Tate: Winning over Chicago

Tate: Winning over Chicago

The word "paradox" was magically formed with seven letters to reflect the UI's relationship with Chicagoland.

The university's enrollment reflects the lakefront community's size and diversity. Many UI students come from there and return there. It's like a partner you can't live with and can't live without.

For Illini athletic teams, it remains an enigma, a seemingly crackable safe that resists filed fingertips and explosives.

Ron Guenther, an Elmhurst York product, spent extensive time up north before directing Illini athletics. He knew the city and arrived with confidence that he could open Windy City pocketbooks and school doors. This was part of his thinking when he hired Bears staffer Ron Turner to coach the football team.

It is now Mike Thomas' turn. The new athletic director made news recently by taking a shot at Soldier Field next year in the replay of a 1994 disappointment.

Those who witnessed the 10-9 football loss to Washington State (announced attendance: 39,472) wondered if the Illini would ever try that again. We'll see it 19 years later when Washington's Huskies come to the lakeshore. It puts no great dent in the 2013 home schedule because the Illini still have seven games. The excursion is probably worth another try.

Says Illini recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh: "I'd like to see a game in Chicago every year. Until we win over the state (recruitingwise), and as long as we are forced to go outside, it'll be tough for us."

Within those Golesh words lies the difficult challenge facing Illini football. Repeat for emphasis: "As long as we are forced to go outside, it'll be tough for us."

Yes, tough. And maybe impossible. Only a few football teams in the country are consistently successful without dominating their in-state high schools.

Crossing the border

So far, those doors have been resistant to Tim Beckman.

Of 18 committed UI prospects for 2013, six hail from Ohio and three from Michigan. There are seven Illinoisans but only three from vast Chicagoland. Two hail from Charleston and Peoria, and two from Belleville and O'Fallon, A 3-for-18 ratio from Chicago and suburbs is out of line with population demographics, but then ... that's an old story. Most of the elite Chicago-area stars have been migrating elsewhere and will in 2013. Joliet Catholic's spectacular Ty Isaac, the likely Player of the Year and former teammate of Illini Josh Ferguson, will take his ball-carrying talents all the way to USC. Other seniors of his ilk are heading to points far and wide.

Ron Zook's recruiters recognized this and saw the necessity of scouring the hinterlands. This year's top five returning inside linebackers and all three freshman linebackers on scholarship are out-of-staters. At receiver, the three starters and three backups are not from Illinois.

In my newly formed 50-man depth chart, three-deep at a few tossup positions and disregarding scholarship kickers Justin DuVernois (Florida) and Ryan Frain (Indiana), we find 16 of 50 from Illinois, eight from Ohio, and 17 from points south (seven from Florida).

That's how Beckman's first Illini team is being constructed. Home-state products are noticeably short on the defensive side, and it'll be even more so in 2013 when seniors Michael Buchanan, Glenn Foster, Supo Sanni, Terry Hawthorne and Jack Ramsey are gone. There'll probably be no more than one or two in-state products among the 14 players in the two-deep linebackers and secondary in 2013.

A winning season built on tenacious defense is definitely possible this year. A third consecutive bowl trip appears likely. But who believes, in the long term, that the UI can meet its goals by attracting Ohio athletes that Ohio State overlooks and Florida athletes that the major Florida schools pass over? Golesh hit it. There'll be no consistency over time unless the Illini can break through and attract blue-chippers north of Interstate 80.

When did that happen?

Sometimes, in what Illinoisans might call an insulting oversight of worthy accomplishments, some of the Illini's most impressive football triumphs have been diminished ... cast into the realm of happenstance ... almost accidental coincidences.

Such was the UI-Ohio State football series beginning in 1988, when the Illini won five straight and six of seven. Check Wikipedia and you'll see that Buckeyes coach John Cooper got fired because (1) he went 2-10-1 vs. Michigan and (2) his Buckeyes were 3-8 in bowls. OK, that's reason enough, even if he was 111-43-4 in Columbus. But Wiki overlooked the UI's contributions, just as Buckeyes fans and media seemed to. Those wins were forgotten so fast that it was almost as though they never happened.

As was the Texas Bowl triumph in 2010, when the Illini accomplished something for which they never received appropriate credit. Illinois shut out Baylor for more than a half, led 24-0 and won 38-14. This came against 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. RG3 signed for $21.1 million over four years with the Washington Redskins and is the talk of the NFL.

It is not exaggerating to say Nathan Scheelhaase outplayed Griffin in Houston a year and a half ago. Scheelhaase led the Illini to scores on their first four possessions, completing all 13 of his pass attempts in the first half. Illinois stifled Griffin until midway in the third quarter. Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning commented later that what his unit did against Griffin was amazing — and never fully credited.

Looking back, Scheelhaase said: "Someday it'll be something I can tell my kids, that I went head-to-head with RG3 and outplayed him that day. It's nice to have that on my resume."

You'll remember, Nathan. So will Vic Koenning. But will anyone else?

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.


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illinizeeman wrote on August 17, 2012 at 9:08 am


Looking back, Scheelhaase said: "Someday it'll be something I can tell my kids, that I went head-to-head with RG3 and outplayed him that day. It's nice to have that on my resume."

