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
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?
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.