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Ill, Annoyed: The frustrating plight of an Illinois Fighting Illini diehard and alum

In which we - the OTE writers - find it hilarious to pepper thumpasaurus - our one Illini writer and arguably one of maybe seven fans left - with questions we have on the ineptitude of the University of Illinois.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Look, things have not been going so well for the University of Illinois and by proxy, the Illinois Fighting Illini Athletic Department. In fact, it's probably fair to say that of all the disasters that are Big Ten Athletic Departments, Illinois continues to rival all of them on ineptitude, organizational faults, poor decision making, and embarrassing PR moves. With the 'hiring' of Bill Cubit to the 'fulltime' role of Head Coach - sans interim title - our resident masochist Illinois fan lost it. In fact, after reading his hopes for a new season all year in our writer's room resting on a new tomorrow after the season, I feel like he lost a family member when that announcement was made.

Of course, then the whole fiasco surrounding firing Mike Thomas and hiring his replacement came to be. A press release from the University on Friday - almost a full four weeks later - announced that yes, Illinois was going to form a committee to officially begin thinking about bringing in somebody new. I love this University so much.

Naturally, as the powers that be, we decided that we would do a little AMA style questioning of our main man Thumpasaurus. The following is what transpired:

thumpasaurus: Recap: Illinois fires Tim Beckman a week before start of season...sometime in September, chancellor Phyllis Wise gets forced out...AD Mike Thomas gets fired on November's December 4th and we've just announced the SEARCH COMMITTEE... oh, and a member of that committee is the defendant in a lawsuit against UI.

So I sent an angry email to the interim AD, but now I'm starting to think he's never had any power or any control over what's going on

This whole process seems to have been directed by interim chancellor Barbara Wilson, who admitted to knowing nothing about sports. The one fucking guy in the administration with any experience in athletics seems to have been totally left out of the process, hence his unbelievable press conference.

Why even have an interim athletic director if you won't let him direct Athletics in the interim?

Jesse: Can I write an article interviewing you about Illinois? Because that sounds hilarious in my head.

Stew: Yes, this needs to happen.


87Townie: Lol. I hate Tim Beckman, so I was glad to see him go. I'm less inclined to hate Illinois now that he's gone. But damn, are you guys sharing Rutger's dumpster fire or do you have your own?

thump: The university administration has been problematic for a long time. FYI, the board of trustees is appointed by the state, not elected. So... That. We have a first-year president, who is the fourth president since 2007

Ron Guenther was the AD that was chosen to succeed John Mackovic back in the early 90's (the president had already promoted Lou Tepper to head football coach by then). Ron Guenther was very good at gladhanding boosters and selling the good ol boy network, and as a result he got in coaches like Lon Kruger, Bill Self, Ron Turner and Ron Zook. He was however very bad at being the CEO of a modern college sports brand, so we kept SLANT ILLINOIS helmets, hung on to both Rons too long and only made improvements aimed at high rolling boosters.

After Guenther retired, Mike Thomas replaced him and fired Zook, Weber and WBB coach Jolette Law. Thomas was good at being the CEO of a modern college sports brand, so he completed some nice upgrades to Memorial Stadium, oversaw the Nike rebrand which has been a great success, and got the renovation of the former Assembly Hall through. However he was shitty at being a good ol' boy and working with people. As a result, many rumblings indicated unhappy boosters, and we couldn't sell the program to better coaches than Beckman and Groce. Thomas did several very successful things, but hiring Beckman was such an incredible fuckup that he was canned.

Jesse: My first question: Hiring Tim Beckman seems defensible enough considering context, but why didn't he get fired sooner? That argument can also extend to Thomas. It's not surprising either got fired, but the hesitation and timing on both is questionable at best.

thump: Why didn't Beckman get fired sooner? There are several different answers depending on when you ask the question. Why was he even hired? I'd like to think the fact that Mike Gundy, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer all vouched for Beckman was a factor, and Mike Thomas thought he may be getting a poor man's Les Miles (boy this guy seems like an idiot at first, but all these people believe in him...)

