Lennon takes over SIU coaching job vacated by Kill

Updated: December 28, 2007, 8:48 PM ET
Associated Press

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois on Friday introduced Dale Lennon as its new football coach, tapping the former North Dakota coach to take over a Saluki program that came within one game of playing for the national title this season.

Lennon signed a five-year contract that will pay him $200,000 a year, the school said.

"I feel very good about the task that we are about to go on and the journey we are about to enter," Lennon said at a news conference.

Lennon succeeds Jerry Kill, who resigned to take over at Northern Illinois less than a week after he guided the Salukis (12-2) to the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Lennon said he knew he wanted to coach the Salukis after visiting the Carbondale campus.

"This is a program that I want to build upon," Lennon said. "It's not broke, it doesn't need to be fixed but I hope that what I can bring to the program will allow us to build on the success that has been put in place."

Lennon led North Dakota -- his alma mater -- to the Division II national title in 2001, a national runner-up finish and five North Central Conference championships since taking over in 1999. The Fighting Sioux went 10-2 this season, advancing to the second round of the Division II playoffs.

His 90 wins at North Dakota tie Lennon with Roger Thomas for the most in school history.

Southern Illinois' athletic director, Mario Moccia, said he and a search panel had hundreds of applicants to consider, ranging from Division II coaches to coordinators in the Football Bowl Subdivision -- what used to be Division I-A -- and National Football League position coaches.

"We reviewed a staggering amount of candidates at all levels, and I felt that Coach Lennon was the best fit for Southern Illinois University," Moccia said.

Lennon, a three-time North Central Conference coach of the year and the 2001 American Football Coaches Association Division II coach of the year, served as the Sioux's defensive coordinator from 1990 to 1996. He then coached two years at the University of Mary in Bismarck, N.D., before returning to North Dakota.

As a running back at North Dakota, Lennon was team captain in 1983 and all-conference honorable mention as a senior.

Lennon later was a defensive line coach at North Dakota before being promoted to defensive coordinator.

Southern is in the Gateway Conference is in what used to be Division I-AA, while North Dakota is moving to Division I from Division II.

In Kill's seven seasons in Carbondale the team went 56-32, won three straight Gateway Conference titles (2003-05) and made five consecutive postseason appearances, including a run to the FCS semifinals that ended Dec. 8 in a 20-17 loss to Delaware.

Lennon and his wife, Chris, have three teen sons.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press