Northwestern has reportedly hired Raiders defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil as its new defensive coordinator.
After serving 13 seasons as the Wildcats’ DC, Mike Hankwitz announced his intentions to retire following an incredible 50-year college coaching career. ESPN college football insider Adam Rittenberg reported the new hire on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.
Sources: #Northwestern is hiring #Raiders defensive backs coach Jim O'Neil as defensive coordinator. Former 49ers and Browns defensive coordinator coming to Evanston to replace the legendary Mike Hankwitz.
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) January 19, 2021
This won’t be O’Neil’s first trip to Evanston.
During the 2003-04 seasons, O’Neil worked as a graduate assistant at Northwestern under then-head-coach Randy Walker. At that time, current head coach Pat Fitzgerald was working as the linebackers coach alongside O’Neil.
Since then, O’Neil has worked his way up the ranks in the professional game. Starting as a DB coach with the Jets in 2009, O’Neil found work with four other NFL franchises. His most significant roles were defensive coordinator jobs with Cleveland (2104-15) and San Francisco (2016). The defensive-minded coach most recently landed in Las Vegas where he worked as a senior assistant and defensive backs coach from 2018-20.
Now, O’Neil finds himself at Northwestern following its strongest season in years.
The Wildcats wildly out performed expectations in 2020, notching a 7-2 season and a first place finish in the Big Ten West. After a loss to Ohio State in the conference championship game, Pat Fitzgerald and Co. went on to defeat Auburn in the VRBO Citrus Bowl.
With Hankwitz at the defensive coordinator position in 2020, Northwestern only allowed more than 20 points once in a 22-10 loss to OSU.
Jim O’Neil certainly has some big shoes to fill.