Long before he was a member of John Mackovic and Lou Tepper''s coaching staffs at Illinois, Greg Colby was a standout for the Illini defense. The Danville native was a starter for the 1971 Illini, who beat No. 15-ranked Purdue at Memorial Stadium. When he wasn''t knocking down running backs, Colby was throwing out base runners as a member of the Illinois baseball team. Currently, Colby is the defensive coordinator at Northwestern. He and wife Janet have two adult sons, Matt and Mike.
NG: So, the 1971 team won its last five games. What happened in the first six?
GC: We were kind of struggling. That was Bob Blackman''s first year. It just kind of took us a while to put things together. Being a new program, the offense wasn''t going very good. We had a lot of young guys, too.
NG: The team got shut out in its first three games. That isn''t the defense''s fault, is it?
GC: I don''t think so. I was off the hook for that one.
NG: That team got outscored 176-30 in the first six losses then outscored teams 133-62 in the final five. What fixed the offense?
GC: The system we used on offense was fairly complicated, especially at that time. Looking back on it as I first got into coaching, I think Blackman was really beyond a lot of people in terms of what we did. He was doing some things that weren''t done by other people for another five, 10, 15 years. It took our guys a while to pick it up. It was totally different from what we''d been doing in the past.
NG: The win against Purdue was the turning point. What do you remember from that game?
GC: I remember our offense playing very well. They had the great running back (Otis) Armstrong. I remember we really focused on him and on stopping him. I remember being involved in a lot of tackles that game. They were mostly a running team. The offense really came alive that game. Coming out of that game, we really felt good about where we were and what we''d accomplished. You''re frustrated up to that time, then you find the answers and things click. That was a real good feeling as a player: "What we''re doing is working and the coaches are right. We''ve got a chance to get this thing going."
NG: Being a Danville guy, did the Purdue game mean more to you than most?
GC: Oh, yes. Purdue was a team I had it in for a little bit because they didn''t offer me a scholarship them out of high school. I was going to show them.
NG: What''s the difference on campus for a team that goes from losing to winning?
GC: Let''s put it this way, when you''re in a five-game losing streak, you don''t want to go outside. When you''re winning, you want to go out there and let people see you.
NG: You do better with the girls too.
GM: I never did good with girls. Except for the one I married.
NG: You were a young guy on a team with talented upperclassmen. What did you learn from the Glenn Colliers and Larry McCarrens?
GC: The toughness and the steadiness of how they played. They played at the same level all the time. They didn''t have a great game and then a bad game. They always had solid games. Larry, I remember being one of the toughest individuals I''ve ever been around.
NG: Did you think 1972 was going to be a big year?
GC: We thought we had a great chance. We felt good finishing the year the way we did. I don''t think we really realized what it took to keep playing that way. That''s one of the things as a coach I''ve discovered.
NG: Do you have a favorite Bob Blackman story?
GC: He loved to carry around a megaphone and he used that to communicate on the field. There were times he''d get all excited about a play and he''d turn to a player and be 3 feet away with his megaphone talking to him.
NG: Did you think 30-plus years later you would be working to beat your alma mater?
GC: I had no clue.