It is Tim Beckman’s job to help woo those fans back into their seats. The second-year Illinois coach doesn’t have an easy answer for 2-10.
Depth was a concern from the start. And when he lost 86 starts because of injury (30 is a typical number, Beckman said), the problems were compounded.
“We still didn’t play well,” he said.
When it ended with another lopsided loss at Northwestern, Beckman reached out to friends in the coaching profession.
“I contacted people I believe in,” Beckman said. “I think you probably do question it a little bit, so you study your work and evaluate. Maybe there are a couple things you did three years ago, two years ago. You want to make sure you are still on the track.”
Beckman won’t make major changes in his philosophy.
“The plan is the plan,” Beckman said. “You stick by the plan. You’ve seen it very, very successful. There might have been a tweak here and there, but there is still the philosophy of competitiveness, the philosophy of hard work, the philosophy of mental toughness.”
Beckman knows there is doubt about his program. He uses the chatter as motivation.
“Nobody wants to lose,” Beckman said. “Disgruntled or not disgruntled, we’ve got to take this and move this program forward.”
Beckman’s team resumed its winter conditioning the day after recruiting ended. The players are divided into six teams and are graded on everything. The first workouts were at 5:30 a.m. before moving to 6.
Recently they went bowling, with Tim Russell rolling the top score.
Responsibility is a part of the competition. If a player is late for a class, he costs his team points. Beckman has 42 players over a 3.0 GPA. Getting to class on time plays a part.
“We’ve made strides that way,” Beckman said. “We’ve put in more community service hours than ever. But that’s not winning football games. We’ve got to make those strides on the football field.”
Linebacker Jonathan Brown (shoulder) and receiver Darius Millines (shoulder) will be limited during spring drills.
Everyone else is ready to go, including 10 midyear enrollees.
Beckman will take his team to Chicago’s Gately Stadium on March 29. The workout is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. but might get pushed back a bit because of the threat of Chicago’s late-afternoon traffic.
Potential recruits can visit the workout but can’t talk to the Illinois coaches. That will also be the situation when Illinois hosts Washington at Soldier Field in September. Because it is an Illinois home game, the school can provide tickets to potential recruits.
Mike Bellamy saw the string of talented candidates come into the Illinois football offices. All for a job he wanted and ultimately got: receivers coach at his alma mater.
“I’m still floating,” Bellamy said.
Bellamy spent the past year as assistant director of player personnel and relations. It was a job created by Beckman with recruiting and alumni relations responsibilities.
The former Illini star receiver, who played for John Mackovic in the late 1980s, came to Illinois after owning his own business and working as a high school and college assistant coach in the Atlanta area.
“I’ve always been a dreamer and always had aspirations, in whatever I did, to be on top,” Bellamy said. “When I first decided to get into coaching, the first people I called were John Mackovic, Coach (Mike) White and Coach (Ron) Guenther. I asked them what would be their hesitations in hiring me at this level. I didn’t feel I could do the tour route, the smaller schools. I wasn’t in the mood to be patient. I wanted to shoot for the stars.”
Beckman got to know Bellamy during the year. “He loves this place,” he said. “He believes in this place. He has already, in one year, been an asset to this program.”
When Billy Gonzales left for Mississippi State, Bellamy was considered for the position. But he wasn’t a lock.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to realize what you’re up against,” Bellamy said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I didn’t want the job just because.
“When it came down to it, I wanted to make sure I had the confidence of the coaching staff.”
When Bellamy returned to Illinois before the 2012 season, it gave him the chance to get to know the players. He made sure never to step on the toes of the coaching staff but was there for advice if asked.
“I would take my own mental notes,” Bellamy said.
Bellamy’s style won’t be yelling for yelling’s sake. His coaching mentor is Tim Harkness, who was on the Illinois staff when Bellamy played here.
“When I wanted to get into coaching, he was the first person I called,” Bellamy said. “He’s a yeller-screamer as a motivator. He held us accountable. He’s not getting in your face, pulling your facemask.
“My words can get across with explaining more than yelling. Once you start yelling, you become like Charlie Brown. It becomes white noise.”
Bellamy is happy with the crew of receivers he inherits, led by veterans Ryan Lankford, Steve Hull, Spencer Harris, Miles Osei and Millines.
“I feel like I’m cheating,” Bellamy said. “I feel like I’ve been given the answers to the test. I was looking at an evaluation of Steve Hull as a freshman. They said he was one of the top three receivers on the team. I haven’t been handed a car without a motor. I’ve got five to eight guys who will help us be successful in this offense.”
Cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale has left Illinois for a job at Cincinnati. It gets him back to his home state, Ohio, where his father is ailing.
When Beckman hires a new assistant, it will be the fifth change on his staff since the end of the 2012 season, three on offense and two on defense.
“I’ve been very blessed with the guys I’ve ended up hiring,” Beckman said. “Because I’ve hired former head coaches, guys who have been in the Big Ten, guys who have been coordinators in the Big Ten.”
Frequent emailer Jerry from Naperville has a plan for the Big Ten scheduling once the conference goes to nine games: give the five-game home schedules to teams in the same division. And switch it up every year.
For the Leaders Division, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin would play five home games one year and four the next.
That way, the division titles aren’t impacted by a school or two having an unfair home advantage. Genius.
The Big Ten coaches are all against new NCAA rules that will end limits on phone and texting contacts between schools and potential recruits.
“What’s best for the game of college football and high school football?” Beckman said.
Survey says ...
The surveys came by email earlier in the week. Forty-five questions.
They went to Illinois football season ticket- holders. A group the school hopes doesn’t dwindle after a 2-10 season.
The topics are wide ranging, from “Where do you live?” to “What is your financial position compared to a year ago?” to “How would you describe the future of the Illinois football program?”
There are three possible answers to the latter question: “improving,” “about the same” or “declining.”
It takes eight questions to get to the most pertinent issue: “Will you buy season tickets in 2013?”
On paper, the 2013 home schedule is considerably better than the 2012 version. First, there is a nonconference game against a BCS conference school (Cincinnati). There is a homestate FCS school (Southern Illinois) instead of one from far away (Charleston Southern). And the Big Ten schedule is a serious improvement, with preseason national title favorite Ohio State, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Michigan State replacing Indiana, Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue.
The Week 3 game against Washington at Chicago’s Soldier Field isn’t a part of the season ticket. But season ticket-holders will have the first shot at seats for the game, the first in the building for Illinois since 1994.
The survey asks, “How important to the University of Illinois do you feel it is to play a game in Chicago on a regular basis?” Illinois has an every-other-season game guaranteed at Northwestern. But athletic director Mike Thomas has made it clear he wants games in Chicago in the years when Illinois doesn’t play in Evanston. The game against Washington is the start of that plan, with others likely to follow.
The survey also addresses the fan experience, including parking, security, friendliness of the staff, concessions and restrooms.
The value of the survey depends on the honesty of the answers and the willingness of the school to listen to those answers. If everyone writes
“Don’t care about yearly games in Chicago” and the school schedules them anyway, then the survey won’t have a major impact.
If the fans request better directions at Memorial Stadium and more out-of-town score updates, and the school follows through, then the survey did its job. And it will be easy for the fans to justify filling it out next year and beyond.
Bob Asmussen covers college football for The News-Gazette. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter