CHAMPAIGN — So far as I know, Tim Beckman did not have the winning Powerball ticket this week.

One from Missouri, one from Arizona, and no mention of a down-on-his-luck college football coach striking it rich in the lottery bonanza.

I’m sure we would have heard.

So like the rest of us, Beckman will have to continue working for a living, which, in his case, means trying to haul this wreck of a University of Illinois football program out of the wet muck and deep swamp grass.

While flustered fans this week followed internet rumors and panted uncontrollably as bloggers, tweeters and trouble-makers fanned gossip of Beckman’s dismissal and floated names like Jim Tressel and even the seriously flawed Bobby Petrino,

Illini AD Mike Thomas told everyone to stop the conjecture.

Beckman, Thomas assured, would be back to lead the program in 2013.

That’s what I assumed all along, even while expressing my doubts about his ability to get this fixed.

Full disclosure forces me to admit that I really like Mike Thomas personally. I do.

I think he hired a heck of a men’s basketball coach in John Groce.

I think he hired a terrific women’s basketball coach in Matt Bollant.

And he has a history of knowing how to reel in a successful head football coach. I think he could do more good than people give him credit for.

So I’m not too interested in hearing about how Thomas didn’t have a clue when it came time to fire Ron Zook and hire his replacement.

If I have doubts, it’s that Thomas might not have appreciated how brutally difficult the Illini head football coaching job

really is.

A long-time Illini donor told me this week he recalls when Ara Parseghian was still a college coaching king at Notre Dame. That would likely have been more than 40 years ago.

“I’ll never forget Ara saying, ‘Illinois, that’s a football coaching graveyard,’ ” the donor said.

I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s a job that for more than 50 years has practically killed men who tried every trick in the book but still couldn’t win.

Pete Elliott (1960-66). Losing record.

Jim Valek (1967-70). Losing record.

Bob Blackman (1971-1976). Losing record.

Gary Moeller (1977-1979). Woeful losing record.

Mike White (1980-1987). Still thought of as a genius and a football savant, he barely had a winning record (47-41-3).

John Mackovic (1988-1991). Winningest coach of a half century at 30-16-1.

Lou Tepper (1992-96). Losing record.

Ron Turner (1997-2004). Losing record.

Ron Zook (2005-2011). Losing record.

Tim Beckman (2012). Losing record.

With that as a history lesson, we should all understand that the pool of candidates Mike Thomas could realistically attract to the job is probably smaller than anyone wants to admit.

That’s why I laughed out loud when this week people pushed former NFL coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden to replace Beckman.

Seriously? What makes anyone believe Jon Gruden would look at the Illinois head coaching job and believe his life would be better if he took on that challenge?

It’s absurd.

Thomas now has to tweak the original plan, at least for one more season. He has to encourage staff changes and be willing to pay for experienced coordinators, just as Ron Guenther did when his encouragement prompted Zook to bring in Vic Koenning and Paul Petrino before the 2010 season.

He has to hope the comedy of errors that marred the 2012 season — many of which Beckman invited on himself — was an aberration that can be remedied with experience, better outside advice (someone has to be assigned to help Beckman with public relations) and a greater appreciation for what being the head coach on the big stage of the Big Ten is really all about.

Thomas might also throw a bone to Illini fans and offer up at least a modest season ticket discount. He’s lucky that the 2013 home schedule includes the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Because while beating those teams will be difficult, at least they bring thousands of fans happy to pay full freight and pad a bottom line that will show more slippage than ever.

I’m hoping Beckman can round up a strong recruiting class, make some shrewd staff changes and stop looking like Barney Fife shooting himself in the foot while fumbling with his only bullet.

Thomas says we need to give Beckman time and patience, and despite the protests of many, that’s being given to him. So I’ll hope for the best and I’ll be fair in the analysis. But I’m standing back a safe distance in case it blows up all over again.

History says it probably will.

(9) comments

Shark
Shark

All the major programs have outstanding offensive and defensive coordinators along with a good stable head coach. We lost Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning and you see the result. To turn this around we need to:
1) identify why we can't attract coaches, assistant or head, and keep them. Everyone here believed that Paul and Vic were auditioning for Zook's job including them, and Thomas went another direction. As a university don't mislead these guys again if you want them here.
2) figure out how to attract some of the better players here. There is talent all around us that doesn't go to the state school. They are in basketball. We need to be "promoted" by the national media like the other major programs, and maybe that just isn't going to happen.
3) the fan base has lost faith and don't show up. Penn State came very close to the death penalty and lost a few games early, and look at their support. If the university turns this around we all need to get behind the program and show our support by going to some games, heck you may even enjoy it win or lose.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

Agree with the Shark

We brought it very highly paid coordinators to assist Zook, and Thomas made a strategic decision to let both of these guys go, and "get his own man."

