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Off the Beaten Path: How to Return Illinois to Relevance // B1G 2019, Illinois Potluck #1

A fresh coat of Syracuse orange and blue? A hockey team? ...a caretaker football coach? We open the floor for how to fix Illinois football.

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2017 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We’re going to break things down a little differently for Illinois Week -- given Thump’s instructions, it’s probably easier to get drunk on Monday and hope we can just ride that out for the week.

It’s been a rough go for the last decade or so of Illinois football, marked by losing seasons, coaching disasters, and even failed ventures into the Chicago market—both canceling a stupid idea in Evanston and losing games. At Soldier Field this decade, Illinois is 0-3, with losses to Washington (34-24 in 2013), Northwestern (24-14 in 2015), and South Florida (25-19 in 2018).

Question #1: More than Chicago?

Beer: Illinois is, however, decidedly more than Chicago, just as Minnesota is more than the Twin Cities and wisconsin is more than Madison and Milwaukee. When I was in Murphysboro, though, I learned that the breweries of Southern Illinois were omitted from a map put out by the Illinois Craft Brewers’ Guild -- that’s a damn shame!

So rather than just re-hash the horseshoe sandwich, tell us about a brewery--or a restaurant, if you must--that’s off the beaten trail in your state. Preferably we’re talking from a brewery well outside any metropolitan area, but anything you think fits is good!

WhiteSpeedReceiver: On a recent trip up to visit family in the central part of the state, I visited Spilled Grain Brewhouse in Annandale, MN.

And unlike nearly everything else in the area, it was pretty damn good. I had a Kinnikinnick Kream ale and a Bungelow Island Stout, and am planning another trip to go golfing with my dad just to have an excuse to stop in there again.

LincolnParkWildcat, part of the problem: Given that I live in Chicago and don’t travel as much outside of the area, I can’t speak too much for the wonderful breweries in the rest of Illinois. When I do travel, I try to seek out a local brewpub and get something brewed on site or local.

babaoreally: Beer wise, I don’t know that many places outside of the big metros like Evansville, Fort Wayne, and LaOtto.

But it was mentioned that a restaurant was acceptable, so let’s go with the Log Inn in Haubstadt. It’s not really that far from Evansville, but I am going to count it. It was built in 1825. In 1844 Abraham Lincoln stopped there when it was a stagecoach stop. Now they just make really good fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.

87townie: I’m excited about a craft brewery opening up on my little island. I know the folks involved and they are taking it seriously. They want to brew for export. I’m looking forward to trying it as they develop their brews.

I hope that next year, when this question pops up, I’ll be able to brag about the beer here in No.Fla. And say, with my nose in the air, “I knew about that place before it was even built…”

Ray Ransom: I’m too hungover and sad from the Sixers loss last night so imma skip this one. Also I tried Carton and it was trasche bread beer.

MNW: Don’t worry, Ray. I’m sure you’ll bounce back. Maybe four times!

I will provide an off-the-beaten-path recommendation for each Midwestern state I spend semi-serious time in, because I know that is what you want:

