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Six candidates for Northwestern’s defensive coordinator job

Long live Hank.

Northwestern Athletics

With longtime defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz retiring, Northwestern has entered the search for his replacement. The successor to Hank will certainly step into an intriguing role with promising young players such as Brandon Joseph but will face a lot of turnover, especially in the linebacking core. Here are six candidates, three in house and three outside Evanston, who could fulfill the role.

In house candidates

Tim McGarigle, Linebackers Coach

Of any in house candidate, McGarigle may have the best chance to get the job. The Northwestern alum is in just his third year coaching but has been very productive in that time.

Northwestern’s linebacker trio of Chris Bergin, Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher was one of the best units in the country in 2020. Combined, the three seniors racked up 248 total tackles and five turnovers this season and ended with Fisher as first-team All-Big Ten as he leaves Evanston as one of the best NU linebackers since Fitz. McGarigle has turned the “Irish Lawfirm” into one of the best units in the conference and could be rewarded a promotion for it.

Matt MacPherson, Associate Head Coach/Defensive Backs Coach

MacPherson has already been promoted to be Associate Head Coach in charge of the defensive backs, making him a likely candidate. He has been on Northwestern’s staff for 15 seasons, so he is experienced in the program and the culture. As a coach, he has produced as well. His units have ranked 14th (2020) and 26th (2019) in the nation in passing yards allowed per game and produced players such as Montre Hartage, Joseph and Greg Newsome II in his three years as DB coach.

The biggest knock on MacPherson would be his lack of experience coaching defense. For 12 seasons, he served as the running backs coach. While Northwestern’s running game in that time has been fantastic (JJTBC), the experience does not directly help defensive schemes. MacPherson may get the nod due to his unit’s success, but he also could spend more time in the same role.

Marty Long, Defensive Line Coach

Northwestern’s defensive line has never been stronger than under Long. Six of the Wildcats’ top-10 all-time sack leaders have been coached under Long, and he has developed multiple NFL players such as Joe Gaziano, Dean Lowry and Ifeadi Odenigbo. Long has coached impressive units that have consistently ranked toward the top of the conference and nationally, so it would make sense to reward his success. Long would be able to slot in well and continue to implementing effective schemes.

Outside candidates

Inoke Breckterfield, Defensive Line Coach, Wisconsin Badgers

If Northwestern were to poach any positional coach from within the Big Ten, Breckterfield would be the man. In his time coaching the unit, the Badger defense has averaged 16.5 points allowed per game, which ranked third nationally in that time. Breckterfield has coached Wisconsin's defensive line to consistent dominance.

The issue here is that it may be difficult to sway Breckterfield to choose the ‘Cats. He may be in line for a collection of intriguing positional coach and coordinator positions elsewhere, so while Northwestern may have the reputation of building great defenses, he may be tempted to go away from the Big Ten West and to a big-time program.

Brad Lambert, Defensive Coordinator, Marshall Thundering Herd

The Thundering Herd had a breakout campaign in 2020, ending 7-3 and making the Conference USA championship game. Much of this success is to be attributed to the Herd’s stifling defense, led by Lambert. Marshall led the Conference USA in total yards allowed per game and led the nation in points allowed per game at 12.6. Additionally, Lambert was a Broyles Award nominee in 2020, joining Hankwitz in that honor.

Lambert coached the Charlotte 49ers for seven seasons and has been coaching since 1988, so he brings a great amount of experience. He also may be interested in leaving the Herd as a result of head coach Doc Holliday parting ways with the program and could join a program under Fitz that is notorious for strong defense.

Randy Bates, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh Panthers

If Bates were to take the job, he would be coming back to a program he left only four seasons ago. Bates served as the Wildcats’ linebackers coach for 12 seasons (2006-2017) before going to Pitt as the DC.

While at Northwestern, Bates coached some of the best linebackers the ‘Cats have ever seen. Anthony Walker Jr. earned All-American recognition under him before going to the NFL, and Fisher earned Freshman All-American while being coached by Bates as a first-year. Now at Pitt, his unit has ranked second and third in yards allowed per game in the ACC and top two in rushing yards allowed per game over the past two seasons. Bates would step in as a coach with an established pedigree both in Evanston and nation-wide.