Tate: Beckman's back to the wall

Tate: Beckman's back to the wall

Even though the masses of Illini Nation don’t have a vote, there is a popular referendum ongoing whether Tim Beckman needs to defeat Purdue on Saturday to retain his job.

If put to a vote, there are two basic points of view:

(1) From a purely philosophical standpoint, every head football coach deserves at least three years ... and to be fair, four. Since Bob Zuppke started his 29-year reign in 1913, the only Illini coach limited to three seasons was Gary Moeller, who went 6-24-3 in 1977-79. Beckman is 5-17.

(2) The 20-game Big Ten losing streak is weighing heavily on Beckman’s shoulders, and the defensive shortcomings — for which he is directly responsible — have reached historic proportions. Win-now critics don’t believe he can reverse the slide.

Bordering on helplessness, Illinois is giving up 493.5 yards per game, which is 114th out of 123 FBS teams. The defense has permitted five 200-yard rushers, including Penn State’s Bill Belton (201), Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (215) and Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde (246) in the last three games. No Illini team ever permitted so many 200-yarders before.

That brings us to Purdue. Opening with a 42-7 loss at Cincinnati (Illinois beat the Bearcats 45-17), the Boilermakers have been inept in the extreme. OK, they challenged Notre Dame before losing 31-24, but they did not take a snap in the red zone (opponent’s 20-yard line) in consecutive games against Nebraska, Michigan State and Ohio State. The Boilermakers have four rushing TDs this season and are averaging 65 yards on the ground. Their overall loss streak of eight is longer than the Illinois slide of six.

Pressure to produce
The Illini have flashed enough offense to be favored by a touchdown Saturday, and they desperately need to prevail to clear the air of Beckman dismissal scuttlebutt. If they fall short, the likelihood of carrying the Big Ten losing streak through the Northwestern finale grows stronger. And that scenario would put athletic director Mike Thomas under pressure from mounting unhappiness in the ranks.  

UI attendance is falling precipitously. It took throngs of Ohio State followers, including the Buckeyes’ band, to bring the UI’s announced attendance to 44,095 Saturday, and fans in red far outnumbered the home folks when Hyde broke the last two TD runs in a 60-35 romp. It was the lowest turnout for an OSU-UI game in 35 years. With Northwestern also struggling, and with the weather turning cold, the turnstile count for the Nov. 30 home windup will be well below the tickets-sold allocation.

In West Lafayette, despite their team’s frequent failures, Old Gold and Black fans have become accustomed to punishing Illinois. They have reason to expect success based on these stats: In football, Purdue has lost at home to Illinois once since 1994 and has won 10 of the last 13 overall. When almost nothing is at stake, Purdue wins.

In men’s basketball, Purdue has enjoyed nine- and eight-game win streaks against Illinois (dating to Brian Cardinal) and is 11-4 since the UI’s Dee Brown graduated. Women’s basketball borders on unfair competition, the Boilermakers prevailing in 44 of the last 49 meetings.

The good and the bad
In analyzing Beckman’s two-year operation, the swings in performance have been stunning and disconcerting.

Overnight, the defense tumbled from No. 7 in 2011 to the depths in 2012 (Northwestern racked 50 in the finale) and even worse in 2013. Meanwhile, V’Angelo Bentley’s 67-yard punt return Saturday provided more evidence that special teams has taken a step forward, and Bill Cubit’s offense is operating at a 425-yard clip. Taking on a schedule that includes the top four teams in the Big Ten — Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska — the Illini rank No. 3 in first downs (22.7) in conference games. The tougher post-September schedule hasn’t diminished production.

From a national perspective, the Illini stand No. 25 in aerial yards per game (288.8), a jump of 82 positions from 2012. That’s an 82-team climb in a lineup of 123. They have made similar jumps in total offense, pass efficiency and scoring (from 16.7 to 30.2).

From all indications, Cubit’s offense appears on a steady, productive run despite an abnormally thin offensive line and modest ground punch. Four of five starting linemen return in 2014. But if an improved offense deserves praise, the question blares: What can Beckman do about a defense that is woefully weak? Is this unit salvageable under current coordinator Tim Banks in 2014? How many holes need to be filled?

Based on early recruiting returns, there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way. But of 29 defenders listed on this week’s UI depth chart, the only seniors are starters Tim Kynard and Jonathan Brown and reserve Ben Mathis. With a year of growth, the 26 returnees should add muscle and bring a degree of improvement in 2014.

