Tate: Illini need stability among coaches, players

In football, creating turnovers is good, but player-staff turnover is bad.

Illinois has been going the wrong direction in both. During the six-year period ending in 2013, dating to the 2008 season when the latest UI slump began to take shape, we have seen two head coaches and 33 assistants.

Thirty-three! An astounding number. Other than Ron Zook, defensive line coach Keith Gilmore is the only one of the nine annual assistants who shows up in four of those seasons ... and he left this year to join the North Carolina staff.

It's been a swinging door of confusion. We've seen co-coordinators on defense and co-coordinators on offense. We've seen the head coach in full charge, and we've seen him step back. We've seen assistants accepting jobs here, and then changing their minds. Five aides disappeared after one season with current UI head coach Tim Beckman.

This is no way to run a railroad. For all the expertise of Bill Cubit, he is engaged in the trying task of undoing previous schemes as he installs the fifth different offensive operation in six seasons here.

Is continuity important? Ask Corey Lewis. The sixth-year tackle, bouncing around on sound knees for the first time since the spring of 2010, must wonder what's going on. The product of Cresco, Pa., has had three different line coaches in just the last six months ... Luke Butkus, Jim Bridge and now A.J. Ricker.

How many different ways has he been instructed in the blocking schemes?

 

Time not on their side

What has become an exodus of coaches took a serious left turn in 2008 when three highly regarded Zook aides — offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and line coaches Tom Sims and Eric Wolford — ended their stays here.

The shuffling really got heated after the 2009 season when Mike Schultz didn't work out as Locksley's successor, and the duo of Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning were brought in essentially as "head coaches" of the offensive and defensive units. This led to a major shakeup.

But field operation is secondary to my concerns. Here's a bigger, more impactful question: How do you recruit talent at a high school in suburban Chicago when the ever-changing UI coach-recruiter needs an introduction to the prep coach every other year? Don't all relationships require time?

If you believe the Illini can be successful by attracting talent from Ohio and the Deep South — that's been the approach of late — my questions are these: Can it be sustained? And can the UI beat out the powers in other states when they can't hold their own at home?

Young athletes see what's happening. The BTN shows large crowds at other spring games, and empty stands at Illinois.

We can pretend this isn't so, and we're fooling ourselves. At this stage, it's hard to tell who is more indifferent toward Illini football, prospective recruits or long-suffering UI fans?

 

Sad state of affairs

We hear talk that Beckman needs to get it rolling this season or, at the latest, the following year if he's going to keep his job. Like, win now whether or not you have the available talent to do so.

This "win now" demand overlooks the fact that it took years to foul the mess kit at home, and it'll surely take years to clean it up. Recruiting takes time, and they're starting from scratch.

In 2011, Zook's last season, he brought in 22 players on scholarship. It was, generally speaking, an average class headed by tight end Jon Davis and quarterback Reilly O'Toole.

When the UI squad took the field Friday night, just 12 were available for the spring game as injuries, suspensions and departures took a toll. When everyone is presumably healthy and that group reports in August, only hard-running Texan Donovonn Young, Indianapolis guard Ted Karras and Louisville's Davis have established themselves firmly as standouts. Of seven Illinoisans on the original 22-man list in 2011, none figures to start.

So, combining Zook's last two classes in 2010 and 2011 — Beckman's counted-on leaders in 2013 — there are just three Illinois high school products in the projected starting lineup. Three! And two of those, D-tackles Jake Howe and Austin Teitsma, are receiving their first extended opportunities at positions lacking any other experienced returnees.

 

Northern lights

My point is and will continue to be: Illinois can't expect long-term success on the football field without an influx of the blue-chip talent from a Chicago metropolitan region that has obviously displayed sporadic feelings of loyalty to the state university.

An enterprising UI coach might attract junior college players for a time or, as has happened, entice the best out of Washington, D.C., on the basis of one man's contacts (Locksley), but the only approach assuring long-term success is to build relationships in northern Illinois and mine the area on a consistent basis.

In the latest shortfall, the UI has three incoming freshman from alongside Interstate 80 but only one — Bolingbrook QB Aaron Bailey — from the dozens of large high schools covering a lakeside area of roughly 10 million people ... almost as populous as Wisconsin and Indiana combined and far more productive of football talent.

The words of Barry Alvarez echoed long ago when he proclaimed: "Our recruiting starts in the home state of Wisconsin." The Badgers also looked elsewhere, but they emphasized the home base first.

It took Lou Henson "a lot longer than I expected," but he corralled Chicago basketball talent (before the Deon Thomas fiasco shot him down). Until football recruiting improves north of I-80, Illini successes will be few and far between. That's the hard truth. Every school goes beyond its state line to recruit, only a few attain lasting success without dominating the home base.

 

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

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JimOATSfan wrote on April 17, 2013 at 5:04 am

Hey what happened to the IlliniHQ site?  Miss it already ... and you can't seem to log-out right now, much like hotel california where you can always checkin but you can never leave.

Much of the success of many championship schools lies in finding that right head coach - the magical one who is not only successful but happy to stay. Thats how programs are built.

Boise State - Peterson

Gonzaga - Few

even Minnesota had national champions with their coach in the 1930's

Wisconsin - Alverez

MIchigan - quite a few in a row

OSU - Woody Hayes, then recently Tressel

NW - Fitzgerald

MSU - Izzo

Duke - Coach K

Nebraska - Deveney, then Osborne

These guys loved being at their schools. The Illini need to find that magic-man: winning and happy in Cham-bana for life.  Go Illini!

Moonpie wrote on April 17, 2013 at 7:04 am

More mastery of the obvious from Oracle Legend Tate. More 1950s expressions--no way to run a railroad. And once again, he lashes out at Chicago and calls it disloyal. Since when does Chicago have to automatically have to curtsy and bow to the cornfield on the prairie? What has UI done to deserve unswerving loyalty? Finally, he seems to back Beckman -- for now. I guess Beckman must have finally agreed to play golf with Oracle.

JDG613 wrote on April 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Unbelievable....  If Tate says it's a nice day outside, Moon's going to argue and call him crazy and self-serving.  If Tate says it's 12:00 at noon, Moon's going to blast Tate for being biased and opinionated.

What Tate is saying is that the UI coaches need to somehow get the Chicago area athletes to look at the main university in the state as THEIR optimal choice, to somehow instill that loyalty in kids that were raised in the state, to play for the school that carries the primary banner for the state.

Tate didn't "lash out at Chicago," but you are (again) lashing out at Tate.  Just keep your inane thoughts to yourself, PLEASE!!!!

Bwp 5P wrote on April 17, 2013 at 7:04 am

I wondered about the site change as well! Not caring for this at all!

pberg wrote on April 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

This article is spot on.  We have the wrong coach and it is not going to get better. A coach that is already successful and can pull a great staff (recruiting and coaching) that is paid to stay is the only way to right this listing ship.  How do you get back the people you have already lost because of losses, coaches leaving (must be a good reason) in droves and even if you lower the price of tickets who wants to go to watch them lose.  I can turn off the TV in Indy when I dont want to watch anymore.  Mike Thomas has to see this and get it turned around because this way isnt going to cut it anymore. 

bigteddy10 wrote on April 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

For once Mr. Tate I totally agree with you. I just read a post from Alex Golesh while on the recruiting trail in the Chicagoland area, " we need Illinois players to stay home". And he is right, in order to compete with Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State and Michigan State, someway somehow Illinois must start winning the recruits over and encourage them to stay home. You can even put Notre Dame in there cause they get quite a few kids from the state as well. I think we have had more coaching turn around than any other school in the Big Ten over the past few years. These constant changes has led to a lot of the inconsistant play on the field and the recruits plus their parents see this. Don't remember which coach said it but I believe this statement, "you have to win your home state first then sprinkle the rest of your class with other recruits from different states". For whatever reason this has not been the previous coaching staffs commitment and the results on the field shows. Yeah we get recruits from Ohio, but the best ones go to Ohio State then Michigan or Michigan State first. Same goes for the state of Florida, the best recruits go to Florida, Florida State or Miami before venturing out to other programs. That's not the case in Illinois, the best recruits are filling the rosters of other Big Ten schools, Notre Dame, USC and even schools in the SEC. There is just as much talent in Illinois as anywhere else and if the recruiters spent the time and resourses in the Chicagoland area that is needed maybe things would be different. Now I give Beckmon a pass on his first class cause he didn't have enough time to sell himself to the recruits, but his 2nd class does have 9 in-state recruits one 4 star and the rest 3's and 2's. That's so so but after a disastrous 1st season on the field better than what the previous regime was bringing in from the state. Coach Beckmon here's your formula for success, try your best to get 1/3 of the top recruits (the 4 and 5 stars) to stay home with as many 3 stars as possible and sprinkle in the recruits from Florida, Ohio and Texas (the 4's and 3's) , only take 2's towards the end of recruiting instead of early and things can definitely start heading in the right direction.......GO ILLINI 

