Mike Hankwitz’s replacement has officially been found.
Northwestern will hire Oakland Raiders defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil as its new defensive coordinator, ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reported 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
O’Neil, just 42 years old, began his coaching career at SUNY-Albany in 2001, where he was an assistant coach for the offensive line and tight ends. From there, he bounced around quite a bit, serving stints at Eastern Michigan, Towson and Penn and spending two years at Northwestern in 2003-04 as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach. During that time, he earned his master's in liberal arts from NU.
Despite his eight years coaching college, O’Neil is most known for his NFL jobs and has spent the past 11 years working in the league. He worked as a part of both the Jets and Bills coaching staffs before getting the job as the Browns defensive coordinator in 2014. He was relieved from his position in 2015 after Browns head coach Mike Pettine was fired, and he then found his way to San Francisco to take over as the 49ers’ DC.
While his experience in the NFL is impressive, it’s important to note O’Neil’s track record. In 2014, while Cleveland’s secondary was impressive, the Browns run defense ranked last in the league with 2,265 yards allowed. Additionally, he coordinated one of San Francisco’s worst defenses in history during his one year as DC.
However, his stint with the Raiders proved more impressive. In his first year as Oakland’s defensive backs coach, the Raiders recorded nine interceptions. Additionally, he helped mentor safety Erik Harris to a breakout year in which he recorded three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
O’Neil has huge shoes to fill as longtime NU defensive coordinator Hankwitz retired following his 51st season coaching. He will also have his hands full working with a young defense that lost most of its star players to graduation, the transfer portal and the draft this offseason.