Kickoff '12: Ready or not, here comes Beckman
Four hours of sleep. Maybe five. And not always at his comfy Urbana home.
Tim Beckman has slept on the couch at his Memorial Stadium office. More than once. Cuts the commute to zero. Leaves extra time to watch video and study game plans.
"I don't sleep much, period," Beckman said.
You see, Beckman's Big Ten coaching clock already has started ticking. The clock doesn't care that he has a five-year contract (average pay: $1.8 million). It doesn't care that he led Toledo to consecutive bowl bids. Or that he inherited a team that while it isn't broke, definitely needs some repairs.
"I want to be a champion," Beckman said. "That's why I coach football."
There is work to be done. Always. His to-do list certainly starts with getting his Illini ready for the 2012 season. But there is so much more.
Must take the time.
Have to build it.
Part of the job.
He arrives at the office each morning at 5:30. By 10 p.m., he could be on the way home. If he decides he can spare the 10-minute drive (times two).
There's the dilemma. Every second can be used to make a piece of the program better.
"I try to be a perfectionist as much as I can be," Beckman said.
And perfection isn't just a football goal. He wants the team to run on the field a certain way. He's got a plan for the walk to the stadium. He's thinking about pregame meals.
"You want it to all be successful," Beckman said.
Beckman didn't just decide at 40 to start working hard. He grew up in a working house, led by mom, Pat, and football coach dad, Dave.
His new team uses the term "Illini time," which means you are supposed to arrive at everything 10 minutes early. The idea started with Pat Beckman.
"I think he gets a lot of it from my parents," said Ted Beckman, Tim's younger brother. "We were never late for appointments. We were always 10 minutes early. That's how my parents bred Tim. When I talk to Tim, it motivates me to work harder."
Ted Beckman said his brother is ready for his first season at Illinois. And the challenge of a 12-game schedule that includes trips to Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State.
"There's no doubt that every position, every position coach, every player, will be as ready as anybody else stepping on the field Saturday, anywhere," Ted Beckman said.
"He is the most prepared person I have ever met."
Ted Beckman has faith in his brother, the coach. He proudly wears one of the orange bracelets that reads "12-1-12," the date of the Big Ten title game.
But the younger brother worries that the coach won't take any downtime. They talk about it. In his job with Cleveland-based Game Plan Financial, Ted Beckman works with NFL coaches and executives. He has seen his share of work-related stress. His brother is no different.
"He goes after it hard," Ted Beckman said.
Nobody on the Illinois staff knows Beckman better than Mike Ward. The linebackers coach first worked with Beckman at Findlay in the mid-1980s. Beckman suffered an injury during his career and became a student assistant.
"Even as a senior in college, he was a very goal-driven young man," Ward said. "His class schedule was such that he could help us out. He took the ball and ran with it. The learning curve was little or none."
Ward and Beckman stayed connected throughout the years, working together at Bowling Green. When Beckman took over at Toledo, he hired Ward.
Now, the young student assistant is coaching in the Big Ten.
"In this profession, you never know," Ward said. "It didn't happen overnight."
Why did it work out for Beckman? Why does he have one of the 12 precious Big Ten jobs?
"He's extremely organized," Ward said. "He's extremely disciplined. He's extremely goal-oriented. And he loves what he's doing. He enjoys teaching. We all know great coaches are even better teachers."
Ward hasn't seen any changes since Beckman moved from Toledo to Illinois.
"He's got a plan, and he's sticking to the plan," Ward said.
Mike Thomas wasn't the first person to hire Beckman as a head football coach. Mike O'Brien was.
In December 2008, the Toledo athletic director was looking for someone to replace Tom Amstutz. He found his guy at Oklahoma State.
"It was quite easy to see Tim was going to be a success," O'Brien said. "He was what we needed at that time. The product had slipped somewhat, both on and off the field. Tim brought discipline to the program. He brought it on the field and in the academic and social settings.
"You could see when you were talking to Tim that he was the real deal."
Beckman had never been a head coach, in high school or college. He had been a defensive coordinator for two seasons with the Cowboys and seven seasons at Bowling Green.
But he had never run the whole program.
O'Brien didn't worry about the lack of head coaching experience. He was looking for a specific set of traits and found them in Beckman.
"Today's great head coaches were assistants sometime," O'Brien said. "You need that first shot. Tim and UT was perfect."
The first year, when the Rockets went 5-7, O'Brien felt like he made the right choice. Consecutive bowl seasons proved him right.
The problem for ADs in the MAC is that a successful coach isn't likely to stay long. The Big East, ACC and Big Ten will swoop in and hire the guy away.
O'Brien knew it was coming. He supported Beckman's move to Illinois. Just like he'll support Matt Campbell down the road if he gets a chance to move to a BCS conference.
"It's what we deal with," O'Brien said. "It's also a sign that we made the right hire that a Big Ten institution wants to hire our coach."
Will Beckman succeed at Illinois? He's got O'Brien's vote.
