Matt Stevens, IlliniGuys Staff Writer
January 4, 2022
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- After just one season, Illinois football is making a change with its offensive boss.
Multiple sources close to the program have confirmed to IlliniGuys.com that Bret Bielema has informed Tony Petersen of his decision to terminate the offensive coordinator after just over a year together. Illini Inquirer was the first to report this story.
University of Illinois spokespeople declined the opportunity to confirm or comment on this report when given the opportunity Tuesday evening.
In Bielema’s first season with the Illini program, Petersen’s offense was last in the 14-school Big Ten Conference in passing offense, 11th in scoring offense, 10th in total offense and seventh in rushing offense.
Illinois, which finished this 2021 campaign with a 5-7 record but scored less than 20 points in seven of those games, finished tied for 115th among 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring offense and 112th in total offense.
“I think we can build on a lot of stuff. We’ve ran the ball well at times. We’ve thrown the ball well at times,” Bielema said about the Illini offense in November. “Protection at times. Problem is, major college football is a production deal. You got to produce. What we’re doing right now is we’re not scoring enough points. It’s obvious. I think everybody knows it. Obviously, we want to score more points.”
Petersen, 54, 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.
According to sources who have confirmed the news to IlliniGuys.com, Petersen, who also served as the quarterbacks coach, is being financially bought out of his three-year contract that he signed in December 2020.
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 after hiring Petersen. “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.”
Before arriving at Illinois, 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).
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