There has been a ton of coaching turnover in the B1G over the last couple seasons--no fewer than 7 coaching staffs have new people running the show, and in my opinion, it's been a significant upgrade at almost every school. Last week, when I introduced the Minnesota staff, I said:
And when we say 'smartest guys in the room', we're not being funny, snarky, or ironic when it comes to the Gophers coaching staff anymore. We're 100% serious.
And that applies almost as much to Illinois as it did for Minnesota. Gone is Ron Zook, and in is Tim Beckman. Although Illinois under Zook was demonstrably better than Minnesota under Tim Brewster, Zook really had his moments. Last year, he started out 6-0...and finished 0-6, and that was Illinois football in a nutshell during the Zook era. They could have really good seasons (Rose Bowl in 2007) or absolutely terrible ones (8 wins combined the next two seasons with talent like Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn on the roster).
Beckman comes to Champaign with a quality resume, and although he hasn't been a head coach for as long as some of the other new guys, I personally think the Illini made a fantastic hire. If I could continue the comparison to the Gophers coach, Beckman's path reminds me of Jerry Kill, minus some experience.
The Head Coach--Tim Beckman
When you start looking at Tim Beckman, the one thing that jumps out at you is his ties to the Midwest--born in Berea, OH, his dad was an assistant coach at Iowa when he was a kid, and has been coaching in the Midwest for the last 10 years, minus a two year stint at Oklahoma State as their defensive coordinator. So he's one of us, he knows the region, he has established a recruiting network among high school coaches throughout the Midwest, and as a head coach, he's gotten results.
When he took over Toledo in 2009 the school had been rocked by a point shaving scandal in both the football and men's basketball program, and they had suffered through a 3-9 season in 2008. Beckman brought stability to the program, guided the Rockets to a 5-7 record in his first season, and gradually improved to 8-5 and 9-4 in 2010 and '11. He also got Toledo to two bowl games and a MAC Western Division crown in his short time there, and hauled in the best recruiting classes (according to Rivals) in the MAC the last two years.
Although his head coaching career is a rather small sample size, he has an impressive defensive background and has worked for some of the biggest names in college football, including Urban Meyer, Mike Gundy, Jim Tressel, and Pat Dye. He has been a defensive coordinator at Elon, Bowling Green (under Meyer), and Oklahoma State (Gundy). As defensive backs coach at OSU, he saw 5 defensive backs go to the NFL in his two years there, so he knows how to develop talent to an NFL level. That said, his Toledo teams weren't that good defensively, and won most of their games by outscoring opponents as opposed to shutting them down. Speaking of offense, Beckman said he's going to use the spread at Illinois, which should fit quarterback hybrid Riley O'Scheelhaase well.
Beckman is a high energy guy that insists Illinois 'isn't broken', is known for burning his clothes that have the color of his main rival, and vows to recruit Chicago and St. Louis heavily, something Illinois has done a poor job of in recent years.
Oh, he also gave the winners of the Spring game a steak dinner, while the losers got franks and beans. Every player that wasn't late for off-season workouts and meetings got a steak dinner. If you were late or missed a meeting, you ate porridge. When Beckman himself was late for a meeting because he was at an alumni event, he sat at the porridge table and had a big bowl of it.
That's right Goldilocks, porridge.
And with that, Tim Beckman is now my favorite coach in the B1G not named Kill or Meyer.
‘It’s a new era. And there’s tradition here. There’s been great players here. We’re just going to do what’s been successful for us.’’
Beckman has done two things that I think will go a long way to re-energize what has become a somewhat beleaguered Illini fanbase. He plugged into the rich tradition of Illinois football, and he isn't conceding recruiting ground to anyone. If Beckman can get a sizeable amount of the best Illinois recruits and make in-roads to an under rated St. Louis area, he's going to have a legitimate shot to make Illinois a perennial power in the Leaders division. The Zooker didn't have any problems recruiting quality talent to Champaign, and if Beckman can maintain that level, Illinois is going to be a very solid program for the foreseeable future.
Beckman is a guy that loves competition for his team, and that comes across on his Twitter feed. Everything is a competition, and winning is emphasized. He only follows 4 accounts: his tight ends coach, Illinois Football, Illinois athletics, and the Big Ten Network. Looking at his tweets, it's apparent that Tim Beckman is a cross between a motivational speaker and Ricky Bobby:
Steaks & Cakes for the Blue team last night. Hugh Thornton was the Sr leader to cut the cake. Orange team had beans and franks! Be a winner!— Tim Beckman (@coachbeckman) April 17, 2012
You need to follow Coach Tim Beckman. Right now. Go ahead, we'll wait for you. Just be prepared for 80% of his tweets to end with an exclamation point! Exclamation! Point!
The Name Game:
Tim Beckman is a 21st century social media coach! When you Google his name, you get over 2.5 million hits, but the first link is his Wikipedia page! Second link is his Facebook page, with a pretty badass portrait picture, and the fourth link is for his Twitter feed! You will not out-hustle or out-social media Tim Beckman! And he will curbstomp you in the use of exclamation points!!!!
Billy Gonzales - Co-offensive Coordinator/Receivers Coach
Okay, done with the exclamation points, sorry. Got carried away there for a moment. Gonzales has been a rising star in the coaching ranks since he started in 1994. His background is on the offensive side of the ball, but he has one of the most impressive resumes I've ever seen for a guy this young. He's coached on two national championship staffs, and was on LSU's 2011 staff. He has been a wide receivers coach and played the position in college. Like Beckman, he has ties with some big name coaches, to include Les Miles and Meyer. He was the passing game coordinator for LSU, so it shouldn't be too tough a transition to coordinator.
Twitter: There's like a jillion people named Billy Gonzales on Twitter. He might be one of them. He might not. I chose not to research it fully. Tim Beckman's Twitter feed is enough, though.
Unresearched O/U on years it will take to become a head coach: If Illinois has success, he's gone in...two or three years.
Chris Beatty--Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach
Beatty comes from spread offenses at Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and Northern Illinois, and he was primarily responsible for coaching receivers. I haven't seen anything in terms of play calling responsibilities between Beatty and Gonzales, but they have similar backgrounds--big play offenses with dynamic quarterbacks. Their offense seems to be quarterback centric, and it will be Beatty's responsibility to get Nathan Scheelhaase and/or RIley O'Toole to realize their full potential.
Twitter: Not that I can see.
Unresearched O/U on years it will take to become a head coach: Going to go 6 years. He doesn't have the name recognition or resume of Gonzales.
Tim Banks--Defensive Coordinator
One of the weird things about the Beckman hire is that he is known as a defensive coach, but at Toledo his defenses struggled mightily. Tim Banks could very well be the guy to nip that in the bud. As a co-defensive coordinator at Cincinnati, he dramatically improved the Bearcats from one of the worst defenses in the FBS to one of the better units. As the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan, he had one of the better defenses in the MAC, known for being stingy against the run.
Twitter: Doesn't look like it
Unresearched O/U on years it will take to become a head coach: Hmmmmm, let's say 4 years, if his defenses can match the production at Cincinnati and CMU, I can see him getting a 'starter' head coaching job at a place like Buffalo--University, not the Bills.
My kneejerk reaction when Beckman was hired was that he was a good coach but maybe a little light on experience. In researching him and his staff more, I come away very impressed, and I will be stunned if Beckman doesn't make Illinois relevant within a couple of seasons.