But how much? And might there be a better way, as Cubit has demonstrated on offense, for them to go about their business? Is Beckman the right man to handle this overhaul or are we simply waiting for a third year to prove that he isn’t?
Saturday’s Battle for the Bottom — Illinois vs. Purdue — will offer more fuel for the fire. Another loss is not acceptable.

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

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illini82 wrote on November 20, 2013 at 7:11 am

Anyone who has been around or seen Illinois football for more than 30 or 40 years will say that this program is as bad as it has been since the days of Moeller. Many of that group will also say it is even worse.

If Illinois can't find a way to beat PU or Northwestern the following week then Beckman will surely need to go. No amount of $10 tickets and free hot dogs and drinks will be enough to get people to come and watch this clown show for much longer. Also, how long will Cubit stick around? What's the nightmare scenario? Beckman stays and Cubit sails off to greener pastures.

True, firing a coach after just two years presents a different set of problems but, can it be worse than keeping a coach who has 1. Embarrassed himself and the university with his gaffes such as the skoal incident and the PSU fiasco. 2. Hasn't won a B10 game in his two seasons here. 3. Appears and acts woefully underqualified to be a B10 coach. 4. Has the lowest ranked class so far for the 2014 class.5. Has virtually no fan support and has instilled virtually no hope in the fan base to turn the program around. 6. Sales, attendance and interest continues to plummet under his watch.7 Is already on the hotseat and scoffed by many in the sports media.

The one thing that isn't his fault is that he should not have been hired to begin with. That's on Mike Thomas for failing to "hire before he fired".  It also goes back to Guenther who's nearly 20 year run drove the program into the ground to the point that no one wants to come in here and coach.  And also to the administration whose decades long apathy and indifference to success in football has driven us to this point.  In short at many other institutions football matters but at Illinois....not so much.



brock landers wrote on November 20, 2013 at 9:11 am

Here's the thing, Illinois is NOT going to pay 2 coaches not to coach and one to coach...Meaning, Beckman is safe NO MATTER WHAT through next season.  But unless a Miracle happens in 2014, he is 100% gone and hopefully Bobby Petrino and/or Gene Chizik hasn't been gobbled up by then.


There's nothing he can really do to convince me he can coach, i know he can't.  He left Toldeo and they were as good, or better since and that says a lot considering Matt Campbell is the common link from before and after Beckman.

pberg wrote on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

So Thomas is not going to pay two coaches? What was he doing with all of his firings? Paying for two coaches. Do you really continue with Beckman and have only family and friends in the stands in 2014 on a beautiful day in September.  Illini82 has it right.  The administration and Thomas need to own up to the fact that this guy is way over his head.  Should not have hired him in the first place.

brock landers wrote on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

He would be paying 3 coaches!  Zook and Beckman have money owed to them thru 2014.  There's no way he will pay 3, and you can count on it

walker wrote on November 20, 2013 at 10:11 am

Mike Thomas demanded "change and would not settle for less than a team that would compete for championships consistently"  Whatever.  The buck stops with our AD and unfortunately his hire decisions dictate the quality of our program for years to come.  In that sense, most of the blame goes to MT and not to Beckman, who just finds himself in over his head (my opinion only).  Obviously MT is here to stay, but I believe that his bad hire has now caused more overall damage to our FB program than anything Zook or Gunther did or did not do.

illiniorange wrote on November 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Correct. MT deserves all the blame. TB was at home eating lasagne when MT knocked on his door holding his winning lottery ticket contract quadupling his salary from Toledo -- TB had to pinch himself. MT had no choice, he already struck out publically with everyone else. He's got a terrible reputation and no national name wants to work for him so he's stuck making MAC dreams come true... TB was a terrible hire. At least he got the JG hire right.