  • Illinois: If you’re ever downstate, hit up Route 51 Brewing Company just outside Elkville. They do about 4 different sours and fruited beers that are excellent, but they balance those with delicious BBQ and a range of smoked and spicy beers that play really well with it.
  • Iowa: Alluvial Brewing Company, a few miles north of Ames. A wide range of odd offerings, beautiful taproom, fun trivia night. I took a crowler of their Hawaii ‘78 sour away (it was really creamy and good), but other winners at the bar appeared to be the Runaway Coffee Blonde and one I enjoyed, the Vienna lager.
  • Minnesota: On the way up to Duluth and the North Shore, hop off I-35 and stop at Moose Lake Brewing Company for a few crowlers to take to the lake. Cabiny feel if you want to stop and enjoy, otherwise grab the IPA, juicy APA, or a really nice couple of blonde ales (one with mango, I believe)! If you’re going south/west, Marshall’s Brau Brothers is a big winner.
  • North Dakota: Tough to be on the beaten path (or not in a big city) for either of these, but if you go to Fargo, peel off I-29 in West Fargo (maybe? maybe it’s still Fargo?) for a Kilstone Brewing Company’s watermelon wheat beer. I brought a growler home to the wife and she was relatively happy with me for a change. Of course, Drekker and Fargo are still big winners in town, too.
  • South Dakota: I was really disappointed to hear that my Pierre brewery recommendation, Bill of Rights, closed last fall because they couldn’t crack the macrobrewery hold on South Dakota. SO it’s really just breweries on either end of the state, in Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Of course, a nice stop-off in Brookings at Wooden Legs Brewing is worth it—they do a smoked porter that is [/kisses fingers].
  • wisconsin: It’s in its own little micropolitan area, but O’So Brewing in Plover—just outside Stevens Point—is tops for sours, so if you’re headed north on I-39, pick some up. And you’ll also want to go to Central Waters in Amherst, which is actually off the beaten path and does a number of great darker beers and barrel-aged stuff. Otherwise, if you’re in the Twin Cities but heading into western wisconsin, swing through Somerset on WI-35 for Oliphant Brewing and Honees Honees peanut butter ale.

Tell us about your favorite off-the-beaten-path breweries or restaurants in the comments!

Question #2: How long for Lovie?

Illinois football has been, by any objective metric, just God-awful in the Lovie Smith Era: In Math-Even-I-Can-Do fashion, the Illini have averaged a 3-9 record over Lovie’s tenure (9-27), nabbing just over a win a season in the Big Ten (4-23). And yet, at the end of the 2018 season, because they were “handcuffed” by his contract, Illinois extended Lovie through 2023.

And yet, somehow, the praise just keeps coming for Illinois Athletics Director Josh Whitman. Investigation of Brad Underwood? No criticism. Instead, let’s get some fawning pieces from The Athletic and the Herald-Review (click on the latter if you like your local newspaper, the former if you hate the newspaper industry). Things march on at Illinois, and the press seems to agree--the right man is helming the Athletics Department.

Football: With that in mind, friends, sum two things up for us:

[1] As Illinois modernizes and expands, is Lovie Smith an integral piece of the program moving forward, or a quaint piece of a program gone by, a caretaker getting the Illini through to the next hot coaching prospect? How long does he last?

[2] Illinois is maybe, possibly, adding hockey. Is this brilliant, or batshit? What program should your school add, and how’s the Athletics Department been?

Jesse Collins: Oof. I mean, it’s sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t, right? If you’re the Illinois Athletic Department, Lovie Smith is a pretty decent coach. He’s got the obvious resume—NFL isn’t a guarantee of success, but neither is MAC Assistant of the Year—and he seems to like it there well enough. However, he’s never going to be the guy that makes Illinois relevant.

But like, what…do you want Beckman? It’s just not a winnable situation until you find someone with ties to the program or area who is amazing and just wants to see Illinois succeed.

(2) I like it. Hockey is a fun, potentially revenue-generating sport that seems to be propped up by the conference. Go for it, you know? It cuts into…basketball I guess? Whatever. Make it happen. As for Nebraska, I think that’s probably the same sport I’d like to see added, but for various reasons - real or not - I just don’t see it happening. That said, we landed Frost and Hoiberg. Who the hell knows if it works out, but that’s a decent haul by the AD. No complaints right now.

WSR: (1) He’s an anchor and a very good symbol of Illinois athletics. He’s a symbol of “Hey, this used to work. Let’s throw money at it and hope it repeats itself.”

The recruiting has been questionable, the on-field results (Rob Smith firing-inducing beatdown aside) have been poor, and he doesn’t appear to know how to build the staff. But other than that, he doesn’t seem to be having any issues at Illinois. Maybe when they fire him they could hire Barry Switzer or Mack Brown to be their next head coach...wait. Mack Brown? Nobody would be that stupid.

(2) A hockey program? That’s a brilliant idea. Minnesota should think about adding a a hockey program too!