With some talent left over, we went 2-10 in 2012. Why wasn't Beckman fired then? This actually would have made sense, because that asshole spent the whole season doing his best to embarrass Illinois. From the dip incident to the Penn State poaching incident to getting trucked by refs to hiring one OC to call 1st/2nd down and another to call 3rd down to creating a meme every time he opened his mouth at a press conference, Beckman should have earned his walking papers in 2012. I didn't even have to mention any of the football results, but they were VERY bad. Why not 2012 then? Well, the transition from the Ron Zook Football Academy to a program where you had to go to class was blamed for the failures, as well as a very thin roster at DB and no tangible offensive scheme. The thought was that Beckman was going to get a program in place with his guys that would get to six wins eventually (this happened, actually).

In 2013, the whole defense was freshmen and sophomores. Beckman fixed the offense by installing an actual OC (Cubit), and the team was actually pretty close to bowling (OT loss at PSU and a home dicktrip for the HAT). In 2014, I was fine with firing Beckman after we lost to a Purdue team that, as it turned out, was not turning a corner. Then, Reilly O'Toole beat Minnesota, Penn State and Northwestern to save Beckman's job. We couldn't really fire the guy for going 2-4-6, could we? Yes we could, but I guess we didn't yet know why.

So what I'm saying is that I totally understand why we didn't fire Beckman sooner. I thought for sure he'd be out last year and it sounded like Mike Thomas was ready to can him, but then he pulled 3 wins and a bowl out of his ass

Now the timing of Mike Thomas' firing, on the other hand, was a COLOSSAL fuckup on the part of our administration. I don't know exactly why he was fired, though the public line was about the Beckman and women's bball scandals and wanting to move on from that. But the administration didn't find out any new information between Beckman's firing and Thomas' (preliminary report was available when Beckman was fired). They could have fired Thomas right along with Beckman and spent the whole season searching for an athletic director in time for the college football coaching carousel. I don't know why they'd hang on until November only to fire Thomas anyway.

insertname: Why does it smell like that on campus.

thump: Maybe move away from that 20-foot radius in front of the transportation building.

LincolnParkWildcat: So the school's been engulfed in controversy it seems for a decade: the forced (and very unpopular among Illinois fans I know) retirement of Chief Illiniwek, the Admissions clout list scandal, the Champaign campus medical school scandal, a revolving door at the leadership positions, too many out of state and international students instead of Illinois residents, hiring scandals, donor interference in hiring scandals, and now the shitpile in football and basketball. Is the school just cursed? Is the bulldozer buried in Memorial stadium just a locus of bad energy tainting the entire institution?

As for athletics, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how much Chicago got into the 2004-2005 national title runner up basketball team. Why didn't you guys reach out to your big donors, whoever they are(Jerry Colangelo? ), and do whatever it took to keep Bill Self in Chambana?

Also; the budget impasse between the democrats that control the statehouse and the republican in the governors mansion can't help university funding either

As a Northwestern fan I'm very happy to see Fitzy winning recruiting battles against whoever is underachieving in Chambana, and [all the hat emojis... those don't copy/paste on SBN]

thump: The board of trustees are appointed by the State of could explain it. The turnover at president has been astonishing and it's often been impossible to determine who's really running things in Chambana. Fortunately, the engineering school more or less supports itself.

As for the second question, Bill Self was hellbent on that Kansas job. I don't think anything could have kept him in Champaign.

MNWildcat: In 2012, Thomas seemed reluctant to give up home-field advantage. He was quoted in a Tribune story this way: "Our home game against Northwestern still would be played in Champaign. (NU athletic director) Jimmy (Phillips) is a smart guy, but I don't think he'll get our Champaign game to Chicago."

thump: The thing is that at some point since 2011 it was decided that all HAT games will be played the Saturday after thanksgiving. This is a terrible time to host a football game in Champaign. The Big Ten probably mandated this for RIVALRY WEEK GRRR. The turnout at Soldier Field wasn't great but compare it to the turnout in Champaign in 2013. I was there. It sucked. Now 2011, on the other hand, was played in October in Champaign in a pretty packed stadium. But if the HAT game must be after Thanksgiving in perpetuity, Soldier Field makes a lot more sense.

87Townie: So how did you feel about Beckman camping out at PSU during IT? What did you think about your coach essentially saying, anybody we can get from Penn State will be better than what we have now? If it were me, I would've been concerned. It sends a bad message to the team you had.

thump: I thought that was embarrassing, though it was amusing just how mad PSU fans were. The thing is that other people (Redd, for instance) transferred to other schools without their staff literally showing up on campus


So all that embarrassment that early in Beckman's tenure for no tangible gain.

