Illinois football has probably been the most enigmatic program in the B1G since 2005, the first season under former coach Ron Zook. It's been on the verge of really, really good, and also on the verge of really, really bad. In 2011, it's been both.
The Zook era came to an end shortly after Illinois lost their regular season finale to Minnesota and finish 6-6, and after a 6-0 start, an 0-6 finish doomed the Zooker--and we are all poorer for it. Zook is cash money in my disembodied heads pieces, and it's going to create a comedy vacuum that I don't think Tim Beckman can fill.
But my loss is Illinois' gain, and that's exactly why I think Beckman is a great hire for Illinois. It's too bad a lot of Illinois folks don't think so.
'Not a home run', says the Sun Times. They surmise that if Beckman can 'win a few games', that Illinois fans will settle for an 'opposite field double off the wall.'
Welcome to the Illinois, coach. I guess Northwestern really is Chicago's B1G team after all.
The Beckman hire reminds me, in a lot of ways, of the Jerry Kill hire at Minnesota last year. For Illinois, there were a lot of sexy, big time names out there that the Illini fans thought they might be able to get, and for good reason.
Illinois is no doormat program, and they can point to a heritage that goes back to the founding of the sport. Although the Land of Lincoln doesn't have the quantity of big time high school recruits that a state like Ohio, Florida, or Texas has, it's not exactly barren, either. And Ron Zook has shown that Illinois can compete with the best the conference has to offer; he just couldn't do it on a consistent basis.
Kevin Sumlin said no, as did Boise State's Chris Peterson. I never even heard Mike Leach's name come up in discussions, and he's now at Washington State. No, athletic director Mike Thomas instead got a solid, fundamental football guy with deep Midwest roots and a track record at turning around a middling program.
Yeah, Sumlin and Peterson were bigger names, but Beckman is a good fit. He knows the Midwest, has recruited in these parts for several years, and he's from here. Born in Ohio, he grew up an Iowa fan because his dad coached there, was the defensive coordinator at Bowling Green under then unknown head coach Urban Meyer, did some assistant coach time in the B1G (as OSU), and landed the head gig at Toledo in 2009.
He insists Illinois isn't broken and doesn't need to be rebuilt, and he's going to run the spread, which he's done with a lot of success with the Rockets.
But he has a history of turning around programs that if not broke, definitely weren't hitting on all cylinders. He took over a Toledo program that was a mess, and what he has in Champaign pales in comparison. The Rockets had been embroiled in a point shaving scandal that affected both the basketball and football programs, and after an impressive run of success in the early 90's, they fell on hard times in the mid aughts, winning only 13 games in the three years prior to Beckman's arrival.
He took a team that had been 3-9 and went 5-7, 8-5, and 8-4 with two bowl appearances. He has also been an impressive 14-2 in the MAC in his three years there, but no appearances in the MAC championship game. At his introductory press conference, Beckman, naturally, seemed pretty fired up about the Illinois job, and it was refreshing to hear.
As a recruiter, Beckman gets it done. Using the Scout.com rankings, Beckman has assembled the #1 recruiting class in the MAC in 2011 and 2012, and the #2 class in 2010. Most of his recruits come from Ohio and Illinois, and by all accounts has a solid reputation with high school coaches in this area. Now that he's at Illinois, he can use those connections to try and land the bigger fish in the area, and keep open a pipeline of quality recruits that Ron Zook was able to bring to Champaign.
Maybe I'm just looking at this from a non-Illinois fan perspective, but I live in the state and the reception has been a lot of 'meh' so far. Maybe the indifference is because there's more of a focus on basketball, but Beckman is a guy that once again ups the ante of quality coaches in the conference. Personally, I think this is a very good hire. Although Beckman hasn't been at Toledo long enough to completely turn around a program, like Brady Hoke did at Ball State, the progress is undeniable.
The B1G is on a run of impressive hires over the last couple of years, and Beckman is the latest. Gone are Fickell, Brewster, RichRod, the Zooker and a near maniacal Bill Lynch, and they've all been replaced by guys that are impressively credentialed coaches who are known for their vast X and O knowledge and dogged recruiting ability.
I really think the B1G is on the verge of an exciting era of football, and I can't wait to see it unfold.