Players and coach Rod Carey visit children at Baptist Children Hospital
Veteran defensive coordinator Jay Niemann returns for his third season running the Northern Illinois University defense.
In 2012, the NIU defense held five opponents to nine points or less, including a shutout of UMass en route to a second straight Mid-American Conference title and a berth in the 2013 Orange Bowl. The Huskie defensive unit totaled 40 sacks in 2012, second all-time in NIU history, with defensive end Alan Baxter leading the way with 9.5 which ties him for sixth on NIU's single season list.
Niemann, who also coaches the safeties, mentored first-team All-MAC honoree Jimmie Ward. Ward led the Huskies in tackles with 104 stops and in interceptions with three in 2012. Two other Huskies, Baxter and Sean Progar, earned first team All-MAC accolades, while Tyrone Clark garnered second team honors.
In his first season in DeKalb, Niemann took over a young Huskie defense and watched it mature as the 2011 campaign progressed. In its first four games, Northern Illinois faced a pair of option teams and a top-10 opponent from the Big Ten; by week six, the Huskies turned in their best defensive game of the season statistically, holding Kent State to one yard rushing and 64 yards of total offense.
The Huskies' best defensive effort came at a most opportune time - the 2011 MAC Championship game. After the Huskie offense was shut out in the first half, and NIU facing a 20-0 halftime deficit, the NIU defense flipped the script on Ohio in the second half, keeping the Bobcats off the scoreboard en route to a 23-20 win and the school's first MAC football title in 28 years.
Niemann came to Northern Illinois after spending three seasons as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Hardin Simmons University in Texas. During his tenure with the Cowboys, Niemann helped turn a defense that ranked last in the nation prior to his arrival into the No. 2 unit in the American Southwest Conference in 2009. He coached free safety Matt Warnish to All-American honors in 2008 and saw three of his defensive backs earn all-conference accolades from 2009-10.
A native of Avoca, Iowa, Niemann spent much of his 26-year coaching career in his home state, with stops at Simpson (Iowa) College, the University of Northern Iowa and Drake University. Niemann compiled a 32-29 record in his six seasons as head coach at Simpson (2002-07). He led the Storm to the 2003 NCAA playoffs while also serving as defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
Niemann coached the secondary coach (1997, 2001), linebackers (1998-99) and filled the role of defensive coordinator (1999-2000) during his five seasons at Northern Iowa (1997-2001). The Panthers advanced to the semifinals of the 2001 NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (then Division I-AA) playoffs, falling to a Montana staff that included NIU head coach Dave Doeren. One of Niemann's UNI pupils, cornerback Ty Talton, went on to play in the NFL.
Prior to his arrival at UNI, Niemann spent eight seasons at Drake. After serving as the defensive backs coach from 1989-94, he was promoted to defensive coordinator/assistant head coach in 1995. In his final three seasons, the Bulldog defense ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, pass efficiency defense and total defense. He hired Doeren, a 1993 Drake graduate, as his linebackers coach in 1995 and the duo worked together for two seasons.
Niemann began his coaching career in 1985 at Western Washington where he coached the linebackers and special teams units while pursuing his master's degree. He accepted the graduate assistant position at the University of Washington, working with the Huskies linebackers and defensive backs from 1986-88, and coached under UW legends Don James and Jim Lambright.
A graduate of Iowa State, Niemann played football for the Cyclones from 1979-82. He earned his master's degree from Western Washington in 1988. Niemann and his wife, Lou Ann, have two sons, Ben and Nick.