DeKALB – Northern Illinois linebackers coach Jeff Knowles has been promoted to defensive coordinator by NIU coach Rod Carey, multiple sources confirmed to the Daily Chronicle on Wednesday evening.
Knowles' promotion comes one day after former defensive coordinator Kevin Kane left the Huskies for Southern Methodist University, joining the staff of new SMU coach Sonny Dykes. SMU announced Kane’s hiring Tuesday.
Carey did not respond to interview requests and has been out recruiting the past few days, a spokesperson from NIU athletics said.
“The defense is still in very good hands under Knowles,” a source close to the situation said.
The Daily Chronicle also learned Wednesday that Kane will be taking NIU defensive line coach Brett Diersen with him to SMU. Kane and Diersen are the second and third members of Carey's staff to leave the Huskies this offseason. Former running backs coach Jordan Lynch departed last month to become the head coach at Mount Carmel High School.
NIU class of 2018 signee Joseph Bonds (De La Salle) said he and other signees were shocked when they found out Kane was leaving for SMU.
"We found out he was leaving, and it kind of threw us off because he was one of the guys who made an impact on a lot of us and our decisions," Bonds said. "Seeing the fire he had during their games and practices. ... It shocked me a lot.
"But this doesn't change anything. We still love the school. I did have a close relationship with Coach Kane and I talked to Coach Diersen a lot, but I’m still pretty solid. We're going to come in and compete."
This past season under Knowles, NIU linebackers Bobby Jones and Jawuan Johnson were named All-MAC first- and third-team selections, respectively. Jones led the Huskies in tackles with 107, and Johnson ranked second on the team with 98.
NIU finished tied for No. 2 in the nation in sacks, behind Miami (Fla.), with 43 in 2017. The Huskies ranked No. 11 in third-down defense and tied for No. 23 in passes intercepted. They allowed only 22 points a game.
Carey hired Knowles, a Manhattan, Illinois native, in February 2017. Before joining the Huskies, Knowles spent three seasons under former NIU coach Dave Doeren at North Carolina State as a defensive quality control coach. Before North Carolina State, Knowles coached in various roles at St. Francis in Joliet from 2008 to 2013.
He played played collegiately at Saint Francis from 1996 to 2000. Knowles earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Saint Francis and completed his master’s degree in education from Saint Francis in 2010.
"We're excited to welcome Jeff and his family to the NIU football family," Carey said when Knowles was hired in February. "In addition to his on-the-field coaching experience and ability to teach the game, he has great connections to this state and region in recruiting from his years at the University of St. Francis."