That in mind, the initial impression was "hey this guy's willing to go anywhere and do anything to get this new regime in, good going. LOL@PSU. Maybe you shouldn't have been a target." But then we didn't even get anyone, and he proceeded to not recruit sketchy enough to bring in 5 star talent, so every time the PSU incident got brought up it was more and more embarrassing.

How could I defend someone willing to win shitty? Because I've been waiting for someone to win some way or another since 2007!!!

It's easy to say you'd rather run a clean program and win 8 games a year than compete for national titles and be SEC's easy to say that when your team's natural state is to win 9 games. Try staring down the barrel of the 6 year rebuild we don't even know how we're going to do, after reaching the top of the mountain in a bowl loss to Louisiana tech to go 6-7

Graham: Is it hard that opposing Big Ten fans are basically apathetic about Illinois sports and culture and tradition? Does anyone really dislike y'all?

MNW: I do.

[more hat emojis... come on guys. I can't get these things in here.]

thump: Why should anyone care? We don't make anyone care. We have some incredible people in our athletics. We have some great traditions (like the Three-in-One, and Marching Illini in general). Our basketball venue kicks ass. Why should anyone care about it? Nobody cares about Michigan's history because Michigan's history is great, they care because Michigan's done a lot to bring value to its brand.

The DIA doesn't support the Marching Illini, so why should anyone else? We didn't rebrand for 7 years after the Chief left. Everyone gives a shit about Stanford football history and THE GAME and THE PLAY and THE FARM now that Stanford has built a winner with a recognizable brand. Illinois hasn't done anything to make anyone outside the university care about their athletics or academics.

I mean, as an alum of Illinois and diehard fan, I'll never accept that Illinois' place is simply to be lesser and less significant than all these other schools in perpetuity. How could I? Illinois means everything to me and is a big part of who I am. With all its faults, it's my school and I still believe that maybe some day you'll all see that Illinois can do things. I just wish they'd stop kneecapping this belief.

So when they engage in this 2-year interim coach and lengthy AD's just devastating.

Graham: You are King of UI for a day (tomorrow, in fact). You get five moves, and these can be dictatorial. What are they?

thump: Edict 1: The Board of Trustees are now elected positions. I'm pretty sure it's like that in Michigan, where I currently reside. Give some power back to the people.

Edict 2: For my second act, I shall schedule a summit with both remaining groups of the Peoria tribe (the last remnants of Illiniwek nation) with the goal of either developing a respectful, Peoria-approved tribute to succeed Chief Illiniwek or preparing a statement on why the Peoria Tribe does not wish for this to happen on any level. This would at long last put a rest to the Chief debate, and even if the situation remains the same, at least alumni and fans will know that I, the University, talked through all the proposals and came up with the solution most representative of everyone's wishes.

In this way we can either rebrand with our old chief logo, develop a new brand identity or proceed with our current rebranded identity with the understanding that the Peoria tribe prefers this over anything to do with the Illiniwek nation and the University did its due diligence.

Edict 3: Award Shahid Khan the honorary degree we pulled from him after OSHA violations were reported at a plant owned by his company. Come the fuck on. We pissed in the face of one of our most successful and visible alumni over that?!

Edict 4: Renovate the east side of the stadium to eliminate some of the godawful sight lines under the balcony, and install a Dick Butkus statue on the eastern entrance. Dick will be gruffly watching over the practice field, ensuring that the intensity is always there.

Edict 5: None of these edicts are hiring decisions. I don't know who is capable of fixing the university. But my fifth edict would be to send letters and emails to boosters and alumni saying something along the lines of "we have taken these steps to move forward from the corruption and bureaucratic nightmare we've had over the last ten years, and we would welcome you with open arms to see how we proceed from here"

The most frustrating part of this is feeling like nobody even acknowledges that there have been problems. This would show people that have been pissed off "we understand why you were pissed off; we've tried to change that. wanna be a fan again?"

BONUS: If I could tack on another edict, I'd hire Jeff Brohm or Dino Babers, whoever seemed like they wanted it more, IMMEDIATELY.

