Former Michigan assistant Luke Yaklich named head coach at Illinois-Chicago

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Former Michigan assistant Luke Yaklich continued his rise through the coaching ranks.

This time, his latest stop will include a new title and a return to his home state as Yaklich was officially named the head basketball coach at University of Illinois-Chicago on Thursday.

Luke Yaklich

"I am honored to lead the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames men's basketball program," Yaklich said in a statement. "This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for my family to return to Illinois and represent an outstanding institution that I have long admired."

Yaklich, 43, replaces Steve McClain, who was fired on March 13 after five seasons. McClain went 76-93 with the Flames and had a 42-48 mark in Horizon League play.

Yaklich has been a well-respected technician at each of his college stops and rose to prominence during his time at Michigan, where he was brought in by former coach John Beilein to serve as a defensive specialist.

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During his two years in Ann Arbor, Yaklich revamped Michigan’s defense into one of the country’s best. The Wolverines ranked eighth nationally in scoring defense (63.3 points per game) in 2017-18 and led the Big Ten in that category for the first time since 1963-64. The following season, they ranked second in scoring defense (58.3 points) and led the Big Ten once again. Michigan also finished in the top three in the nation in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency both years.

The Wolverines recorded back-to-back 30-win seasons for the first time in program history, set a program record with 33 wins in 2017-18 and went 63-15 during Yaklich’s tenure. They also won a Big Ten tournament title, made two Sweet 16 appearances and reached the NCAA championship game in 2018.

"Luke Yaklich is going to be a terrific head coach at UIC,” Beilein said in a statement. “His passion to learn the game is incredible and no one is going to be more prepared. He really understands the game on both sides of the ball. He is a relentless recruiter who also values character and attitude in his evaluations. He has been preparing himself for this opportunity.”

Yaklich was an in-house candidate for the Michigan vacancy after Beilein left last offseason and met with athletic director Warde Manuel for the position. But after he wasn’t offered the job, Yaklich headed to Texas and served as an assistant on Shaka Smart’s staff this past season.

Prior to his time at Michigan, Yaklich spent four seasons as an assistant at his alma mater Illinois State and coached high school basketball in Illinois for 14 years. At UIC, he’ll return to a familiar area where he already has strong recruiting roots.

Yaklich will also face his greatest challenge yet as he’ll be tasked with leading — instead of helping guide — a program back to the national stage. The Flames have finished above .500 three times the past 11 seasons and haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004.

"I am excited to be back teaching and coaching in the state and the city of Chicago," Yaklich said. "I cannot wait to begin building relationships with our players and their families, help our team improve on the court and build our culture."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins