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Big Green Assistant Heads to Windy City

Chris Wilkerson

Chris Wilkerson

Hanover — For nearly a decade, Chris Wilkerson has celebrated Dartmouth College football victories by linking arms with Big Green players and fellow coaches and belting out the alma mater. He’s going to have to learn a new song, however, for the 41-year-old has been hired as head coach at the University of Chicago.

A Dartmouth assistant to Buddy Teevens since 2005 and the program’s associate head coach since 2007, Wilkerson replaces another former Big Green assistant, Dick Maloney, who retired last month after guiding the NCAA Division III Maroons for 19 years.

Chicago was 8-2 and won the University Athletic Association title in 2010, but was a combined 9-11 the past two years.

“It had to be a good job to leave here, that’s for sure,” said Wilkerson, who oversaw Dartmouth’s running backs and helped coach its special teams. “The timing is a little bit unique, but you can’t always choose when an opportunity presents itself. I felt very good about the people on Chicago’s campus and it felt like it was the right fit.”

Chicago was a football powerhouse in a previous life. The Maroons were coached by the legendary and pioneering Amos Alonzo Stagg for 41 years and were founding members of the Big Ten Conference before withdrawing from the circuit in 1946. Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best player, in 1935.

Varsity football returned to Chicago’s campus in 1969 and the Maroons joined the UAA, sometimes known as the “Egghead Eight,” in 1986. Other members include Washington University in St. Louis, Emory, Case Western Reserve and Carnegie Mellon.

“Chicago is very similar to the Ivy League model for academics and athletics,” Wilkerson said. “There are no scholarships, just need-based financial aid, and they’re on the quarter system.”

Wilkerson’s troops report for practice on Aug. 18 and open the season at Beloit College in Wisconsin on Sept. 7. Because he’ll have only a few weeks to ready the players and because he’s inheriting Maloney’s staff, Wilkerson said he plans to learn Chicago’s existing systems and use his initial campaign to evaluate what tactics might best fit his personnel.

“I’m willing to do whatever I need to so we can make the transition as easy as possible for the players,” Wilkerson said. “I’ll adjust myself to the schemes that are in place.”

In recent years, Wilkerson helped Dartmouth develop standout running back Nick Schwieger and cornerback and punt returner Shawn Abuhoff. He’s known for an upbeat personality, a gung-ho attitude and a tireless work ethic. The Big Green was winless in 2008, but has rebounded with a pair of 6-4 records during the past three years.

“You’ve got to be good before you’re great and we’re finally good,” Wilkerson said of the Big Green program. “I think this is about to be an amazing time for Dartmouth football.”

Wilkerson and his wife, Sharna, have three children and he said the family, which currently lives in Claremont, will move to the midwest in late August. Sharna Wilkerson, a former softball star at their alma mater, Eastern Illinois University, will use one of her former opponents as a Realtor.

“Our biggest decision is going to be whether or not to live in the city or out in the suburbs,” Wilkerson said. “But I spent 12 years in Illinois and Sharna spent 11, so we know a lot of people in the Chicagoland area.”

Wilkerson coached at Eastern Illinois and San Jose State before arriving at Dartmouth. He said he was previously interested in head coach openings at Colby College in Maine and DePauw University in Indiana, where he was a finalist for the job.

“I’ve always kept Coach Teevens in the loop on any opportunity I pursued and he’s been very supportive of myself personally and professionally,” Wilkerson said.

“Dartmouth and the Upper Valley are special places. The relationships we’ve built in the community have made for an amazing experience. It was a very difficult decision for us, but this is the best thing for our family right now.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.