After reports surfaced earlier this week of his hiring, NIU announced Thursday that former South Dakota State offensive coordinator Eric Eidsness will take over the same role with the Huskies.
Later in the day, the school announced veteran defensive coaches Robert Wimberly and Jordan Gigli have joined the NIU football staff and will work with the Huskies’ defense. Their specific roles with the defense will be announced once the staff is complete, head coach Thomas Hammock said.
Eidsness goes down as the first hire of Hammock, who was hired Jan. 18.
“Four years ago, I had the chance to watch [running back] Zach Zenner from South Dakota State, and I was really impressed with the style of offense I saw,” Hammock said. “Then last year, we were evaluating a tight end [from South Dakota] and seeing the offense and the way [Eidsness] adapted it to the players he had led me to believe Eric is the type of offensive coordinator who will adapt to his players and put them in position to be successful. I’m excited to have him here and working with him to develop this Huskie offense.”
Eidsness, the first addition to Hammock’s coaching staff, comes to NIU from South Dakota State, where he has been offensive coordinator since 2011; he added associate head coach responsibilities in 2015. During his time at South Dakota, the Jackrabbits made seven straight appearances in the Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs, including in 2018, when the offense averaged a school-record 42.5 points and 480.5 yards a game to rank fifth and 10th in the nation, respectively. The Jackrabbits finished 10-3 and made their second consecutive appearance in the FCS semifinals in 2018, and were ranked third in both the final STATS Poll and AFCA Coaches’ Poll. The South Dakota offense featured four All-Americans and seven all-conference players.
Eidsness said his philosophy has been to build his offenses around the talents of the players.
“Wherever I’ve been, it’s been a player-driven offense,” he said. “You want to utilize the talents of the players to put them in the best possible position to succeed. We will lay the foundation [of our offense] and will take time to get to know the players, their abilities and focus on getting the ball to our playmakers.
“I’m really excited for the opportunity,” he said. “Anytime you can go to a program with a long tradition of success like this one, then to be with a guy like Coach Hammock, who is a great person who was a great player here, it’s special.”
Wimberly has been the defensive coordinator at Liberty University for the past seven seasons, including during the team’s transition from the FCS to the Football Bowl Subdivision, and added associate head coach duties in 2018. Similar to Hammock, he began his career as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin, where the two coached together in 2003.
“I’m definitely excited to have coach Wimberly at NIU,” Hammock said. “As a defensive coordinator for the last seven years, he brings great experience and will be a great sounding board for our defensive staff.
“He’s a great coach, and even more than that, he’s a great leader of men. He showed me the ropes of how to become a coach when we were at Wisconsin as graduate assistants together, so we have a long history. NIU and our players are going to benefit from his expertise.”
Gigli (pronounced GEE-lee) has spent the past five seasons as the defensive line coach at the University of North Dakota, coaching 10 players to all-conference honors. The Fighting Hawks ranked in the top 25 in the country (FCS) in scoring defense and rushing defense in 2018 and were one of the top three teams in the FCS in quarterback sacks and tackles for loss.
“Jordan Gigli and I were high school teammates in Fort Wayne who both decided to get into coaching,” Hammock said. “He’s a great coach and a great friend who I have seen work his way up from coaching at the Division III level to [the] FCS, to our time together at Minnesota. I knew if I ever had an opportunity to be a head coach, I wanted him on my staff. He’s a coach who has had success everywhere he’s been and brings great expertise to our defensive staff.”
Hammock said Eidsness’ offenses at South Dakota State caught his attention during his time as a coach with the Baltimore Ravens.
The South Dakota State offensive record book was rewritten multiple times under Eidsness’ direction as the Jacks established 28 single-game, season and career marks in 2016, broke 15 records in 2017 and set or extended 25 school records last year. As quarterbacks coach in addition to his offensive coordinator and associate head coach roles, Eidsness mentored Austin Sumner and Taryn Christion to the top of the school record books in every passing category.
Christion was a three-time finalist for the Walter Payton Award, presented to the top offensive player in the FCS, in 2016, ’17 and ’18. Tight end Dallas Goedert was also a two-time Payton Award finalist before being selected in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, while wide receiver Jake Weineke was a four-time All-American for Eidsness and the Jackrabbits and a two-time Payton Award finalist.
From 2012-14, the SDSU offense featured Zenner, who became the only running back in NCAA Division I history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons; Zenner was also a three-time Walter Payton Award Finalist for the Jackrabbits.
Prior to returning to South Dakota State for his third stint at the Brookings, South Dakota school, Eidsness was the head coach at Southwest Minnesota State University from 2004 to 2009. He built the program from a roster of just 13 eligible players when he arrived to 120, while raising the team GPA from 2.2 to 2.9.
