Tim Beckman’s Illini defenses have steadily gone downhill since arriving on campus in 2012, so it should come as no surprised that a move had to finally be made. On Friday Beckman officially announced the hire of coaching veteran Mike Phair as co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach.
Phair doesn’t have a ton of college coaching experience, but is a 13-year veteran of the NFL side of the game and brings a wealth of knowledge of the game because of it. He’s spent the last seven years of his career as a defensive assistant at the NFL level as well.
“I am extremely pleased to add someone of Coach Phair’s caliber to our coaching staff,” Beckman said in a press release by the athletic department. “He is established as one of the rising defensive line coaches in the profession and is greatly prepared to take on the role as our co-defensive coordinator. His work with Lovie Smith, Coach Trestman and Rod Marinelli has provided an incredible amount of experience. Mike has worked with some outstanding defensive linemen during his career, and we are really looking forward to what he brings to the table.”
Phair spent the 2014 season as assistant defensive line coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following three seasons with the Chicago Bears (2011-13). While with the Bears, Phair coached Pro Bowlers Julius Peppers (2011, 2012) and Henry Melton (2012).
Prior to joining Chicago, Phair spent six seasons with Seattle, three as a coach (2008-10) and three as an area scout (2005-07), working with the team during its 2005 NFC Championship season.
Before joining the Seahawks, Phair spent three seasons as a college scout for the Buccaneers (2002-04), including working with the team during their Super Bowl XXXVII championship season. Phair also had college coaching experience with Arizona State (1999-2000) and Tiffin University (2001), before joining the NFL.
Last season the Illini defense was dead last in the Big Ten in total defense, finished tied for 11th in sacks with 23 and finished last in rushing defense while giving up over 230 yards to opposing offenses on the ground.
Phair’s experience at the highest level could be a major boost to a talent like Jihad Ward, who was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick in his first year at Illinois. There is also a lot of youth and inexperience across the defensive line, and Phair’s coaching could be very helpful to getting the level of play up from this group overall.