A week ago Tim Beckman became the 23rd Fighting Illini head football coach. He takes over for the Zooker, so in that respect we applaud the move. It’s not that we disliked the Zooker, it’s just that 6-6 was about all we were going to get.
So it’s Beckman – an Ohio guy most recently responsible for turning around Toledo in the MAC. Beckman: a high energy guy with the requisite football resume, that includes stops on staffs with Jim Tressel and Urbban Meyer. He’s a coach we assumed would have been on the shortlist from the beginning, and if you couldn’t get Chris Petersen away from Boise State (and Illinois certainly could not) he’s solid. At Toledo he was a strong recruiter and his teams scored a lot of points. He fits the mold of the up-and-coming MAC coach ready for a Big 10 move.
We are officially on board with the give-Beckman-a-chance mantra espoused by many Illini fans. Why? Well, it’s a change at the top nearly everyone felt was needed, and getting negative from the outset serves no purpose. The new coach got a five-year contract, which means he gets at least four to show his stuff. Fortunately for him, the bar is not that high at Illinois. Just start to move up the conference pecking order, finish above .500, and start to establish some consistency. Get some recruits. Compete with the traditional heavyweights once in awhile. Start something.
There are numerous reasons why the Illinois football program has fallen short over the years, and we’re not going into that here. But with the right guy, now that our facilities are at least competitive again, why can’t we follow the script set by neighbors in Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin?
Is Tim Beckman that guy? Time will tell. But this week there was much hand-wringing about whether or not defensive coordinator Vic Koenning would stay on or depart. He’s chosen the latter, which is inherently logical, but that hasn’t stopped some early negativity. Koenning has been lauded for turning around the Illini defense – from near the bottom of college football two years ago, to the mid thirties last year, to top ten this year. Surely you’d want to keep a guy like that, right? The D has been the bright spot…
But Beckman didn’t know Koenning and vice-versa. Koenning has had a lot of authority under Zook, and Beckman needs to come in and establish his program now. Beckman said he wanted to keep Vic around, but that rarely works out. And maybe Coach Vic didn’t really want to stay either. Illini fans will never know.
So instead of ‘Blend it like Beckman’ (as in blend old coaching staff and new), it’s mend it. As in mend the relationships with current players with coaches in the state and with the alumni base; mend the early spat of negativity over Koenning. The only sure tonic is improved play and wins, and we won’t start to know about that until next fall.
Here are a few indicators we’re hoping to see – hints the program is moving in the right direction…
- Beckman builds a solid-looking staff (especially the key coordinator positions)
- The new staff has recruiting ties to places other than Ohio and Illinois
- Current recruits mostly stay in the fold and we sign a few more, and
- A bunch of guys don’t transfer out (you always lose a few), get arrested, flunk out, and the team makes it to Spring practice with the best returning players on the team