Spence Nowinsky
Spence Nowinsky

Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator

Alma Mater:
Minnesota State, 1994


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Spence Nowinsky begins his sixth season at Illinois State and first as the team's defensive coordinator. Also serving as the team's associate head coach, Nowinsky mentors the team's defensive lineman.

The Redbird defensive line, which Nowinsky has called the "Cadillac's," for their durability, strength and power, has produced staggering numbers during his tenure. Three of Nowinsky's players have been named First-Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selections, including two-time picks in defensive tackle Eric Brunner (2010-11) and end Colton Underwood (2012-13), with tackle Shelby Harris in earning All-MVFC honors 2012.

Under Nowinsky's leadership, Underwood became one of the most decorated players in Illinois State Football history. Named a First-Team All-American in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons, Underwood was also a two-time finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award that is presented to the best defensive player in FCS football. In his illustrious four-year career with the Redbirds working with Nowinsky, Underwood registered 215 tackles and finished his career ranked No. 3 in tackles for loss with 44 and No. 4 on the career sacks list with 21.5.

Nowinsky was also instrumental in the development of defensive end Nate Palmer, who transferred to Illinois State prior to the 2011 season and became a two-time All-MVFC selection. Palmer recorded 17 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss in just two seasons at ISU and was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers.

The 2012 Redbird defense racked up negative plays throughout the year, finishing with 43 sacks (No. 2 in school history) and 95 tackles for loss (No. 4 in school history). Nowinsky's linemen accounted for 56 of those tackles for loss and 29 of the sacks, with Underwood leading the way with 19.5 and 10.5, respectively, as the Redbirds advanced to the FCS playoff quarterfinals for the third time in school history.

After a 2010 season that the Redbird defense ranked 112th in the country, Nowinsky and the rest of the defensive staff turned the ISU defense into one of the of best in the country in 2011. The Redbirds improved to No. 9 in the country in total defense, thanks in part to one of the stingiest run defenses in the country. Nowinsky's line helped the Redbirds hold its opponents to just 85.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranked No. 5 in the country. ISU also ranked eighth in the country in sacks and 13th in tackles for loss, most of which came from Redbird linemen.

Illinois State defensive linemen accounted for 51 tackles-for-loss and 28 sacks in 2011, and were led by their leader and First-Team All-MVFC selection Eric Brunner. Palmer was a Second-Team All-MVFC selection, after he led the team with 9.5 sacks and sophomores Harris and Underwood each recorded six sacks apiece.

In 2010, Brunner also earned First Team All-MVFC honors at defensive tackle and led the Redbirds with four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Nowinsky also helped redshirt freshman Harris improve throughout the season on way to earning a spot on the MVFC All-Newcomer Team.

In 2009, Nowinsky helped guide Brunner to a breakout season as a sophomore when he ranked fifth on the team with 47 tackles, including 23 solo stops, on way to being named a second-team All-MVFC selection. Brunner added 1.5 sacks, 7.0 tackles-for-loss and was credited with a team-high seven quarterback hurries on the year. Senior Doni Phelps also peaked in his final season by leading the team in tackles-for-loss (8.5) and sacks with seven.

The Redbird defensive line solidified late in the year and allowed just 69 yards per game on the ground in the last four contests on way to a 3-1 record. The unit also accounted for 33.5 tackles-for-loss and 19.5 of the team's 25 sacks on the season. Nowinsky came to Illinois State following two years as the associate head coach and defensive line coach at NCAA Division II member Emporia State. He had prior experience coaching at the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level, including previous assistant coaching positions at Western Athletic Conference (WAC) member Idaho (2003) and Wisconsin (1999-2002).

Prior to coaching at Emporia State, Nowinsky spent three seasons at his alma mater, Minnesota State, where he coached the defensive line during the 2004 and 2006 seasons. In 2005, Nowinsky coached the Mavericks' offensive line.

Nowinsky spent the 2003 season as a defensive line coach for Idaho. He began his collegiate coaching career as a defensive graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 1999-2002. The Badgers won the 2000 Rose Bowl with a 17-9 victory over Stanford. Nowinsky was an assistant coach at Wittenberg-Birnamwood (Wis.) High School from 1997-99 and began his coaching career in 1995-97 as an assistant at Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial (Minn.) High School.

Nowinsky was a four-year letterwinner for Minnesota State from 1991-94 as a defensive lineman. He and his wife, Jen, reside in Normal, Ill., with their two sons, Tommy and Jack.