MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois head football coach Bob Nielson announced the addition of six assistant football coaches, and two more assistant coaches that were with the Leathernecks last season. The first-year coach made the official announcement on Monday (Jan. 14).
Nielson announced that Matt Entz joins Western as Associate Head Coach and defensive line coach, and Steve Crutchley will be Assistant Head Coach and running backs coach while also serving as the recruiting coordinator.
Also joining the football coaching staff is: Ted Schlafke (quarterbacks/passing game coordinator), A.J. Blazek (offensive line/running game coordinator), Tyler Yelk (defensive backs/special teams coordinator) and Atiba Bradley (linebackers). Brian Ward returns for his second year as the defensive coordinator, and Kevin Palermo also returns as an assistant coach working with the defense and in an administrative capacity.
"I'm proud to announce the coaching staff we put together. They will do an outstanding job representing Western Illinois University and the football program, and be great teachers for our student-athletes," said Nielson. "Many of the coaches have either played for me, worked with me, or I have gotten to know them from rival programs through the years. Our coaches have a proven track record of recruiting student-athletes that are successful in the classroom and on the playing field, then making them better students and players once they arrive on campus. They will be tremendous role models for our student-athletes at Western Illinois University."
MATT ENTZ was hired as Associate Head Coach and defensive line coach for the Leathernecks after coaching at Missouri Valley Football Conference rival Northern Iowa the past three seasons. He reunites with Nielson, his collegiate coach at Wartburg College.
Entz coached the defensive line, and last season also served as defensive coordinator. In his three years, the Panthers won or shared two MVFC titles and made two appearances in the Division I FCS Playoffs. During the 2012 season, Entz's defense posted two shutouts and he had two members of the secondary earn All-MVFC honors. The Panthers ranked 28th nationally in scoring defense (21.4 ppg), 31st in total defense (337.6), and 41st in rushing defense.
The defense stood fifth nationally in scoring defense following the 2011 season and was sixth in turnover margin. His unit led the MVFC in pass defense and redzone defense, stood second in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense, and tied for third in sacks. That year the Panthers were ranked second in the final regular season 'Top 25' poll. Entz's defensive lineman Ben Boothby was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top defensive player in the country.
His defensive linemen in 2010 helped UNI rank seventh in sacks per game, 10th in rushing defense and second in the MVFC allowing just 345 total yards of offense per game. He coached two all-conference performers, including First Team selection Boothby.
A native of Waterloo, Iowa, Entz coached from 2002-09 at
Winona State. He was a finalist for the American Football Coaches Association
Division II Assistant Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2007, and won the
prestigious award in 2008. The Warriors made four appearances in the Division
II playoffs, and in 2002 participated in the Mineral Water Bowl. During his
time at WSU the program was a combined 69-25.
STEVE CRUTCHLEY, who played for Nielson at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, joins Western as Assistant Head Coach, running backs coach and the recruiting coordinator. He spent the last five years as the running backs coach at Southern Illinois.
During his five years, Crutchley coached two All-Americans and had three of his running backs record 1,000 rushing yards in a season.
In his first season with the Salukis, Crutchley coached Larry Warner to a First Team All-America honor in 2008 by the Associated Press. Warner was chosen Third Team All-America by the Sports Network.
During the 2009 season, Crutchley worked with Deji Karim and saw him become a consensus All-America. Karim led the nation with nearly 1,700 rushing yards, was the Missouri Valley Football Conference 'Offensive Player of the Year' and third in the Walter Payton Award voting.
He worked for six seasons at St. Cloud State (2002-07), first serving as the wide receivers coach and then promoted to co-offensive coordinator.
Turning Montana Tech into one of the nation's top offenses at the NAIA level, TED SCHLAFKE will coach the quarterbacks and serve as the passing game coordinator. Schlafke played for Nielson at Minnesota-Duluth and helped the Bulldogs win a National Championship.
Schlafke spent two years as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana Tech. In 2011 the offense was ranked among the NAIA Division I 'Top 25' in six different categories, including: total offense (36th/366.2 ypg) and scoring offense (48th/247 points). Last season, Tech finished the year ninth nationally in passing offense (279 ypg), first downs (23.5 p/g), 17th in total offense (425.9), 23rd in scoring (32.3 ppg) and 24th in pass efficiency (134.10). Schlafke was part of the program that went from 3-8 in 2011 to an 8-3 record in 2012, winning a conference championship and NAIA national playoff berth.
No stranger to the Missouri Valley Football Conference, Schlafke worked two years at fellow MVFC member Southern Illinois as an assistant offensive line coach. During the 2009 season, Southern finished third nationally in rushing while winning the MVFC title and earning a spot in the NCAA Division I playoffs.