You'll remember, Nathan. So will Vic Koenning. But will anyone else?

I can think of a couple reasons people don't:  a) we don't win consistently so fans and the media don't follow the team on a consistent basis; b) we've had maybe one high profile bowl win since the 60's so the name Illinois doesn't attract viewers or ticket-buyers outside of Illinois except in a few regions where there are lots of IL people.


Winning every year is the only cure.






Moonpie wrote on August 17, 2012 at 10:08 am

Obi Wan Tate's fear and loathing of Chicago is embarassing and points to deeper problems within the man.

Okay,houstonillini84, you can one again demand I be silenced so you can be in lockstep with your various authority figures.

walker wrote on August 17, 2012 at 10:08 am

Nobody really needs to be "silenced" mooncakes, but just fair and accurate in your comments.

It is a pretty huge stretch as far as your constant comments about L T being "fearful, loathing" etc of Chicago.  That's one of your constant themes about him and you basically have no case,

especially in the above article.  His assessment of things regarding the realities of our BB & FB

programs as they relate to the City are actually very insightful and for the most part right on the

money.  I've said it before, but you and Pete owe it to yourself to at least consider not reading L T

anymore, if for no other reason than it causes you so much stress & heartburn 

reber wrote on August 18, 2012 at 8:08 am

"...cant live with them...."

Seems to me that comes off as loathing. 

Case closed.

uofiisu wrote on August 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Your repeated calling of Loren as "Obi Wan" is embarrassing and points to deeper problems within yourself.  How exactly would Loren be considered an authority figure to houston or anyone else on here?  Loren has an opinion and is paid to write it, just like you are entitled to your opinion and you have a right to disagree and write about it on here.  But all you do is hurl insults without even arguing any points that were made in the actual article.  You've got some serious issues if you feel you need to read every article the guy writes and then get on here and bash it for no apparent reason other than your disapproval of an opinion of a damn SPORTS WRITER.  Get a damn life, do us all a favor and please just shut the hell up.  And borich can do the same while we're on the topic.


JohnUI82 wrote on August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Extremely well said. Argue with Tate's points, fine, but argue because he's obsessed with Tate, pointless.

YsoSerious wrote on August 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Illinois football is bland. Champaign-Urbana more bland. Chicago and its people have a national perception of not being bland. There is a natural disassociation between Chicago and the UI, except for the afluent that attend. Chicago is the keystone to a powehouse football program, Thomas and Beckman need to be remarkable in the next two seasons or its the same ol same old. 

Remarkable = Beckman needs to win a game that no one thinks you can. Don't loose any game that your favored to win. Recruit a player above national perception, "Treadwell" that will change opinions and he is vital to the offense. Thomas needs to upgrade Memorial stadium's east side asap. Eye candy for the fan helps when the team is struggeling.

Virginia Tech was terriable in the early 80's. They are not now! What changed? Wins, well O.K. but their stadium their uniforms and their national perception. Mike Vick was a huge recruit for them he changed VT to a hohum football program into a consistant winner. Seems that the formula is allready out there.

It is easier said than done, but it can be done and Illinois football is a prime candidate for extreme change in national perception.

Go Illini.



TheChiefLives wrote on August 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

There is one thing that changes a Chicago native's perception when they come down.  Ive heard it time and time again:

CU is actually a lot of fun for tailgating, ESPECIALLY when compared to the rest of the state and anything in Chicago.  Bears tailgates are like funerals.  And they all act like they hate eachother.  Northwestern tailgates...lol.


I think you are on the mark with the things that need to be done though.  Except that since most of the fans sit on the east side (myself included), I don't understand why upgrading the east side would help.  If it is eye candy, wouldn't you want to put it on the west side where less fans sit, but more fans can see it?  (I'm guessing you are talking about the scrolling marquees.)  I've heard that a new scoreboard and possibly the scrolling marquees around the upper deck are being looked into for as early as next year.  I think that would be neat.

YsoSerious wrote on August 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm

East side great hall needs a first class look so when I find my way to my seat I dont feel the need to walk through the west side just to get my money's worth. 

TheChiefLives wrote on August 19, 2012 at 12:08 am

On that I agree.

JohnUI82 wrote on August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Remarkable = Illinois 28 @ No. 1 Ohio State 21 in 2007. Didn't have a lasting effect. Neither did signing blue-chippers Arrelious Benn and Martez Wilson.

A better example than Virginia Tech and Florida (which a later comment mentions) might be closer to home: Except for a decent but not exceptional stretch under Dave McClain, Wisconsin had been bad since the early '60s until Barry Alvarez, and he got that program turned around before Ron Dayne showed up, so I don't think it was any particular recruit that did it.  

OKOMIS wrote on August 17, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Your right, it wasn’t too long ago we were clearly better in both basketball and football than our B1G brother in Madison… and vastly superior in basketball and on  par (we played them in some small bowel game in the late 80’s) with our orange and blue counterparts down in Gainesville.. it almost always starts and stops at the top. Hopefully Mike Thomas can do a better job than his predecessor.