Illini '73 wrote on April 17, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Downstaters don't  feel much in common with Chicago.  The farther downstate you go the more this is felt.  There was a commercial some time ago that included this jingle, "Just out side Chigago, there's a state called Illinois."  Many downstaters say they would be better off if Chicago became the 51st state.  I don't know for sure, but I wonder if the feeling is mutual. If so, it's understandable why Chicago-land players aren't pre-disposed to come to UI vs going to other Big 10 schools or elsewhere.

pberg wrote on April 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Winning cures what you are talking about.  If Illinois had a established head coach and staff that would stay together (after paying them well) the winning would come and players from the Chicago area would go to the U of I.  Illinois is nowhere close to that happening. It is not going to happen with this group.  Dont you think that some of these players ask why do assistant coaches stay?  There is so much to that. Once again, Illinois is going to have to commit some big money to lure someone to Champaign. If not, we will have a half empty stadium for years to come.

jmckenzie wrote on April 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I, too, prefer the former look and feel of IlliniHQ.

Let's take a vote...

azfan wrote on April 17, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Cowpie must laugh every time I or someone else answers his stupid words. I still say he had to have been fired from the News Gazette or Tate stole his girl at one time or another.When you see his reply it is the same every time. GET A LIFE COWPIE

jnaour wrote on April 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I don't buy it.  I just researched the '89 roster of the best team in the last 25 years (sorry, 2001).  How many from Chicago were starters?  Four.  Pretty good ones, yes in Griffith, Agee, Streeter, Hartley.  But key guys like Bellamy (NY), George/Brownlow/Green/Gardner (Indy), Cam Pepper (Texas), Verduzco/Steven Williams /Marlon Primous (Cali).  Henry Jones, Quintin Parker, Julyon Brown all from St. Louis.  Mike Hopkins (Missouri).  Guys from IL Tim Simpson (Peoria), Curt Lovelace (Quincy), Shawn Wax (Rockford).  Heck the LT and captain Schneider was from Georgia.  That team went 10-2, was an offensive force and off course, beat a really good Virginia team in the citrus bowl.  Also, many of these guys would be KEY in the victory in '90 over eventual NC Colorado.  You don't have to own Chicago, but the guys you get should be cream, not chaff.  If you win, you can find talent about anywhere.  Just have to be good at evaluating those late bloomers and gets some studs too.  That's how you'll win at illinois because we aren't OSU or SEC where some recruits are sent away that we would take in a second.

OrlandoIllini wrote on April 18, 2013 at 11:04 am

This is Moonpie's life. It's all he can do. Just hope it remains at the level of irrational verbal compulsion, and does not progress to acting out.

socalillini56 wrote on April 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

I am a 1972 graduate living in Southern California. UCLA had been losing a recruiting battle for years to USC, as Pete Carroll dominated the scene. The Bruins went through several coaching changes and finally took a chance by hiring Jim Mora.  He has instilled new life in the program, I think, because he brings credibility from his pro background. "I can help you get to the NFL!"  He has begun to get the California recruits, and will build a winner. This is the UCLA team that Illinois beat just over a year  ago in whatever bowl game that was.


Tim Beckman doesn't have the credibility to get the job done, in the tough recruiting environment that exists in Champaign-Urbana.  I agre we should get our share of Illinois 3-star recruits. We will never compete for a National Championship, but we should be able to field a decent team that beats Ohio state or Michigan or Wisconsin once in a while.


Take it from me--I was on our 1968 and  1969 teams.  We are at that nadir again.