Schlafke was Nielson's starting quarterback during the undefeated 15-0 season in 2008, the first National Championship in Minnesota-Duluth history. He was a four-time Jim Overlie 'Most Valuable Player' award winner, three-year captain and led the Bulldogs to a 33-14 record while not missing a start in his four-year career.
A.J. BLAZEK joins Western as the offensive line coach and the run game coordinator. He joined Nielson's staff following a four-year stint at Winona State, a conference rival of Nielson's former team Minnesota-Duluth.
Blazek served as the Warriors' offensive line and tight ends coach, and during his final three years at WSU was the co-offensive coordinator. He was named the 2012 'Assistant Coach of the Year' by the American Football Coaches Association.
During his time, Blazek worked with an offensive unit that saw Rayon Simmons become the program's all-time leading rusher. The First Team Don Hansen Super Region and All-America selection broke the Warriors' season rushing record last year compiling 1,774 yards on the ground. He surpassed 1,000 rushing yards in each of the last three seasons, finishing with a program-record 5,245 career rushing yards.
During his four years, Blazek has coached 14 of his position players to All-Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference honors - including four All-NSIC offensive linemen and one All-NSIC tight end last season. Twice during his three years as co-offensive coordinator Simmons led the conference in rushing. In 2012, the Warriors broke the program and NSIC record for total offense.
Before joining Winona State, Blazek was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Fort Hays State (2005-08). He coached five offensive linemen to all-conference honors and one ESPN Academic All-American, Jordan Stricker in 2008. One of his players, offensive tackle Wes Yarbough, signed a NFL free agent contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blazek began his coaching career at his alma mater, the University of Iowa. He coached for four seasons (2001-04), the first year as a student assistant before becoming a graduate assistant coach. Blazek helped tutor the future No. 2 NFL draft pick, Robert Gallery. He also coached six other NFL draft picks at Iowa: Eric Steinbach (Cincinnati/2nd), Bruce Nelson (Carolina/2nd round), Seth Olsen (Denver/4th), Ben Sobieski (Buffalo/5th), Pete McMahon (Oakland/6th), and Mike Elgin (New England/7th).
TYLER YELK, an All-American defensive back during his playing days for Nielson, will coach the defensive backs and serve as the special teams coordinator. He joins Western following a standout playing and coaching career at Minnesota-Duluth.
Yelk became the only Bulldog to win a National Championship
both as a player and coach. In his four years coaching at UMD, Yelk worked with
the defensive backs and was the special teams coordinator last season. He also
served as the program's recruiting coordinator. He was an assistant coach on
the 2010 team that finished a perfect 15-0, capturing the program's second
During his four-year coaching career at UMD, his players received two All-America awards, five All-Region honors and 11 All-Conference selections. As the special teams coordinator, his placekicker earned both All-Region and All-America honors. Four players on special teams earned All-Conference accolades, and his kicker Dave Nadeau earned a NFL tryout with the Green Bay Packers. His kickoff return unit ranked first nationally in kickoff return yards and touchdowns.
ATIBA BRADLEY takes over as the linebackers coach for Nielson. Prior to joining the Leathernecks, Bradley spent the 2012 season coaching at Quincy University.
In his one season at Quincy as the defensive coordinator/recruiting coordinator, Bradley made an immediate impact as the Hawks transitioned to the NCAA Division II level. Four of his players on defense earned All-Great Lakes Valley Conference Second Team honors.
He worked for two years at Missouri Southern State as linebackers coach, recruiting coordinator and oversaw the academic progress of the student-athletes. Prior to coaching at Southern, he was at the University of Missouri as a graduate assistant. In 2009, Bradley served as the defensive graduate assistant coach. He moved to defense after spending the 2008 season as the Tigers' first offensive quality control as a graduate assistant.
BRIAN WARD enters his second year as the defensive coordinator for the Leathernecks, and his first working with head coach Bob Nielson.
Despite a year in which Ward lost three fifth-year senior starters to an injury in the season-opener, he coached the Leathernecks to one of their better years in several categories. In all, Western lost four starters to injuries (including three of the four defensive backs and two team captains). Western still spent most of the 2012 season as one of the top teams in the country in total defense and scoring defense. The defensive unit recorded 16 interceptions, the 10th-highest total in program history. Four players, including three underclassmen, earned All-Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Leading the linebacker corps, the position group Ward coached, was redshirt-freshman J.J. Raffelson who finished as a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award (top freshman in the country) and was Honorable Mention All-MVFC. He became the only freshman in Leatherneck history to lead the defensive unit in total tackles. Defensive back Martinez Davis was a Second Team selection, and fellow sophomore Jonathon Rollins was an Honorable Mention selection from the secondary. Defensive lineman Ryan Demming also earned Honorable Mention All-MVFC accolades.
KEVIN PALERMO rejoined Leatherneck Football in the fall of 2012 as an assistant coach on the defense following his playing days as a four-year letterwinner at Western. He remains with the program on Nielson's coaching staff as an assistant coach.