Cignetti finalizes coaching staff with hiring of two assistants

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HARRISONBURG, Va. -- James Madison Head Coach Curt Cignetti has completed his football coaching staff after hiring Grant Cain and Andrew Jackson as assistant coaches. In addition to being a position coach, Cain will also serve as the special teams coordinator.

Cain spent the previous six seasons on the staff at Mercer where he led the special teams unit and inside linebackers. He was also assistant head coach in 2017 and 2018, seasons in which the Bears were one of the best teams nationally on special teams.

This past season, Cain guided the Bears to top-12 rankings in four different statistical areas, which included leading the country in net punting (40.58). Punter Matt Shiel was second in the Southern Conference and eighth in the FCS in punting average (43.6). Mercer also led the SoCon and ranked ninth nationally in kick-return average (25.57) and ranked 12th in both punt returns (14.17) and punt-return defense (4.35).

In 2017, the Bears paced the nation in kick-return defense while also ranking 10th in punt-return average and 18th in kick returns. Mercer has produced top-15 rankings on special teams in five of his six seasons. Defensively, Mercer led the country with 16 fumble recoveries in 2017 and was second nationally in rushing defense in 2013.

“Grant is a coaching veteran,” Cignetti said. “He was at Coastal Carolina seven years before being assistant head coach and special teams coordinator at Mercer. He has a great track record with special teams; three units ranked in the top 12 of the country last year, with net punt being No. 1. The only team not in the top 12 was kickoff, which was No. 1 the year before. He can help us make a difference with our special teams, which has been strong in the past here.”

Jackson comes to Harrisonburg following one season as the defensive quality control coach at Mississippi State. He helped the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record and berth in the Outback Bowl. MSU ranked in the top 10 nationally in eight defensive categories, highlighted by leading the country in total defense (263.1). The Bulldogs also ranked second in scoring defense (13.2), third in rushing defense (95.1) and third-down defense (26.6%), seventh in both passing defense (168.0) and red-zone defense (73.5), eighth in tackles for loss (7.9) and ninth in first-down defense (212).

Prior to MSU, Jackson was defensive line coach at Fordham for one season (2017) and a graduate assistant with the defensive line at Penn State for two seasons (2015-16). He was part of PSU’s 2016 team that won the Big Ten championship and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl. He also spent two seasons as an assistant at Stony Brook (2013-14) and began his career as a GA at LIU Post, where he was a three-year starter on the defensive line.

“Andrew comes highly recommended,” Cignetti said. “He’s been associated with both Penn State and Mississippi State, as well as Stony Brook, which obviously is a great program in our conference. He’s an excellent young coach and will be an exceptional recruiter, as well as a great position coach. I’m extremely excited to add him to the staff.”

Cignetti’s Coaching Staff at JMU (as of 1/3)
Offensive Coordinator
Shane Montgomery

Defensive Coordinator
Corey Hetherman

Special Teams Coordinator
Grant Cain

Assistant Coach
Mike Shanahan

Assistant Coach
Damian Wroblewski

Assistant Coach
Bryant Haines

Assistant Coach
Ryan Smith

Assistant Coach
Matt Merritt

Assistant Coach
Matt Birkett

Assistant Coach
Andrew Jackson

Director of Strength & Conditioning
Brian Phillips

Director of Football Operations
James Ferguson