Northwestern has huge shoes to fill this offseason, trying to replace longtime defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who retired following the 2020 season. It sounds like Pat Fitzgerald is moving fairly quickly on making a decision.

ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg reported on Tuesday that Northwestern is planning to hire Las Vegas Raiders defensive backs coach Jim O’Neil to take over the defense in Evanston. All of O’Neil’s work over the last decade has come in the NFL, but he does have ties to the Wildcats.

In 2003 and 2004, O’Neil was a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach for Northwestern under head coach Randy Walker. O’Neil would have worked with Fitzgerald during that time.

O’Neil has worked exclusively in the NFL since the 2009 season. He’s had jobs with the New York Jets (2009-12) as a defensive assistant and was named the Buffalo Bills linebackers coach in 2013. O’Neil was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (2014-15) and San Francisco 49ers (2016). He’s spent the last three seasons with the Raiders.

Hankwitz decided to retire following the 2020 season after 50 years of coaching. He had spent the last 13 seasons as the defensive coordinator at Northwestern and left the program on a high note.

The Wildcats allowed 15.6 points per game during the 2020 season, the best average for any team in the B1G. Northwestern closed the campaign with a 7-2 record, winning the B1G West and defeating Auburn in the Citrus Bowl.