You keep telling me the UI is a “basketball school.”
OK. That’s undoubtedly true. But explain the past week. John Groce’s team is on a thrill-a-minute roll, winning eight straight and denting the Top 25, and Gus Phan (i.e., Illini Nation) is drowning himself in a head-spinning reaction to more football failures.
Even my conversations before, during and after Wednesday’s game reflected football concerns.
OK, Gus, it’s obvious you’re not thrilled with Tim Beckman. You built up a lot of outrage watching his team flounder, and you want a do-over. But get real. Relieving Beckman has never been a consideration by UI decision-makers.
After Saturday’s 50-14 debacle at Northwestern, Gus let himself be misled by the sight of college coaches being dumped from coast to coast, including one (Ellis Johnson at Southern Mississippi) who was fired after a single disastrous season.
And Gus was egged on by unsubstantiated and erroneous speculation from a Chicago radio station that Beckman might be replaced. This is just the latest case of Mike Thomas being misrepresented. But rumors grow over the airwaves, and this one was apparently so believable that WGN-TV’s Dan Roan and others were checking it out for verification.
The rumors flew, in part because so many people wanted to believe them. Never have so many otherwise-reasonable people asked the question in so many ways when they already knew the answer.
Repeat after me: Illinois is not going to relieve a coach after one year.
Bottom of the barrel
Beckman’s program has enough troubles without the extra weight of Doubting Thomases.
It is an epidemic that must run its course. Gus Phan’s friends at church are losing faith, his working associates are at a loss, his luncheon companions are poised to jump, the members at service clubs and Illini meetings express uncertainty about buying season tickets, and buddies at his watering hole have solutions you wouldn’t believe.
If evening exchanges could be monitored, you’d think Beckman had committed a felony.
That’s not everyone, of course, but it’s clearly a landslide majority ... almost like the rumblings last year when Ron Zook and Bruce Weber, whose time had run out, were under the guillotine.
When Thomas spoke out Tuesday confirming that Beckman will continue in the second year of his five-year contract, a Gus Phan ringleader challenged: “Why didn’t you ask if that is unequivocal?”
Like, I don’t believe it! Stating it once isn’t conclusive. Make it multiple and unequivocal. Sign an oath. Where is Grover Norquist when you need him?
Words of wisdom
Personally, I’m always depressed when the community mood is so despairing. It’s worse today than when Chief Illiniwek was removed. But suffering has become second nature here. If another gridiron Dust Bowl is coming, we know how to cover our heads.
We’re supplied with eyelids. We close them and see the Chief dancing. And we close them to avoid watching Northwestern score another touchdown.
My recent conversations with former UI coaches Mike White, Greg McMahon and Vic Koenning had the tone of friends at a wake. Emails received from former players reveal a touch of desperation. This isn’t my imagination. Talk shows on WDWS this week repeatedly wound back to one issue: The hole is deep and getting deeper.
How can the Illini defense improve when the line and secondary will be severely weakened by departures? What is there to make anyone believe the anemic offense will improve? If Zook and Tim Salem, both special teams experts, couldn’t make it work, who can?
And now the speculation will heighten regarding the staff. Head trainer Scott Brooks already is gone. One source said Brooks wanted more normal working hours. Another source said he couldn’t work with Beckman. Take your choice. Clearly, the mood inside the staff is anything but joyous.
So, Gus, forge ahead. We’ve seen Illinois rise from the ashes before. Barry Alvarez started 1-10 at Wisconsin. For the time being, remember: Illinois is a basketball school.
It happens everywhere
We tend to view developments elsewhere in our own context. Thus did I peruse the words of Paul Klee, whose new assignment included coverage of Colorado’s firing of coach Jon Embree.
Like Illinois, Colorado is underachieving. Embree was fired two years after Boise State’s Dan Hawkins failed. Together, they’ve authored seven straight losing seasons. Klee has followed closely his home area (Denver), and he began with a warning to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun in case his phone rings:
“Do not pass Monument. Do not collect $2 million. Do not go near Folsom Field — unless the Falcons need a win. After hearing what I heard Monday, it (the Colorado situation) is worse than we thought.”
See, other folks have problems too. Going on, Klee wrote:
“CU hosted a news conference to explain the coaching change. A therapy session broke out. Wish you could’ve been there. The 45-minute ordeal inside Dal Ward Athletic Center was fantastical, almost too bizarre to be true. This was football ‘Argo.’ ”
Going on, Klee informed:
“A critic laid out the extensive list of the problems facing CU football. That critic was the athletic director (Mike Bohn). It’s rough when anonymous posters blast a coach on the Internet, or when media slam the state of the football program. But when the AD is the one lowering the boom?
“Said Bohn: ‘We were exposed in this league. We have challenges with some of our younger players in terms of their academic progress.’
“The worst thing CU did wasn’t firing a coach,” wrote Klee. “It was broadcasting the news conference on Pac-12 Network so the football world could witness the slow burn.”
Of Embree, whose teams went 4-21, Klee said: “He was in so far over his head that he couldn’t see Flagstaff Mountain.”
Then he pointed out that the problem at CU goes way above the football coach. And so it is at troubled institutions like Purdue, Kentucky, California, North Carolina State and, yes... Illinois.
All face “headwinds” that never seem to blow themselves out, regardless of who is in control.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.