Dan Bloeme wrote on November 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

Illini are winless in the Big Ten in their last 20 tries. Beating winless this season in B1G Purdue in fight for 11th place in Big Ten is not the kind of progress that fans want. Yes, Illini finished dead last the previous season but next to last is not a big improvement. Beckman was given a chance to make substantial improvements this season from last but he failed to make enough changes to accomplish any substantial improvements. Ether last place or next to last is not enough in your 2nd season. Recruiting mostly a bunch of 3 star and lower football recruits in Beckman's 3 classes does not make prospects for following seasons any better. Illini are not talented, fast or athletic enough to compete with OSU, MSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, etc. Heck, Illinois could not even compete with former perennial doormat Indiana. Saturdays contest to determine who is in last place and who is next to last means virtually nothing in the big picture. Beckman is an even worse coach than Turner or Zook. Illinois fans have been deserting this team in greater numbers all season for good reason. No one wants to watch a team that is non-competitive and lives in the basement of their conference year after year. I am amazed there are any fans left.

Gill52 wrote on November 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

After years of failure and inconsistency, we finally got a defensive coach in Vic Koenning. We became a national leader in defense under Koenning. At the time we would have loved to fire Zook but keep Koenning, just as today it seems we should fire Beckman and keep Cubit. Koenning's success was substantial and verifiable. 

Beckman's NUMBER ONE MISTAKE was that he should have BEGGED Coach Koenning to stay. Any cost, any conditions. That failure, and his failures since, are merely proof that he is in WAY over his head. With Beckman a defensive coach with this defense only serves to remind me that Zook had been a special teams coach in the pros. 

His second biggest mistake was the fit he threw on the sideline this last game. If you are a leader, you recognize that the OC is the only person on his staff doing his job well, and if you want to criticize you do it in private, not on national TV. But panic has already set in, and Beckman is losing it. 

Beckman is out of his depth and the only question is how do we transition to the next coach (who will determine Mike Thomas's future. Yes, we love basketball, but football pays the bills). 

PortlandIllini wrote on November 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

I just want to say two words:   ED ORGERON.

RPeterE wrote on November 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I have to admit I was firmly against the Beckman hire a couple years ago. I was afraid he would make Illinois football into a laughingstock across the country and he has, making our worst nightmares come true. Make this nightmare end Mike T.!

illiniorange wrote on November 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm

The only reason we beat Cincinnati was their QB was knocked out of the game. They shot themselves in the foot early with penalites, It wasn't our 'stellar play' -- the mommentum was already swinging in their direction just before he went down. If Munchie finished the game, we'd more than likely get the L.

jjohnson wrote on November 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

"There's nothing he can do to prove to me he can coach." Says it all about too many of the comments posted. Ignorance triumphs above reason; "If I say he can't coach he can't coach; if I say the emperor's new clothes are fine, they are fine." What nonsense.


westcoast wrote on November 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Are you Jeff Johnson of @therealJeff97?  If so, I follow you on twitter and find your tweets and articles interesting.  What do you think of Beckman's performance?  Do you think he can turn things around?  Will he? 

pberg wrote on November 20, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I dont believe that beating Purdue would silence the critics.  and if the other poster is correct we wont have it any better in 2014 except the critics would grow in number.

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on November 20, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I agree with Illini82, except the part about if we beat Purdue and/or Northwestern. Even if we win out Beckman cannot coach, said that when he was hired. He has zero history of real success anywhere on his resume, all the quasi success that he has had is because of support staff, not him. You can live in a coaching family all your life but this does not mean you can coach.

Had to laugh when Illini82 brought up about clowning around, a group of us called him Bozo until we realized it insulted Bozo so we stopped. For the record our younger kids came up with that on their own and we went with it.

If you are such a poor leader that kids recognize it on their own and start making fun of them you are not ready for the Big10.

Do not know who jjohnson is, all I can say is "wow"! Apparently he has not watched any games this year, and if he does have a blog, thankfully I do not follow it.

Bottom line is this, I interact with people all over the Big10 everyday and everyone of them laugh at our football program and/or say "what program" or "someone has to take all the low rated kids" or "Illini fans have no standards so no wonder their football team are losers", plus several others that cannot print here. Everyday our program with Beckman sinks us farther into, well, you know where. While I take offense to this, what am I going to come back with? Long ago history? What? Are our standards so low that we are on forums just being happy getting a win over the worst team in the conference? What response do I use for that?

To be honest Thomas messed this hire up he should pay to get rid of him. Maybe next time he will get it right, then again maybe not.

walker wrote on November 21, 2013 at 10:11 am

No confidence that MT will get it right the next time.  He needed to have his solid "hire" before he pulled the trigger.  We all no that TB was not his #1 choice, or even his #2 choice.  He can't deliver the bacon and in my opinion he is just as in over his head as AD as TB is as head coach.  For years, people trashed Guenther and were demanding that he step down or be fired. Well we got our wish, somebody other than RG.  I really don't think this university can attract a quality AD or head FB coach at any price specifically because of our reputation, or lack thereof.

