Football: Northwestern parts ways with defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, two position coaches


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Former defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. Coach Pat Fitzgerald announced the departure of O’Neil and position coaches Dennis Springer and Marty Long on Tuesday.

Charlotte Varnes, Sports Editor

After a 1-11 2022 campaign, Northwestern football is committing to major changes.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil, wide receivers coach Dennis Springer and defensive line coach Marty Long are no longer with the program, coach Pat Fitzgerald announced Tuesday. 

“Our entire football family is grateful for what these three men brought to our program on and off the field,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “They recruited and developed student-athletes who will be prepared for life and make our University community proud for years to come.”

O’Neil spent just two seasons in Evanston, but his units struggled to live up to the program’s tradition of strong defenses. Ranked among the top defenses nationally under defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz’s leadership in 2020, the Wildcats fell to 66th nationally in total defense and 106th in red zone defense by the end of the 2022 season. 

In 2020, NU allowed an average of 15.9 points per game. That number ballooned to 29 in 2021 and 28.3 in 2022. The program’s defense also finished this season ranked close to last in the Big Ten in sacks and interceptions and last in rushing yards allowed.

Springer and Long spent significantly more time with the Cats than O’Neil. Hired in 2008, Long coached several of the program’s all-time sacks leaders and powered the defense to national acclaim in 2019 and 2020. Springer, who has worked at NU since 2011, coached several dynamic, history-making units during his time in Evanston. The pair helped the Cats to two division titles and five bowl championships during their tenures. 

Shortly before the announcement, Athletic Director Derrick Gragg released an open letter about the 2022 season. The Cats’ results on the field fell short of the “comprehensive excellence” they strive for, Gragg said. 

While he is proud of the way NU’s players represented the University, Gragg said there are plans in place to set the Cats’ up for greater success next season. 

“Coach Fitzgerald and his staff have already begun their evaluation of all aspects of the program as we look ahead to 2023, and I am confident that next year we will once again rise to our standard of excellence,” Gragg said. 

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Twitter: @charvarnes11

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