In two seasons at Northern Illinois, Jay Sawvel has helped transform the Huskie defense into one of the most formidable units in the Mid-American Conference while overseeing the improvement of the NIU special teams across the board.
Northern Illinois has led the MAC in total defense in each of the last two seasons, achieving a No. 17 national ranking in that category in 2008 and checking in at No. 30 last season. The 2008 Huskies were the No. 5 pass defense and No. 14 scoring defense in the country as NIU recorded the second-biggest turnaround in the country in terms of points allowed, from 30.8 in 2007 to 18.0. Last year's defense ranked in the top 35 in the country in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense, and NIU checked in as the nation's No. 23 squad in turnover margin.
On special teams, the Huskies have blocked nine kicks (punts and placekicks) in the last two seasons, and scored on both a punt and a kickoff return last season. Tommy Davis earned All-MAC recognition as a return man in 2009, while NIU was 20th in the country in kick return defense.
In seven seasons at Southern Illinois. Sawvel's defensive backs helped hold opposing offenses to just 18.5 points per game, while his special teams units included three All-Americans and 28 blocked punts.
In 2007, both groups excelled. In the secondary, SIU's 21 interceptions were the fourth-most in the nation (FCS) and the Saluki defensive backs accounted for 52.6 percent of the team's total tackles.
On special teams, the Salukis ranked first in the Gateway Conference and seventh nationally in net punting, and SIU ranked sixth in the country and led the Gateway in kickoff returns. Punter Scott Ravenesi and return specialist Craig Turner both earned All-America honors that year.
Overall, Sawvel's units blocked multiple punts in six of his seven years at SIU, including seven blocks in 2001. Equally impressive were the four touchdowns his group scored off punt blocks or returns in 2005.
Defensive backs coached by Sawvel were an integral part of some of the best defenses in SIU history. In 2004, Southern Illinois led the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 13.2 points per game. That year, the Salukis intercepted 17 passes while allowing only 12 passing touchdowns and 202.7 yards per game through the air.
Prior to coaching at SIU, Sawvel served in the same positions at Ferris State (1999-2000), where FSU won the 1999 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championship, and ranked first in the GLIAC in three defensive categories (total yards allowed, passing yards allowed and third-down conversions against).
For the 1997-98 season, Sawvel was a graduate assistant at Notre Dame, where he earned a master's degree in administration. In South Bend, his responsibilities included working with defensive backs and special teams, as well as scouting and recruiting. Sawvel also earned a master's degree at Eastern Kentucky, where he was a graduate assistant coach for the 1994-95 seasons.
Sawvel did his undergraduate work and spent his playing career at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio. There, he earned his bachelor's degree in sports management with minors in business administration, information systems and physical education. On the field, Sawvel was a three-year letterwinner and an all-conference linebacker for Mount Union's 1993 national championship team.
Sawvel and his wife, Jeannine, have two daughters: Mackenzie (5) and Miranda (3).
Mount Union (Linebacker), 1989-93
M.A., Notre Dame, 1997
M.A., Eastern Kentucky, 1995
B.A., Mount Union, 1993
Barnsville (Ohio), 1989
March 14, 1971
||International Bowl (2009)
||Independence Bowl (2008)
||FCS Playoffs (2003-07)
||Gator Bowl (1998)
Independence Bowl (1997)
||FCS Playoffs (1995)