When Brock Spack was named the 20th head coach in Illinois State football history prior to the 2009 season, he saw Illinois State football as a “sleeping giant” – a program that had all of the tools and resources to be a powerhouse in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), but was lacking the foresight to see itself that way.
After four appearances in the FCS playoffs and back-to-back Missouri Valley Football Conference championships in 2014-15, it looks as if the giant has been awoken. A two-time finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, Spack has changed the culture of Redbird football.
In 10 seasons at the helm of the program, Spack has posted an overall record of 74-45 (.622) and a mark of 48-32 (.600) in Missouri Valley Football Conference play. Much of that success has been aided by a fierce defense of home turf, as the Redbirds have amassed a 48-12 record at Hancock Stadium and a 31-6 mark since the stadium renovations were completed prior in 2013. Spack's teams have also picked up three wins over FBS programs, most recently on the road at Colorado State in 2018.
The Redbirds advanced to the postseason for the third year in a row in 2016, something that had previously not been done in school history. ISU also knocked off a Big Ten Conference foe for the first time in school history, when the Redbirds defeated Northwestern 9-7 at Ryan Field in the second game of the season.
The Redbirds went on to win four out of their last five games to earn their spot and a road game at Central Arkansas. Following the season, senior lineman Mark Spelman earned All-American honors and was named the Rimington Award winner as the top FCS center.
The 2015 season saw the Redbirds earn a share of the MVFC championship for the second-straight year and post 10 wins for the just the second time in school history. The Redbirds earned the No. 2 overall seed in the FCS playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinals for the third time in the last four seasons. ISU finished the year ranked No. 5 overall in the final STATS FCS Poll.
The 2014 MVFC Coach of the Year, Spack led the Redbirds to a 10-1 regular season and has set school records for wins and points scored in a season among others. ISU tied three-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State for the MVFC title, the team’s first since 1999, and advanced to the FCS National Championship Game for the first time in school history. ISU finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country in both national FCS polls.
A record total of 17 Redbirds were named to the MVFC All-Conference Team in 2014, led by Offensive Player of the Year and All-American, Marshaun Coprich, and Newcomer of the Year, Tre Roberson.
In 2012, Spack led the Redbirds to a 9-4 record and the fourth winning season in a row. ISU made just its fourth FCS playoff appearance in school history, defeating perennial powerhouse Appalachian State on the road in the second round. The Redbirds advanced to the quarterfinals for the third time in school history, before eventually ending their season at Eastern Washington.
The team also defeated FBS foe Eastern Michigan early in the season, marking the first win over a FBS program since 1991. The Redbirds were ranked as high as No. 9 in the country and saw a school-record eight players land on the Missouri Valley Football Conference First Team at the end of the season.
Senior Matt Brown was named the MVFC Offensive Player of the Year, while setting every passing record in school history, and Tyrone Walker set school records for career receptions, yards and receiving touchdowns.
After leading the `Birds to their fourth-straight winning campaign, Spack became the ISU first head coach to guide his team to three-consecutive winning seasons since Edwin Struck led the Redbirds to six-straight winning seasons from 1945-1950.
ISU finished the 2011 season with a 7-4 overall record, securing the team’s third-straight winning season. Illinois State was ranked No. 20 in The Sports Network/Fathead.com FCS Top 25 final poll and was ranked as high as No. 14 during the regular season. Much of that success was due to Spack taking over the Redbird defense as defensive coordinator prior to the season and turning it into one of the top units in the country.
After finishing the 2010 season with a defense that ranked No. 112 out of 117 teams (446.27 ypg), the 2011 Redbird defense helmed by Spack finished the season No. 9 out of 120 teams (294.82 ypg).
ISU finished with the No. 5 rushing defense in the country (85.73 ypg) and allowed just 19.18 points per game, ranking them 13th in the FCS in scoring defense, up from a No. 113 ranking in 2010 after giving up 39.64 points per game to opponents.
The defensive turnaround was aided by a pair of impact transfers from Illinois, Evan Frierson and Palmer. Frierson listened intently to Spack, and was named an All-MVFC First Team and MVFC All-Newcomer Team selection after recording 15.0 tackles for loss (T-10th on single-season list) and 6.5 sacks (T-14th on single-season list).