He may be able to "reel in" good coaches, but he did not do it this time, and now has a serious problem to resolve, which, history, not withstanding, is largely of his making.

Give the fans a 5 star, downfield passer and a couple of good wide receivers, and the fans will come out and support the team, win or lose. If I recall correct;uy the stands were filled to capacity during the days of Air Illini in the 1980's.

We do not pay Athletic Directors mid-six figures to administrate we pay them to solve problems. Football pays the frieght. Give Thomas and Beckman 3 years, if they can not turn it around, bit them farewell.

Gee, was kind of thinking Jim Harbough would be a better choice than Gruden :) crk

SallyAnn
SallyAnn

It normally takes good coaches close to 6 years to rebuild and produce a winning team. There is exceptions to every thing however. First, do you have the talent available, how many are Seniors, down to how many are Freshman.

How much playing experence does each have. Are the new coaches running a different scheme of football, or going with the existing scheme?

Many questions to be asked and answered, but IMO 3 yrs is not enough. And I can't see Gruden coaching again, he looks too happy with his announcing job, and one heck of a less headache than coaching would be.

NPKBob
NPKBob

I've always believed it is the culture of the fandom at CU that has hurt the football program (and that culture appears to be worming its way into basketball). Been studying football attendance figures between IL, IA and WI since 1950. Those other two programs averaged higher attendance, even in the lean years, and are now dwarfing IL (even when IL had good seasons). IA finally caught and passed IL around 1987, WI did so around 1970 (with a couple of exceptions in each case). Those schools in recent years have exceeded IL by leaps and bounds - IA by 15-20K each home game, WI by 20-30K. Again, even in the "down" years, the support remained at those other campuses. The halftime exodus at each IL home game, a trend for the past 30 years, has been significant, even in good years. Now the big contributor basketball "fans" are embarrassing that program by leaving empty seats that look terrible during national telecasts. Why would a star recruit come to CU with these kinds of camparisons? It's even worse when you factor in MU, OSU and MSU, let alone ND.

illinisouth
illinisouth

I'm about the same vintage as the "donor" and found your comments interesting but in need of some numerical perspective.
1. Ara Parseghian was no fan of Illinois. His coaching record at Northwestern was .501. At the time Illinois had an all time record of .591. So, spare me the wisdom of Ara.
2. When Ron Guenther took over as AD, Illinois' all time record was off a bit having suffered through seven seasons of Valek (.200) and Moeller (.227). However, we were still at .548 and more to the point had a winning record against six of the other Big Ten schools, Ara.
3. In the 21 seasons of Guenther-ball we went 95-139-2 for a .402 win percentage. That's more than 25% below than our winning percentage when he took over and dropped us to .520 all time. During that interval we had a winning record against just one other Big Ten rival, Indiana. Nice remodeling job on Memorial though.
Given the last two decades Illini fans are impatient and, understandably, nervous about where we're headed. But, Illinois is no football graveyard....yet.

Route 66
Route 66

Coach Beckman is a good man and had been a good short term head coach at Toledo.
Hopefully he is more careful with his sideline running in the future. Ironic to get leveled by a ref's
forearm looked not only funny, but, almost pathetic considering the way his team performed.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

Blame it on the fans? Get serious. But a consistent winner on the field and the fans will support the team.

6 years x 1.5 million per year to give a coach a chance to build a program. Glad it's not my money

crk

NormalIllini
NormalIllini

One thing that no one has mentioned (maybe Ara did fifty years ago) is that high school football in Illinois is awful compared to states like Ohio, Florida, Texas, California.......
Look how very few guys who play HS ball in Illinois are drafted in the first round for the NFL, or are on the two deep All American team or even the All Big 10 team.
Everyone talks about getting the players out of Chicago but a simple check of the rosters at Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue, Penn State or Michigan State shows just a handful of players from the city or suburbs.
I wish Tupper and other writers would take a good long look at this and figure out why! Is basketball really king? Are the IHSA rules (no spring ball---limited practice time---etc) too restrictive? What makes high school football in Florida or Ohio so important in those states?
Remember this post when watching the next NFL draft or when reading Tom Lemming's nonsense about how great some 5'9---160 pound running back from Oswego is.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

NormalIllini has a point. I think I mentioned in this space a few years ago, my brother teaches in a high school in Atlanta, GA. The booster club raised the money tp fund and build a $500,000 film room for the football team. From a societal perspective, I would rather see that money go for educational purposes, but it is one sign of the support and importance of football in some states. crk

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