Jan. 8 Bob Asmussen chat

Jan. 8 Bob Asmussen chat

Monday, January 8, 2018 - 10:00am

Who will Lovie Smith hire as his offensive coordinator? When will the other two spots on the staff be filled? What are the biggest needs for the second signing period?

For the answers to these questions, and anything else on your mind, check in with our longtime Illinois football beat writer.

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am
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Welcome back to another Bob Asmussen chat. If it seems like it has been awhile since we last talked that's because it has. Hope everyone had a great Christmas and a happy New Year.

I will be here for about an hour. We've got a lot to cover, starting with the College Football Hall of Fame selection of Dana Howard. He deserves it. I just got off the phone with Howard and will have a followup story.

As always, thanks for your participation. Many of you have reached out during the holidays and I appreciate the interest.

Enough stalling, time to get to your questions.

Anonymous User wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am

Happy New Year, Bob:

Any idea when Coach Smith will fill the open coaching positions, especially the OC post?  Would a new OC want to bring in some of his own associates to replace some of the existing assistants?  

Finally, how many scholarships are left to give out  during the February signing period?  Any scoop on  recruits who could sign during that period?

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am
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Sorry for the delay. Technical problems at home. 

I believe Lovie Smith will fill at least one or two of the spots this week. I am hoping that Nathan Scheelhaase will be one of those coaches. The program needs him involved for a lot of reasons.

It would make a lot of sense for Lovie Smith to hire his offensive coordinator next and give that coach the flexibility to add somebody else to the staff. At whatever position he sees fit.

Because Lovie Smith's history is in the NFL, I think the coach will come from there. But he might surprise us. Lovie Smith has stated his preference for a system that is able to run the ball. But that can come in a lot of different forms. I think he will hired the person he thinks fits best and then figure out a way to make that coach's system work.

By my count, Illinois has seven spots open for February. But I think Lovie Smith will save one or two for graduate transfers/late pickups. He has filled many of the pressing needs. I think he will try to find difference-makers for the remaining spots, guys who will help immediately.

Anonymous User wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am

With the openings in the FB coaching staff, when do you think we will hire the replacements? What are the chances that either Nathen Scheelhasse or the St. Louis HS coach get the job, or could both of them get it? Wouldn't that bring on two potentially pretty dynamic recruiters? Nate for  the Chicago area and the other guy in St. Louis. Could that really happen?  Also do you think the tenth assistant will be added maybe at the same time?

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am
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I think adding Nathan Scheelhaase makes a ton of sense. He loves the place and can sell it like nobody else. It almost seems like he grew up here instead of in Kansas City. Give his parents a ton of credit for the kind of young man he is. First time I met, it was like talking to a 30-year old.

He was just getting started as a recruiter when Lovie Smith took over. On the field, no matter what system Illinois wants to run, he will be an asset.

On hiring a high school coach to fill one of the assistant spots, there can be a problem with that. Other high school coaches in the state and area, who are so vital to the future of the Illinois program, might take issue with the decision. In their mnds, it will be "Why didn't you hire me?" I'm not saying Lovie Smith won't go that way, but it will be delicate. He can justtify hiring a former Illni like Nathan Scheelhaase but a high school coach will be trickier. A safer play might be to go back to his NFL roots and find a young guy ready to move on. He's got former players who would like to help him.

It's going to be interesting to watch.


Dr. O wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am

Hello Bob,

Long Time no chat. Can you explain the situation with the Mascot? Is the university still planing on keeping the name Fighting Ilini or are they trying to replace it by suggesting a Mascot? 2nd question. Now that LSU OC is available, is there any change Lovie would look into setting up interview with him and what do you know out him; like is he a good recruiter?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions? 

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am
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Dr. O,


As I understand it, the committee to find a new mascot has not been moved forward by the chancellor. And he inists the campus will not change the nickname or 3-in-1.

Whatever happens, it will not be done quickly and without a lot of debate. That makes sense to me. All sides will be heard and that's appropriate.

Matt Canada knows the Big Ten well, working at two schools in the conference. He seems to be a capable guy but it didn't work for him at LSU. That can be a difficult place because the expectations are so high the patience of the fans and school is razor thin.

Lovie Smith is a guy who will make what he thinks is the best decision for his program. If he sees Matt Canada as an option, he will look into it. What I don't know is what kind of contract languate Canada had. It might be a deal where he wants to sit out this year and look for the best option after the season. I anticipate a lot of changes in head coaches after next season. 

Danny Juarez wrote on January 08, 2018 at 10:01 am

Hi Bob,

So far, I like Lovie Smith's second recruiting class. Especially what they're recruiting on the defensive and offensive lines. I'm intrigued to see if they'll be able to land any blue chippers and/or in state guys for the late signing period. Based on how their first class turned out, I trust the staff's judgement on the lower rated recruits.