During his tenure with the Mustangs, he compiled a 26-40 record, which included a 6-5 season in 2008 – only the eighth winning season in school history. His 26 victories as head coach rank second in program history.
While at the helm of the Mustang program, Eidsness coached 61 all-conference players, including 10 who earned all-region honors. SMSU increased its scoring average each of his last four seasons, from 20.1 points per game in 2006 to 36.0 points in 2009, tying a school record with eight games of 30-plus points. The 2009 team averaged 396.2 yards of total offense per game.
Eidsness began his association with South Dakota State football as a graduate assistant in 1996 and 1997, working with the team’s receivers. After a year as offensive coordinator, quarterbacks and receivers at Ferris State (Mich.), he returned to SDSU – then a Division II institution - in 1999 as offensive coordinator, while also coaching the team’s quarterbacks and wide receivers. In five seasons, the offense broke 36 school offensive records. In 2003, when he was also the assistant head coach, Eidsness was one of three finalists for the AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year honor for Division II.
A Sioux Falls (S.D.) native, Eidsness attended St. Cloud State University (Minn.) for two years before transferring to the University of Sioux Falls, where he graduated in 1992. He spent two years playing in Europe, where he also began his coaching career with the Robinson Sphinx in Paris, France. Upon returning to the United States, Eidsness served as quarterbacks and receivers coach at Morningside during the 1994 and 1995 seasons before enrolling in graduate school at SDSU.
Wimberly’s defenses at Liberty, where he also coached the safeties, ranked among the best in the FCS with 30 players named all-conference. Two of his Liberty players have gone on to NFL careers, including 2014 fourth round selection Walt Aikins (Miami Dolphins). He was named the 2014 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Assistant Coach of the Year for the FCS.
Liberty won four Big South Conference titles (2012-14, 2016) and made the school’s first appearance in the FCS Playoffs in 2014 during Wimberly’s tenure. The Flames finished 2014 ranked 17th in the country. During Liberty’s transition to the FBS in 2017 and its inaugural FBS season in 2018, the Flames won six games each year with notable wins over Baylor, New Mexico and Troy.
Wimberly’s latest stint at Liberty was his second at the school as he also served as linebackers coach for the Flames from 2004 to 2008. A pair of his Flames players from that time, including two-time All-American Jacob Hagen, went on to play in the NFL. In 2009, he coached linebackers at Buffalo and he spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons at Kansas as passing game coordinator and safeties coach.
A native of Miami, Wimberly played collegiately at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville, Alabama, where he was a four-year letterwinner.
“It’s definitely exciting to come here and be a part of such a great tradition here at NIU, and then personally, to have the opportunity to work with a dear friend in Thomas Hammock, is special,” Wimberly said. “We started as graduate assistants together at the University of Wisconsin where we always talked about being a head coach. To see it come to fruition for him at his alma mater, and be able to continue the tradition at NIU, I’m super excited about it.”
Gigli echoed Wimberly’s enthusiasm in coming to work with Hammock at a program which has the Huskies’ history of success.
“I’ve known Thomas Hammock for 23 years, and I knew if and when he got the call to be a head coach that it would be a pretty easy decision for me to join his staff,” Gigli said. “The fact that we get to come to a place that is his alma mater, to a program that has so much tradition and success over the last 20 years, for me, it’s been a dream. I’ve been a small college guy most of my career so to come coach the MAC Champs and recruit in the state of Illinois, which I believe has some of the best high school coaches in the country, I couldn’t be more excited.”
During his time at North Dakota, Gigli’s line helped the Fighting Hawks rank as one of the top rushing defenses in the country, and UND was ranked as one of the top two defenses (total defense and rushing defense) in the Big Sky Conference in 2014, 2015 and 2016 while also leading, or ranking second in the league in tackles for loss and sacks.
Before his time at North Dakota, Gigli spent three seasons as defensive line coach at Sacramento State, where he helped tutor first team All-American, and eventual Arizona Cardinals defensive end Zach Nash. From 2007 to 2011, Gigli was the defensive quality control coach at Minnesota, where he worked with the defensive line and linebackers and coached the special teams at the same time Hammock was on staff as the running backs coach.
Gigli, who was an all-conference player and team captain at Trine University in Indiana as a player, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Western Illinois in 2004 and 2005, and spent the next year at Division III Playoff team Wittenberg University as defensive line coach before moving on to Minnesota.
Hammock, a 2002 graduate of NIU, was named the Huskies’ 23rd head football coach Jan. 18.