Illinois could still go bowling at 5-7 if APR is used to determine the bowl selection. They will need help from 21-point favorite Georgia Southern, who took Georgia to the wire, and 9-2 Appalachian State, who is an 18-point favorite.

Update Saturday 4:31 PM: Georgia Southern trails Georgia State, who started 2-6, 20-7 late in the 3rd.
Update Saturday 5:06 PM: Georgia State 34, Georgia Southern 7. Georgia State covered the spread by 48 points.

DJ Carver: What basketball god did you piss off, because holy fucking injuries Batman.

thump: Scholarship players that haven't missed any time (including preseason scrimmages/practices) due to injury: Malcolm Hill, Maverick Morgan, Michael Finke, Aaron Jordan, D.J. Williams, Khalid Lewis (a fifth-year transfer brought in for PG depth). Two players are out for the year (PG Tracy Abrams, the last Bruce Weber recruit, suffered a season-ending injury in July for the second straight year, and C Mike Thorne Jr just underwent surgery for a torn meniscus. He was a fifth-year transfer with offers from Kansas and Kentucky, and through 6.5 games he was clearly the best post player Illinois had had in 5 years), and incredibly they're at the two positions we've struggled most to recruit. Kendrick Nunn has recovered, Jaylon Tate seems fine, but Jalen Coleman-Lands clearly could have used the reps on defense he missed and Leron Black is nowhere near the athlete he was last year. If we were deeper at the 4 spot, Black would be sitting out, but Austin Colbert transferred when it was clear he would be buried on the depth chart behind Darius Paul. Then Paul got kicked off the team.

I've never seen anything like this.

DJ Carver: If you were in charge, who would you hire as HC given current availabilities? You can use coaches recently hired after the season since you were in the market.

thump: To be realistic about who we could hire, I'd have loved Dino Babers or Jeff Brohm, though I'd have been happy with any one of about 10-15 different possibilities. Babers and Brohm would top my list because their offensive systems can work with the players we'll have next year, setting up for a potentially explosive offense in year 1 with a capable defense. This would generate buzz for Illinois football and allow either of those coaches to sell a vision of the future and recruit. Essentially, next year's roster could have been a great building block for the rebuild that's coming, and Babers or Brohm could probably have best capitalized on that. 2017/18 are going to have very thin, inexperienced rosters and we're going to lose a lot of games, but Coach could sell recruits on "hey, you saw what we did in 2016, we're trying to build to that and beyond." Instead, Coach StaBillity gets the keys.

One more thought: Coach StaBillity campaigned openly for this job all season, and now he has it. I'm assuming that he'll be fired next year because we will have a new athletic director and because coaches going into the last year of their contract are always either fired or extended. BUT. What would I need to see to convince me that Bill Cubit should be extended beyond next season?

LPW: Win all your trophies back and play for a New Year's Day bowl game?

thump: With an incredibly experienced roster, StaBillity is gonna have to win at least 8 games AND recruit no lower than 8th in the conference. Even winning 10 or so games won't help him beyond 2016 if the recruiting doesn't pick up big time, because extending him is a vote of confidence in his aBillity to reBilld the program and raise the floor of the crater we're headed for.

That being said, if we were win the HAT and the Illibuck, we'd have to consider it, because that would make us Big Ten champs. OSU isn't on our schedule. Western Michigan, North Carolina, Michigan and Michigan State are though. Saying it out loud, it sounds pretty Illinois, doesn't it? 11-2, Big Ten Champs, then go 1-11 the next season.

But with next year's schedule and what his offense did this year, I have no faith that he'll meet those standards (8 wins and recruit mid-conference). He's shown me nothing to indicate that he can take this team to new heights next year and then build off that. There's nothing I'd love more than to be proven wrong, but I think we're going to have not only a new coach for 2017 but a 3-year period where the roster is so thin that we can't possibly tell whether or not that coach is any good.

To sum this all up: next year, we will graduate 30 scholarship seniors and have a new head coach and a bare cupboard since recruiting has been dead since May. This expression has been going around twitter and Illinois boards ever since the Cubit extension was announced: we've basically put ourselves on probation.

Bill "Sanctions" Cubit has his job though, and at least he only embarrasses us through the football team.