"He's ready," O'Brien said. "No one will outwork Tim. He will succeed."
And he's thankful for what Beckman left behind at Toledo, a program much different than the one he inherited.
"The program has been developed," O'Brien said. "It's academics. It's the organization of the staff. Clearly it's about being competitive on the field. You name it, Tim Beckman was a big part of that."
Is Price right?
Ask veteran college coaches about guys in the first year of the program and they will offer all sorts of advice: "Be yourself." "Build a relationship with your players." "Take it one day at a time."
Longtime UTEP leader Mike Price has different ideas, ones that he wished he had followed himself in stops at Weber State, Washington State, Alabama and UTEP.
"Enjoy the moment," Price said. "It's got to be the best feeling in the world to get the Illinois job. Enjoy the experience with your family and your coaches and your players."
The 66-year-old, who ranks among the nation's winningest active coaches, admits it won't be easy for Beckman to stop and breathe it all in.
"It's almost impossible to do that," Price said. "You are just besieged with phone calls and people wanting a piece of your time. If you can just set a little time aside for yourself to relax with your wife, enjoy a glass of wine. But most guys don't do that. They just jump in 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Price didn't follow his own advice.
"I look back and I say, 'I should have done it. I should have done it,' " Price said. "I should have taken time for myself. I should have made sure my family was out there when we got the job. Most times, the family stayed behind for a couple of months."
Clubs and crowds
The Illini Quarterback Club has one function: serve the football program. Whatever is needed. In the past, the club has bought equipment for the weightroom, furniture for the offices, anything. If football asked, the club would find a way to come up with the money.
The payback for the club is weekly luncheons with the head coach. For as long as anyone can remember, those have been held on Fridays at noon. Seems like the perfect time. If there was a loss the previous week, everyone is looking forward. If it was a win, then the celebrating continues.
Past coaches have always fit the club into their schedule. Ron Turner didn't always like the timing. And there were early struggles with Ron Zook, who later came to appreciate the loyalty of those in attendance.
Beckman wants to continue the club luncheons, but with a twist. They are going to be Mondays.
Some at the club are worried attendance will drop. It's a lot easier to take a long lunch on a Friday. Bosses don't appreciate extended absences the first day of the workweek.
And Mondays will mean more of a look back at the previous game as opposed to a peek forward.
Still, there are positives, like the chance to have players appear on Monday. That was rarely possible with the Friday luncheons because the players were already in game-day mode.
You can figure almost 100 percent of the Quarterback Club members will be at the games. But that doesn't fill the stadium.
Projected attendance for the opener is 45,000, well below the 60,670 capacity of Memorial Stadium. Most coaches will tell you winning fills the seats. But there is also scheduling (no big-time draw in the nonconference), exciting offense and a coach and team involved in the community.
Beckman has made stops throughout the year. He has opened his team to the students and fans. Tonight at Memorial Stadium, students will be asked to fill the field for an end-of-practice field goal try. It is Beckman's way to reach out. But will they come back for the real game?
Beckman officially took office Dec. 9.
While putting his staff together, he got to attend the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and not coach. He watched his new school rally for a win against UCLA.
His first recruiting class went fine, especially given the short amount of time he had to put it together. Rivals.com ranked it No. 64 nationally. Scout.com said it was No. 69.
Actually, Beckman's recruiting started in January, when he convinced Michael Buchanan, Terry Hawthorne, Graham Pocic and Akeem Spence to return for another year of school. All had the option to go into the NFL draft, and the pull was strong for a couple. Without Buchanan, Hawthorne and Spence, the highly regarded Illinois defense would have suffered.
The offseason included some bumps for the first-year coach. Not Tattoogate-sized, but still bumps. Justin Staples, a starting defensive end, was suspended from the team in March after a DUI arrest. He later was reinstated but will have to sit out the Western Michigan game as part of his punishment.
On June 9, Buchanan suffered a broken jaw in what was described as an "altercation." He had his jaw wired shut for about a week. Beckman said the injury didn't derail Buchanan's training for the season. He was quickly able to regain any lost weight.
In late June, redshirt freshman receiver Jordan Frysinger voluntarily left the program. The next day, he was arrested in New York and pleaded guilty to a charge of reckless endangerment, a felony. He is scheduled for sentencing next week.
Sign here, please
Beckman and his staff spent the summer picking up commitments. As of Saturday, they had 19 pledged to the Class of 2013, including Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey.
None of the recruits has seen Illinois play with Beckman as coach. They are picking the school without visual evidence of success.
"I think it's not just what's on the field, but what's going on throughout the community and the things they are hearing about what Illinois football is about," Beckman said. "I hope that's the reason we've got 19 commitments and we haven't played a game. We're trying to build this into more than just football. It's about a family and winning."
Rivals.com likes the Illinois class, ranking it No. 22 nationally and third in the Big Ten. Scout.com lists the Illinois class at No. 32.
There are more spots to fill. When his first season ends, Beckman will turn his full attention to recruiting. More late nights.
The Memorial Stadium couch awaits.