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25 days after longtime Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi accepted the same position at Michigan State, they’ve found his replacement, as Minnesota hired Corey Hetherman to be the program’s new defensive coordinator Monday afternoon. He comes directly from Rutgers after being the program’s LB coach for the past three seasons, but the question remains who the heck is Corey Hetherman?
Corey Hetherman grew up in Oxford, Massachusetts, playing High School football for Webster High School. A former QB, Hetherman’s playing career led him to Fitchburg State University a four-year Division III college in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. He was a three-year starter at the school and a team captain in 2005. He went 21-11 as a starter, leading the team to a pair of MASCAC titles, two NEFC championship games and a berth in two ECAC bowl games. He became the program’s all-time leading passer, amassing nearly 4,000 yards through the air.
After college, he decided to try his luck in European football. He spent one year with the Carinthian Black Lions of the Austrian Football, where he was a player-coach, acting as the team’s offensive coordinator and starting QB. He then had one last hurrah, playing one season with Wuerzburg in the German Football League.
Hetherman’s full-time coaching career began in 2007. He was an offensive intern at King’s College, a Division III school in Wilks-Barre, Pennsylvannia. He was there for just under a full year before going to Springfield College as a graduate assistant, another Division III school, this time in his home state of Massachusetts. He was there for a year and a half before his next stop.
In 2009, Hetherman got his first shot at the Division I (FCS) level, as an Assistant Football coach at Northeastern University, which is located in… you guessed it, Massachusetts! He learned under legendary head coach Bill Coen, who happens to be the winningest coach in Northeastern program history. After an 11-month stop, he remained at the FCS level (at the time). At Old Dominion University, Hetherman became a defensive guy. He was the team’s Defensive Run Game Coordinator and LB coach, for head coach Bobby Wilder. He would spend three years and five months in Norfolk Virginia.
In January of 2014, Hetherman got his first coordinator job at Pace University. A Division II school in New York City, he was there for only one season, developing the team’s defensive game plan and formatting the PAT and field goal block design
He quickly jumped back up to the Division I ranks, where he became the Defensive Coordinator at the University of Maine in 2015. He quickly turned Maine into a defensive power in the FCS. His 2015 defensive line ranked second in the CAA in rushing defense, surrendering just 110.8 yards per game. They also ranked second in the CAA in sacks (32). In 2017, Maine led the CAA on third down, allowing the opposition to a 27 percent success rate. Whitaker developed in his first year as a starter to all-conference stats after ranking fourth in tackles for loss (14.0) and seventh in sacks (8.5). His first year leading Maine’s Black Hole defense, he helped mentor all-conference lineman Pat Ricard to the NFL after he ranked second in the conference in tackles for loss and fifth in sacks. Maine ranked third in the league in pass defense as well, at 217.1 yards per game allowed. In 2018 the Blackbears led the CAA in eight different categories, highlighted by the FCS-leading rushing defense (79.2). Maine also ranked second nationally in sacks (47). The Black Bears also led the CAA in yards per carry allowed (2.4), interceptions (18), fumble recoveries (13) and fumbles for a touchdown (3) while ranking second in third-down defense (28.4%) and fourth in total defense (313.1). His time overlapped with former Gophers safeties coach and now Rutgers DC Joe Harasymiak who was the program’s head coach from 2016-18.
When Harasymiak left, so did Hetherman. In 2018 he headed south to James Madison University as the program’s defensive coordinator. The Duke’s defense ranked in the top 10 of the FCS in each of his three seasons there. Before the 2021 season, he was named associate head coach and went on to earn AFCA FCS Assistant Coach of the Year. The Dukes posted the No. 2-ranked defense in the nation, allowing just 275.2 yards per game, also ranking first nationally in turnovers forced (31), fifth in third-down defense (27.2 percent), seventh in scoring defense (15.4) and eighth in rushing defense (89.0). A total of four defensive players were recognized as 2021 All-Americans, with six being named All-CAA. Hetherman learned under head coach Curt Cignetti, who is now the head coach at Indiana.
In 2021, Hetherman reunited with Harasymiak back in the northeast as the LB coach at Rutgers. During his time with the Scarlet Knights, the scoring defense improved to become the No. 34th best in the nation with an average of 21.2 points per game allowed. Rutgers’ total defense also improved from 398.1 yards per game in 2021 to 313.5 yards per game in 2023.
I am not going to sit here and tell you that Corey Hetherman is a “home-run” hire and he will lead the Gophers back to the Rose Bowl. I will say that as a 39-year-old who has never been a coordinator at a major college football level, he has a much higher ceiling than some of the Gophers’ other candidates. He was a fantastic LB coach for RU and was seen as the DC in waiting. Harasymiak interviewed for the JMU HC job and PSU DC job this off-season. If he would’ve gotten either, Hetherman likely would’ve replaced him as DC, according to multiple sources at Rutgers. I would not have been a fan of the Gophers deciding to promote from within, so I believe this is a risk that PJ Fleck and his staff needed to take.