YsoSerious wrote on August 18, 2012 at 2:08 pm

Remarkable = illini 28 - BADgers 3, 2012. Remarkable = Illini 31 - fitzs 6, 2012.  Coupled with a B1G CG win, and proper marketing of the team and the school by Thomas. People will take notice if they are winning the rest of the games ther are expected to win. Oh, one more thing they need to silence the GoCats. Those two schools are winning the City over Illinois and they play them both. As for Notre Dame, well one step at at time.

grapplinfool wrote on August 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

moonpie, why are you dumb?

OKOMIS wrote on August 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Florida football wasn’t very good till Spurier got there in the 90’s… never won  a conference title until he got there, not one… their basketball program was worse before Donovan.. never won a NCAA tournament GAME until Donavan..now they both win national championships…. winning can be contagious… so is losing.. there are lots of examples of programs turning around…

PS.. I think Moonpie’s great.. at least on my screen, I can see who’s writing the post and can choose not to read if I’m so inclined.. when I see a post from Houston, I KNOW, it will be about how Weber died on the cross for our sins, and he rose from the grave to take over KS, the greatest coach of all time, so if I don’t want to hear that, I don’t read his post…....…  I guess the rest of you are forced at gunpoint some how to read moonpie’s posts… IF NOT, HERE’S A SUGGESTION, IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT HE SAYS, DON’T READ HIS POSTS…

1IlliniFan wrote on August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

You have to reply to Moonpoo's comments.  We can't let the passive reader think that we are all idiots...  We need to let them know there there's only a few haters (and victims) out there...

He's the first to be the victim and claim racism.  But to say not read is post - goes back to the boy that cried wolf too many times.  No one will listen to him.  Only laugh and dismiss his attempts for attention.

JohnUI82 wrote on August 17, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for the Houston/Weber comment. Truly hilarious! 

OKOMIS wrote on August 17, 2012 at 5:08 pm

Before someone corrects me, let me correct myself… the Gators never officially won (they had 2 wins vacated for infractions) an NCAA GAME until Kruger got there… not one.. he got there early 90’s.. Lon of course took them to their improbable final 4 run a year or two before bolting to greener pastures up in Champaign…


reber wrote on August 17, 2012 at 9:08 pm

"It's like a partner you can't live with and can't live without."  

Tate, again, is predictable in his attention grabbing opening.  Cant live with them.  The whole body of the article, was that you cant live without them.  What exactly CANT you live with?  How is it that you feel that Chicagoland is a deterent to the success of the University of Illinois?  

Are you blaming the Chicago fanbase and media for their oversight of a 6-6 "bowl" team?  Should the Chicagoland area have had the foresight to know that this underperforming squad, would accomplish enormous heights such as shutting down a FUTURE heisman winner?

Stop with the hating of Chicago, look at the leadership that has occupied C/U for the past 20 years, and see it for what it is.

Just win baby!


peterborich wrote on August 17, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Right on Reber.....can't live with Chicago?  It is a consistent Tate rant against the Windy City that's baseless, tiresome, and xenophobic (as Tate views Chambana/Urpaign and Chicago as separate countries).  Of course, in Tate's view, those fortunate to live here are the chosen ones, while Chicago  is inhabitanted solely by killers, thugs and, OMG, the personification of evil, "Democrats".......

namber wrote on August 18, 2012 at 8:08 am

Does anyone else find it almost impossible to read the "human visitor" lettering.  

I am looking for some corollation between Borich's diatribe about Tate hating Chicago and Chicago recruiting.  Is the implication that because of Tate athletes are rejecting Illinois.  I find all of Tate's articles quite accurate and well thought out.  That is contrasted to several who post here with mindless dribble that is totally inconsistant with common sense.  One gets the impression that Tate stole someones girl friend.

rd1989 wrote on August 18, 2012 at 1:08 am

What's baseless and tiresome Borich are you and Cowpie's nonsense.  Grow up.

Borich and Cowpie = Dumb and Dumber.  Oh, I forgot.  I can't call you and Cowpie names, but you can call Tate names.  You two are morons.

Jam wrote on August 19, 2012 at 6:08 am

If Chicago is not responding, then forget it.  Go somewhere else.  Who needs Chicago anyway?  There are many states and big cities surrounding Illinois and in fact Illinois is one big state itself.  There are 102 counties in Illinois and Cook is only one of them.  Recruit the state!!!

fireweber wrote on August 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm

I have to say, these are some really good comments.  When I have this conversation with friends I always reference Va. Tech, Wisconsin, and Fla.  Three great examples of programs that were mediocre at best before Beamer, Alvarez, and Spurrier took over.  Illinois can do it, but as many of you suggest they need to win consistently.  Not just an Orange Bowl or Rose Bowl here and there, they need to be in the hunt for the BIG10 for a couple of years running and then things will change.  I think it is definitely possible, Illinois' history is something to be proud of: Grange, Butkus, Howard, Rice, Hardy, etc. I believe, two National Championships as well.  I think we all want the same thing, and I hope Thomas and Beckman have a vision for it to materialize.