CHAMPAIGN — Getting to Memorial Stadium was easy for the new hire. Heck, he used to play in the building. And coached there, too.
But there are all sorts of new nooks and crannies for Greg Colby to explore at Illinois. The place has changed quite a bit since he left Lou Tepper’s staff in 1995. The west side of Memorial Stadium has been renovated. There is an indoor practice facility, which replaced the Memorial Stadium bubble. The offices and locker room have been updated. There is a new training room and meeting rooms. The fancy weight room replaced the way-too-small one in the basement.
Colby will get to all of it. Over time. For now, he is trying to settle in. On Wednesday afternoon, his office was filled with unpacked boxes. That will be a chore for later.
The new defensive line coach attended the Illinois-Purdue game Wednesday night, with some recruiting assignments part of the visit.
Colby, a former Danville High star athlete who played football and baseball at Illinois, spent the past five seasons as head coach at Division II Millersville (Pa.). While he wasn’t looking for a new job, Colby said he couldn’t pass up the chance to return to his alma mater.
“There was a lot of reasons that it worked out,” Colby said.
Colby worked at Kent State with Dean Pees, who had always dreamed of being a head coach. When he got there, the current Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator said “Once you become a head coach, you become everything but a coach.”
After taking over at Millersville, Colby found the truth in Pees’ words.
“There were so many things in the periphery that you’ve got to deal with, a lot of which really don’t have anything to do with coaching kids and coaching football,” Colby said. “It was a tough situation we were in out there and it was difficult to really get the program turned around.”
Colby didn’t know Tim Beckman before the job opened up. But he worked at Kent State with former Illini assistant Billy Gonzales, who just left to become the receivers coach at Mississippi State.
Since leaving Illinois, Colby has made two other Big Ten stops, working at Michigan State for Nick Saban and serving as defensive coordinator at Northwestern for both Randy Walker and Pat Fitzgerald.
“When I left the first time, I wanted to expand my football knowledge base and I knew Nick was a great guy to do that with,” Colby said. “I always had in the back of my head that I would like to come back here at some point in time in some role, if I could. This just happened to be the first chance.”
He’s got oodles of friends in the area. His mom, Freida Colby, still lives in Danville. His phone as been buzzing since Colby made the decision to return. He plans to return the calls as soon as possible.
“It will be nice to see them all again,” Colby said.
Colby said he missed coaching a specific position at Millersville. Though he has been associated with linebackers during his career, Colby has more experience with the defensive line. While at Illinois, he coached the ends.
In recent years, the Illinois defensive line has sent a string of players to the NFL, including a pair of first-round picks (Corey Liuget and Whitney Mercilus).
During his time away from Illinois, Colby kept track of what was going on with the program.
“I’ve been a closet Illini fan the whole time,” Colby said. “No matter where I was. I’ve followed their progress and their record and tried to see as many of their games as I could.”
Colby, 60, said he hopes this is the last job of his career.
“That’s absolutely the plan,” Colby said. “But I plan on going for a while. I hate saying this is a retirement job because it sounds like you’re ready to hang it up. I want to be here until I can’t be here anymore. I feel good.”