LPW: I like Lovie Smith due to his work with the Bears, but I’m not sure he’ll succeed in Chambana. I get it, Beckman left him a mess and it takes a few seasons to do a complete rebuild, but I just can’t shake the feeling he’s coasting until he calls it a career. He might just shock the world soon, but I still see mediocrity. So long as the Hat remains in Evanston and not Chambana I’m happy.

2. Illinois adding hockey seems ok, but where’s the money for this coming from? My home state is in debt, and that leads for lower funding for UIUC. I’m really not sure what Northwestern could add given we have no land to build anything anymore (unless a rich alumni gives us more money to build into Lake Michigan).

3. I’m quite happy with how Jim Phillips has been running Northwestern’s athletic department. The lakefront facility is awesome, and I can’t wait to see what he does with Ryan Field.

baboreally: Lovie lasts until he decides he doesn’t want to coach at Illinois anymore. Regardless of record, you have to let legends that have had great success at your school in the past retire on their own terms. Any action to usurp Lovie Smith at Illinois would be akin to treason against the game of football.

2. It’s dumb to add hockey. Purdue should build a dedicated curling facility. Our athletic department has been pretty daggone good with Mike Bobinski calling the shots.

87townie: Lovie Smith is a bad college football coach. Let’s just get it out there. Under Lovie, this team is a rutger conference win. That’s bad. Really bad. And I thought Lovie would be a great fit at Illinois, but come on...the data shows he’s not good.

He’s verifiably terrible. He’s been here long enough to get his own guys in. But he is at the bottom of the B1G in recruiting (13th this year, 12th last year). And his record is abysmal. They pay him $5 million a year and his record is 9-27...GTFO.

And, in absolute Illinois fashion, they extended him...after a 63-0 loss to Iowa! No wonder Thump sounds like Eeyore all the time. I would too, rooting for this shit show. And it isn’t getting better any time soon. The AD sounded defeated when he announced the extension, because he was.

Lovie’s agent is better at contracts than Lovie is at football. The guy had a $12 million buyout clause in his 6 year contract. So, Illinois ain’t getting rid of Lovie anytime soon. And it looks like this is the status quo until they do get rid of him.

Ray: Lovie strikes fear in me.

I mean, I know everyone strikes fear in the heart of Rutgers fans right now, but something about that dude makes me worried about the future of Illinois. In that I’m worried they’ll get good. While he may have his issues, he’s a legit coach with a legit resume who provides legitimacy for a program that we really need to be illegitimate. So, I say he’s an unfortunately integral part and he’s going to be there for the long haul with a Greg Schiano-like success curve. I really, really hope I’m wrong here.

2. Absolutely. I can’t fathom why they don’t have one already. As for dear old Rutgers, we need our men’s swim team back. NJ is a hub for swimming, but due to Title IX restrictions we had to nix it a while back. As a former competitive swimmer and current masters swimmer, I’m totally biased, but we should be in there like swimwear. Come on Hobbs! Make it happen!

MNW: LPW has already noted how well Northwestern Athletics is doing under Jim Phillips, to the point that Phillips is being touted as a replacement for Jim Delany as Big Ten Commissioner.

As far as Lovie Smith? He reminds me of Ron Gardenhire in Detroit. The administration has realized that Lovie won’t succeed, and at this point they’re trying to shore up the program—read: make sure Brad Underwood isn’t taped throwing basketballs at players—so that everything else is shipshape when it becomes time for another football hire.

If I were Josh Whitman, then, I would worry about becoming Joel Maturi. Or maybe that’s what Whitman wants—a few successful non-revenue programs that give him the cache to stick around while the revenue sports burrow deep, deep into the ground. I can’t see that being what the Illini fanbase wants, and I don’t think hockey is a panacea for their systemic ills, but it’ll keep generating Whitman the headlines he wants while the program flounders.


How much longer does Lovie last?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Mid-season firing
    (3 votes)
  • 36%
    Quietly put to pasture after the 2019 season
    (49 votes)
  • 4%
    Mid-2020 firing
    (6 votes)
  • 26%
    After the 2020 season
    (36 votes)
  • 29%
    2021 season or beyond
    (40 votes)
134 votes total Vote Now