clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Sweet Freedom

New, comments

Tonight's Forecast: Bemused Detachment

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

This is not really a preview, nor is it a recap. This is not a farewell, nor is it a hello (though my continuing existence may be noteworthy to some). This is merely an expression of an odd sense of relief. Though the football that follows for Illinois may be awful, underwhelming and utterly directionless, it will be a vast improvement over this offseason.

Even at the end of last season, questions swirled around this team. Yes, they won 3 of their last 5 conference games, but did they stumble ass-backwards into all of them, or is something there? Is it possible that a stable program is actually being built in Champaign? Doofus though he may be, is it time to cut the highly embattled Tim Beckman some slack? 2015 was always going to be a crucial season for the program in the long term; we would either turn the corner or reboot the whole thing.

Then came the injuries, first and foremost with the best player on the team, Mike Dudek, tearing his ACL. DE Kenny Nelson didn't rehab in time for camp, DE Jihad Ward suffered a foot/ankle injury, WR Justin Hardee broke his foot, and DT Teko Powell and LB Mike Svetina suffered major setbacks in rehabbing broken feet that may end their careers. These were all past contributors who would surely be the veteran leadership this team needed. Incoming frosh RBs Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown suffered season-ending injuries and promising DE Paul James left the program, following QB Aaron Bailey and WR/RB Devin Church. Somehow, the injury-prone Wes Lunt is still standing, but each of these announcements was a gut punch, not just in the short term of what it meant for our season but also in the long term of what impact the impact on our season would have on the direction our program takes. When you're climbing out the basement, you're always thinking about how each injury, position battle, scheme and play call affect your program's long and winding road to relevance.

Sure, some good things happened. The Illini signed the 6th best recruiting class in the conference. Of course, immediately afterwards, Lasagna called a press conference to pout to the local media. But the results were speaking for themselves, and there was no more to see in the program.

So we thought.

The Simon Cvijanovic allegations left the fanbase unsure of what to think. Beckman's never been terribly popular, but improving by two wins every year is not easily dismissed. The fact that current and former players began twitter-beefing with each other further clouded things and made it difficult to know what to think, who to believe and how much to believe. In any case, Illinois made headlines again, but not the good kind like you want.

We had some distractions from that noise, though, in the form of John Groce failing to sign a freshman point guard again after his basketball team totally quit on him in the last 3 games, senior PG Tracy Abrams tearing his achilles to miss a second consecutive season, incoming 5 star freshman combo guard Jalen Coleman-Lands suffering a stress fracture that has him in a walking boot, and PF/C Darius Paul getting arrested in France and kicked off the team for a second time. Another change in the pace of our Illini news was provided by a lawsuit from former players against WBB coach Matt Bollant, alleging discrimination based on race and recruits of the previous coach. An assistant was dismissed as a result of this.

It wasn't just athletics though. After a full-time president was finally announced to replace interim president Robert Easter, a culmination of controversies led to the resignation of the provost and the chancellor, and while I never cared for Chancellor Wise, it's nice to have a provost and a chancellor when the school year starts.

And finally, after Camp Rantoul wrapped up, the bomb dropped. An external investigation's preliminary findings convinced athletic director Mike Thomas to fire Tim Beckman a week before the regular season was to start. Now, a coaching search is being conducted by an athletic director in whom I've lost all faith but who can't be replaced due to the lack of a chancellor (unless the new president would like to personally commandeer the DIA, which is quite the undertaking).

The University of Illinois did the unthinkable. I never thought they could find a way to fire Tim Beckman that would make me upset about it.

What Happens Now?

All the hopes for this season and what it means for the team, all the visions of a program asserting itself as a semi-legitimate perennial .500-or-better team at the very least...all of that is gone now. However, other things disappear with it. The Tim Beckman conundrum of a profoundly unlikable buffoon somehow stumbling to a winning season and earning a contract extension? Solved. Angst over the long-term-direction-of-the-program implications of trailing Kent State going into the fourth quarter? No longer exists. What we see on the field suddenly has no bearing on what the future is going to be or how the road to national relevance proceeds. It will merely exist because a team has to don the orange and blue this year; it will be a strangely transient phenomenon. At this point it's probably 2019 before we even have a shot at the type of season that established a decent program, and nothing this team does will change that.

Coming to terms with all this has created a most unexpected outlook on Illinois football for me. Bemused detachment is the name of the game. When we're getting pounded by Ohio State, I can honestly say I don't care because the program will look totally different in two years and I don't even know how because our coaching hire is at least three months away.

Win or lose, this torturous offseason will end tonight, and I'll be able to watch Illinois football. I'll let Clark Griswold speak to my state of mind and why I'm bothering to tune in again: