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2021 MAC Positional Previews: NIU Huskies Coaching Staff

A look at the Huskie coaching staff for the upcoming season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Northern Illinois Huskies have had the luxury of some longer tenured coaches over the past few decades. In fact, since 1985 every coach NIU has hired has coached at least five season in DeKalb, with the notable exceptions of Jerry Kill (2008-2010) and Dave Doeren (2011-2012).

Joe Novak’s 11-year tenure (1996-2007) really set the benchmark for Huskie head coaches and his leadership has even led to NIU’s current head coach - Thomas Hammock.

Thomas Hammock - Head Coach

Thomas Hammock is entering his third season (second full season) as the Huskies’ leader. Since his hiring in 2019, the Huskies are 5-13 - including their 0-6 campaign in 2020. However, when Covid shortened the 2020 season, he decided to get his philosophy and recruits into the game as early as possible. That choice led to a slew of freshmen and sophomores starting last season and that will happen again this year, with over 70% of the roster made up of freshmen (and only 18 total upperclassmen on the roster).

Hammock, a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, started his collegiate football career at NIU, where he was a star running back under Joe Novak from 1999 until 2002. After graduating from Northern, he moved north to be a grad assistant for the Wisconsin Badgers in 2003 and 2004 before heading back to DeKalb to work under his former head coach.

In 2005 and 2006 he coached the Huskies’ running backs. Under his tutelage Garrett Wolfe had a pair of amazing seasons, which led to two post-season appearances for the Huskies - the 2005 MAC Championship Game and the 2006 Poinsettia Bowl.

Hammock then returned to the B1G for seven seasons. First he spent four season as a coach for the Minnesota Golden Gophers - first as the running backs coach from 2007-2009 and then as the co-offensive coordinate/RB coach in 2010.

In 2011 he returned to Wisconsin where, under Bret Bielema, he coached halfbacks again. In 2012 and 2013 he held a number of titles, being named Assistant Head Coach, Running Backs Coach, and Recruiting Coordinator. His second stint as a Badger solidified his ability as a trainer, leading Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon (and their backup James White) to multiple great season. Ball rushed for 1923 and 1830 yards in 2011 and 2012, while Gordon reached 1609 yards in 2013. White, who backed them up for all three of Hammock’s seasons, even had amazing stats (rushing for 713, 806, and 1444 yards respectively).

After seeing him coach two running backs to 1400+ yards in the same season (Gordon and White in 2013), the NFL came calling and the Baltimore Ravens hired him as their running backs coach. In 2013, the Ravens were third to last in rushing yards - with just 1328 yards - but Hammock changed all that. In his first season alone they jumped an astounding 22 spots, finishing eighth best in the NFL. And, in his final season, the Ravens were second in rushing yards and had the third most rushing touchdowns.

On January 18th, 2019, just eight days after Rod Carey left NIU for Temple, it was announced that Hammock would become the 23rd head coach of the Huskies. He is the first African-American head coach at Northern. He is just the second alum to coach the Huskies (joining Howard Fletcher, who coached NIU from 1956-65) but is first alumnus to coach the Huskies as an FBS school.

Derrick Jackson - Associate Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/Safeties

Backing up Hammock is Derrick Jackson, who has more than twenty years of coaching experience and previously worked with Hammock at NIU once before. He was the Defensive Tackles Coach for the Huskies in 2005 when Hammock was coaching the half backs.

Jackson, who is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, was a defensive back for the Duke Blue Devils from 1988-1992. He didn’t get his coaching career started until 1999, when he coached tight ends at the University of West Georgia, a Division II school that won their conference (Gulf South Conference) and made a playoff appearance in his second season there.

From 2001 through 2011 Jackson bounced around, having stints as a defensive end/defensive line coach for Army (2001-02), Eastern Illinois (2003-04), NIU (2005), Michigan State (2006), Syracuse (2007-09), Akron (2010), and Rice (2011). In 2012 he found a more steady location, coaching at Wake Forest for five seasons (2012-16); first as linebackers coach, then moving to the DBs/cornerbacks for his final four years.

In 2017 he moved to the B1G, taking over as the cornerbacks coach for the Purdue Boilermakers for two seasons before reuniting with Hammock and taking the role of Hammock’s associate head coach and defensive coordinator in 2019.

Eric Eidsness - Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks

Eric Eidsness returns as the QB coach and offensive coordinator for the Huskies. Eidsness, originally from Sioux Fall, South Dakota was a quarterback and wide receiver for his hometown university, the Sioux Falls Cougars, a D-II school, from 1989-1992.

It didn’t take long for him to land his first coaching gig. In 1992 and 19923 he coached the now defunct Robinson Sphinx football team in Paris, France, first as offensive coordinator/QB/WR coach before being named the head coach in 1993. However, in 1994 he returned to the States where he became the QB/WR coach for Morningside College, a private NAIA university in Iowa.

After two seasons there, he started his first of three stints at South Dakota State, being named a grad assistant for the Jackrabbits from 1996-97. In 1998 he left SDSU to become Ferris State’s offensive coordinator/QB/WR coach. However, he quickly returned to the Jackrabbits the following year but, this time, with the same titles he held at Ferris State. After three seasons as South Dakota State’s offensive coordinator/QB/WR coach, he was named their Assistant Head Coach in 2003.

Southwest Minnesota State offered Eidsness the role of Head Coach in 2004 and he jumped at the opportunity. He led the Mustangs for five season, from 2004 to 2009, where he compiled a 26-40 record.

In 2010 he returned to South Dakota State for the third time, where he would stay for nine seasons until joining the Huskies in 2019. In his last stint at SDSU, Eidsness was QB coach/passing game coordinator (2010-11), offensive coordinator/QB coach (2012-14), and then adding the title of Associate Head Coach from 2015 until his departure in 2019.

Daryl Agpalsa - Offensive Line

Agpalsa, a native Hawaiian, is now in his third season at Northern. He’s quite familiar with the MAC though, as he has now been in the conference for seven years. Before coming to DeKalb, he spent four season in Buffalo as the Buffalo Bulls o-line coach (2014-18) before joining Hammock’s staff at NIU in 2019.

He began his coaching career in 2003 as the offensive line coach for Linfield University, his alma mater. In 2004, his second year there, Linfield won the NCAA D-III Championship. In 2007 he moved to another D-III school, Hamline, where he held the same title for three seasons.

In 2010 Agpalsa became a grad assistant for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, where he first met Hammock (who was the RB coach at the time). After two seasons there, in 2012, he left to become the Offensive Line coach for D-III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater. He would win a second D-III Championship Game in 2013 before leaving to join Buffalo the following year.

Jordan Gigli - Defensive Line/Recruiting Coordinator

Jordan Gigli has known Thomas Hammock for quite some time now. Gigli, also from Fort Wayne, Indiana, attended the same high school (Bishop Luers) and graduated the same year as Hammock. He was a defensive lineman for Trine University, a D-III school in northeast Indiana, from 1999-2002.

Once his playing days had ended, he became a grad assistant at Western Illinois University before becoming the D-line coach at Wittenburg, a D-III school in Ohio, in 2006. After just one season at Wittenburg, Gigli moved to Minnesota, where he became the Defensive Quality Control Coach for the Gophers from 2007-2010, working with Hammock once again.

After his four year stint in the B1G, Gigli headed west to become the defensive line coach for FCS school Sacramento State, a position he held for three seasons (2011-13) before taking the same job at the University of North Dakota in 2014 - a position he held until reuniting with Hammock for a third time and joining the Huskies’ staff in 2019.

Other Coaches

Dan Jackson - Pass Defense Coordinator/Cornerbacks/Co-Special Teams Coordinator
Jackson joined NIU last season but, before that, he spent eight years at South Dakota State as the Jackrabbits’ cornerback/secondary coach. He was even named SDSU’s assistant head coach and special teams coordinator.

Nic McKissic-Luke - Run Game Coordinator/Running Backs
Before joining NIU last year, McKissic-Luke spent four season at Youngstown State where he was the Penguins running backs coach and special teams coordinator. Before YSU, he coached along side Dan Jackson at South Dakota State.

Travis Moore - Defensive Ends
Moore, an NIU alum, played for the Huskies from 2000-2004 before becoming a high school coach. From 2006 until 2018 he was the head coach of Eisenhower High School (which he attended from 1997-2000) in Blue Island, Illinois. He lead Eisenhower to five playoff appearances before reuniting with Hammock, a former teammate of his, in 2019.

Tony Sorrentino - Passing Game Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Sorrentino joined the Huskies in 2019, where he first coached tight ends and fullbacks. Before NIU, he was the Director of Football Operations at Florida Atlantic for the 2018 season. He also had coaching stints at Minnesota (2010, with Hammock), Miami (2011), and Tennessee (2017) along with coaching WRs in the NFL, as a coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2013-2016.

Robert Wimberly - Executive Assistant Coach/Linebackers
Wimberly joined NIU in 2019 after spending the previous seven season at Liberty, where he held jobs as the Flames linebacker coach, defensive coordinator, and associate head coach. He first met Hammock in 2003 when the two were both grad assistants for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Jason Onyebuagu - Tight Ends/Fullbacks
Onyebuagu joined Hammocks staff just a few days ago on July 29th. If the name sounds familiar it’s because he was an offensive linemen for the Huskies from 2006-2009. After NIU, he became a grad assistant for the North Carolina Tar Heels and Syracuse Orange before becoming the o-line coach at North Carolina Central in 2014. He was at NCCU for five season and held numerous positions, including running game coordinator (2015-16), and co-offensive coordinator (2017-18). In 2019 he became the offensive line coach at Arkansas-Pine Bluff and last season he held the same title at Southeast Missouri State.