Palmer led the Valley with 9.5 sacks (5th on single-season list) and earned a spot on the All-MVFC Second Team and MVFC All-Newcomer Team for his efforts. Spack also watched Eric Brunner finish his career as one of the top interior defensive linemen in the country. A two-time All-MVFC First-Team pick, Brunner ended his senior season with career-high numbers in tackles (55), sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (13).
A new offensive approach has also resulted in record-setting numbers for the Redbirds over the past two seasons. The ISU passing offense ranked third in the Valley with an average of 199.6 yards per game in 2011 and was second in the league in rushing offense with 183.4 yards per game on the ground, an improvement of nearly 50 yards per game from 2010.
The Redbirds’ 321 points scored in 2010 were the seventh-most in school history and team’s highest total since scoring 324 in 2007. It was just the 10th time in school history that ISU scored more than 300 points in a season.
Those numbers bested the impressive numbers set by the Redbird offense in Spack’s first season at the helm in 2009. Illinois State’s revamped offense set a school single-season record with a 66.3 completion percentage and also ranks second in completions (272), fourth in passing yards (246.4) and sixth in passing yards (2,710) on the ISU single-season charts.
The 2010 season started well for the Redbirds, who jumped out to a 3-1 record after wins thrilling wins at home against Central Missouri and Missouri State and a tough road win at No. 20 South Dakota State. That start earned ISU its first national ranking since 2007, climbing as high as No. 19 in the Football Championship Subdivision Coaches Poll and No. 23 in The Sports Network FCS Top 25 Poll.
In addition, with wins over No. 14 North Dakota State and No. 20 South Dakota State, the Redbirds beat a pair of ranked foes in the same season for the first time since 2006.
Overall, Spack has coached 11 All-Americans, helped over 100 players earn All-MVFC honors and has mentored 34 players named to the league’s All-Newcomer team. In addition to his team’s success on the gridiron, Spack’s players have set program grade-point average records, with the team setting a new standard during the Spring 2015 semester.
Spack has also helped over 30 Redbird players earn opportunities to play at the next level. Four of the those players were taken in the NFL Draft: Nate Palmer (6th round, Green Bay, 2013), Shelby Harris (7th round, Oakland, 2014), James O’Shaughnessy (5th round, Kansas City, 2015) and Davontae Harris (5th round, Cincinnati, 2018).
Spack came to Illinois State following 12 seasons as the defensive coordinator at Purdue, where he guided the Boilermakers to the top-ranked defense in the Big Ten Conference in 2002 and the 13th-best defense in the nation in 2003.
He coached in 11 bowl games while at Purdue, including a Rose Bowl appearance in 2001. In June of 2008, Spack was recognized as one of the top linebacker coaches in FBS football by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com and twenty-seven of his former players went on to play in the NFL.
From 2000 to 2004, the Purdue defense became one of the stingiest units in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers were tops in total defense in 2002 (317.2 yards per game) - the first time they had been No. 1 since 1967 - after ranking third in 2000 and 2001.
As defensive coordinator at Wyoming in 1995 and 1996, Spack recharged the defense, which improved from fifth to second in total defense in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The Cowboys topped the WAC in sacks during his two years, including a school-record 46 in 1996.
Spack was Purdue’s inside linebackers coach from 1991 to 1994 and was a graduate assistant coach for the Boilermakers in 1984 and 1985. From 1987 to 1990, Spack was an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois (linebackers/defensive line/recruiting coordinator) and in 1986, was at Wabash College.
Spack graduated from Purdue in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies. He earned a master’s degree in physical education from Eastern Illinois in 1990. Spack played linebacker for the Boilermakers from 1980-83, earning first-team All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-America honors as a sophomore. He was a three-year starter and currently ranks fifth on the Boilermakers’ career tackles list with 384.
He currently represents the program and the MVFC on the American Football Coaches Association Ethics Committee.
A native of Rockford, Ill., Spack and his wife, Aimee, reside in Bloomington. Their daughter, Alicia, was a collegiate softball player at Purdue and now works as the director of football operations for the Redbirds, and their son, Brent, is a former linebacker for the Redbirds.