What are your pros and cons on the 2018 class so far? And what would you like to see them focus on for the rest of this class and their 2019 one?

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am
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Danny Juarez,


The class is currently ranked No. 44 by Rivals.com. The school has a chance to move up into the Top 40.

Bottom line on recruting, the coach and his staff need to be satisfied with the level of players coming in. I don't think Lovie Smith worries about the rankings at all. He has his own grades and that is what he cares about. Because he doesn't share his recruiting list, we don't know how many top targets he actually landed from his own list.

I agree with you that the class is strong on the lines. Not getting the second quarterback, so far,  is an issue. That competition is going to be important unless the coaches are satsfied with the quarterbacks on hand. To me, it feels one guy short.

Of the remaining spots, I think adding a linebacker or two is important. It would be a huge help if they can get a grad transfer like Hardy Nickerson. A guy who is ready to play right away.


southern Illini fan wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am

I wish to encourage you and all the writers for the News-Gazette. You all do a fine job and it is always a highlight of my day to check the Illini HQ for news of my Alma Mater. I rarely get a chance to see the Illini play as I do not have the Big Ten network but listen often to Brian Barhhart and company (which is better anyway). But from the call of the game it seems to me that Coach Underwood is doing something I do not understand which I also thought John Groce did as well and that is substitute far too much. It seems with all the tv timeouts and awarded timeouts and foul shots etc that if the players are in shape they should be able to play 35+ minutes without being winded. I played a little college basketball and we were able to go that distance and this was prior to media timeouts. It seems to me that when you find a combination that is working in a game you ride it until it stops. As the old saying goes if it isn't broke, don't fix it. Do you see the same thing? Thanks.

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am
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Southern Illini fan,

Thanks for the kind words. It means a lot.

I think most fans complain about how their coaches sub. But the coach has information we don't have. Like how has that player doing in practice? Does he have an illness that is slowing him down? Or a test weighing on his mind?

Questioning the coach is our right as fans. We should do it.And sometimes a coach might be making moves that he can't explain.

Brad Underwood has a lot of success in the past. But he's got a new team here and what worked at Oklahoma State might not work in C-U. But it is his first season on the job. He will be better in Year 2 and Year 3 and will have a better understanding of his team.

I want to see how it plays out the rest of the season. He had a mess early in his first year at Oklahoma State and got it fixed. That team just missed beating Michigan ina game I attended. Not knowing he was on his way to Champaign.


myattitude wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am

I know we are waiting for Smith to hire 2-3 new assistants but I wondered if you had any comments on the changing assistants at Michigan and Michigan State. Also, your thoughts on Harbaugh's future at Michigan as the fans are not happy at this point. How many more years will they give him?

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am
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I am not surprised that Jim Harbaugh is making changes on his staff after the way the team finished, Dan Enos is joining the Wolverines on the offensive side and he is a guy who I think would have been good for Illinois had Lovie Smith considered going that way. But it sounds like Michigan has had him locked down for some time.

Harlan Barnett leaving Michigan State for Florida State also makes some sense. He has been there for more than a decade and might have been looking for a change of scenery. New Florida State coach Willie Taggart really went after the people he thought would be good for the program. That's what he should do. I might have been unfair in my earlier assessment of the Taggart hire. He might be really good at FSU.

Folks in Michigan are not happy with Harbaugh, who seems to be taking the program in the wrong direction. Compare that to how they felt when he first got to Ann Arbor. Shows you how quickly things can change.

He might be tiring of the griping and looking for a spot in the NFL. There are openings available. If that hapopens, who does Michigan go after next? College football is never dull.

Anonymous User wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am


I just saw the Illini are ranked as the worst 2018 football team in the Big 10 in their "way too early" 2018 power rankings.  Is this a fair assessment and do you agree? 

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am
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Anon 3,


Way too early is right.I think you have to see who Illinois hires as offensive coordinator and what other changes are made to the staff. And I think you have to find out what players are added in the February signing period. A lot of that is based on how the team finished in 2017, which was not good. But I think there is a chance for a quick turnaround if the right coach is hired to run the offense.

I have done this count multiple times, but I think Illinois will win four to five games in 2018. Not a bowl bid, but close enogh that the feelng will be a lot better in C-U.

I think the many freshmen who played in 2017 will be better for it after training during the off-season. And Illinois will have key injured players back on the field, starting with Mikey Dudek and Mike Epstein.

Bob Asmussen wrote on January 08, 2018 at 11:01 am
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I am going to close the chat for today. Sorry about any questions I didn't get to.

I will be back here at the same time next Monday. If you have any questions between now and then, feel free to email me at asmussen@news-gazette.com.

If you are in town tonight, stop by the Esquire for :"The News-Gazette Sports Page." Former Illini basketball player and current Eastern Illinois AD Tom Michael will be our guest.

Have a great week everybody. Enjoy the title game tonight. I am going with Alabama in a lopsided win. But I am wrong a lot.