use tempo, and play with a physicality that will make Illini Nation smile. No matter from playing on the road in a hostile environment or here at Memorial Stadium, we will execute and maximize our players’ talents to build a sustained winning culture.”
Petersen spent the 2020 season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Appalachian State, when the Mountaineers finished 9-3 overall with a 56-28 victory in the Myrtle Beach Bowl over North Texas on December 21. App State averaged 452 yards in total offense (26th in Football Bowl Subdivision), including 264.9 rushing yards (7th in FBS).
Petersen does own a victory over Illinois as an offensive coordinator as in 2014, he directed a Louisiana Tech offense that stood fifth at the FBS in scoring (37.4 ppg). The Bulldogs powered their way to a 9-5 overall record that included a C-USA Western Division title and a 35-18 win over the in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Petersen is scheduled to meet with local and statewide media Tuesday via a Zoom conference.
Petersen was Marshall’s quarterbacks coach for five seasons (1993-95, 1997-98) and the signal callers at his alma mater collected first-team all-conference honors four times. Headlining this list of quarterbacks is Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington, who earned first-team All-Midwest Athletic Conference honors in 1997 and 1998 and was a finalist in 1998 for the Davey O’Brien Award, which annually honors the nation’s top quarterback.
During his three years at ECU's offensive coordinator, he directed some of the best offenses in school history and a top-20 passing offense in the country all three seasons. In 2016, ECU ranked sixth in passing and 23rd in total offense among all FBS teams.
Bielema, who was known for being the leader of teams with a compact, power running game that was supplemented by a play-action pass game as a secondary option, has promised a more wide-open, spread offense during his tenure at Illinois.
In his first announced assistant coach hire at Illinois, Bielema has decided to lean toward what he didn’t like to defend in the past rather than what he’s run in the past as a head coach.
“The part that people automatically jump to is hey, this is what he did in the past,” Bielema said on the BTN Tailgate Show. “As coaches, we all evolve. I was a head coach for 12 years and witnessed some good things at the programs I was at but you gotta be aware in college football, it always evolves through the rules and the way society evolves in general.”