Throwback Thursday: Lee Corso’s short tenure as NIU football coach


By James Krause

DeKALB — This past off-season may be reminiscent for Huskie football fans, with NIU’s defending conference championship team losing its head coach.

With the departure of Rod Carey in January, the Huskies hired Thomas Hammock whose first year of coaching at his alma mater has been rocky starting 2-5 overall and 1-2 in conference play.

It’s not the first time in program history a defending-conference champion has struggled out of the gate with a new coach. In fact, it was 25 years ago that a coach took charge of the NIU football program before becoming one of the most recognizable names in the sport.

Following the 1983 season that saw NIU win its first Mid-American Conference championship and the California Bowl, Huskies Head Coach Bill Mallory left DeKalb to take the head coaching position at Indiana University.

To replace the coach who left NIU for Indiana, the Huskies themselves poached a former Hoosiers coach in Lee Corso. Corso was hired in January of 1984 and the Huskies set out on their repeat campaign in the fall.

Corso’s opening season at NIU started off well enough, going 3-2 in their first five games. In the Huskies sixth game of the year and in front of a record crowd of 26,685 at Huskie Stadium, NIU could only muster a draw against a winless Eastern Michigan team.

NIU would lose its next two games to Bowling Green State University and Miami – University Ohio, breaking a winless streak with an 8-7 win over Central Michigan University. The Huskies were looking to get back on track, but Corso was looking to other opportunities.

Two days after the win over CMU, the Northern Star reported Corso would resign from NIU to take his first professional football job as head coach of the Orlando Renegades of the United States Football League.

NIU lost its last two games without Corso, finishing 4-6-1. Corso would coach for Orlando for one season before the USFL folded.

Corso would never coach again, instead signing with ESPN to be a part of College Football Gameday. A few years later, the energetic and quirky analyst became a household name.

Jerry Pettibone replaced Corso at NIU, coaching the team for six years and to a 9-2 record in 1989.