SoCal ILL wrote on November 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Walker, you're putting the blame on Thomas for the football hire is a bit much.  His only mistake was not realizing just how far Lord Guenther drove this program into the ground.  The football position is so toxic no one wants to touch it with a ten foot pole, and who can blame them?  Yes, Beckman was hired by Thomas but even as you admitted, only after failing to land coaches such as Kevin Sumlin. This travesty lies at the feet of a man "honored" during halftime of a game this year, not the current AD who has made two excellent hires in Groce and Bollant.

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on November 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Thomas deserves a lot of the blame for this fiasco, there were better choices that wanted to come here that he passed over, true, some did not have his rule of head coaching experience, but were still better choices than Beckman. While they may have not been ideal, just better. As far as I am concerned if he was any good at all he would have landed the first two choices.

As far a the Groce and Bollant hire, I now think he was just lucky. Like a blind squirrel fining an acorn.

Walker well said.

SoCal ILL wrote on November 21, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Yeah.. two out of three... whew, that's luck!  I think you need to read somethign outside of C-U and see just what people think of this program.

Dan Bloeme wrote on November 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

Illinois was able to attract Mike White and Mackovic. I would be happy with a new coach like either of those two. Illinois will likely never be an OSU in football but the exciting teams that White and Mackovic fielded I would enjoy watching and cheering for. I am just so embarassed by Beckman I have to think Mike Thomas didn't do his homework on that one and rushed to judgement after other coaches turned him down. He should have taken his time and lined up a good coach before giving Zook the hook and then losing out on DC Koenning too. Because of Thomas poor hire, Illinois football has gone further downhill and become a national punchline under Beckman. Fans are staying away in droves which ultimately is your true measure of the state of your program. Doesn't matter what Thomas thinks, it's about the Fans.  

ChiefIlliniFan wrote on November 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Funny, I brought up Mike White just the other day, his teams were fun to watch.

SoCal ILL wrote on November 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Orgeron isn't going to leave USC.   Two words for you.  Dino Babers.

Oak Park Illini wrote on November 21, 2013 at 12:11 pm

I admit I wasn't thrilled when Mike Thomas announced Beckman as the head coach. However, I tried to give Beckman the benefit of a doubt, given his ties with the Big Ten and Urban Meyer. But since the Big Ten season started, I've seen lots of regression (mostly on defense) and not a lot of progression (except for the offense). The sideline spat Beckman had with Cubit the other day was (to me) the final straw; Beckman has got to go, and go now!

Yes, I know it sounds harsh after only 2 seasons, but I'm convinced Tim Beckman isn't capable of having a respectable program in terms of wins and losses. I realize that if Thomas makes a change it likely means another 2-3 years of rebuilding. But I am willing to go through that if it means the right coach was hired. And to me, the right coach is just 1 hour south in Charleston: Dino Babers. A young, energetic man that relates well to the kids of today, has a very imaginative offense, and has proven to be a stout recruiter. Sure, he coaches at a FCS school, but so did Jerry Kill at SIU, and now look at the success he's having at Minnesota (a program with the same talent level as Illinois). It's important Mike Thomas get this right, or else the next one looking for a job will be him.



allillini wrote on November 21, 2013 at 2:11 pm

It is sad to see our football team in such bad shape. I know MT could not get his first few choices for a coach so maybe he had to take what he thought was best at the time( someone had to coach). The loss of all the assistants that left early on was a bad sign. We even lost guys with an Illini history like Butkus, who publicly called illinois the perfect fit and then left. Then we lost our only highly regarded lineman, Spearman, when another one of the assistants left. That was a poor start to say the least. Earlier on, before Beckman got there, the other poster was dead right, MT should have insisted on keeping Koenig at any cost. Why even consider getting rid of a man that did what he did with the defense? Hindsight always makes things clearer. Beckman or any other coach, short of an Urban Meyer type is going to have a hard time getting good players to come to Illinois, and I am not real sure that he could. If I recall correctly our first six choices for linemen all chose to sit on the bench for Michigan rather than start for Illinois. How can you turn a program around with that kind of commitment from recruits? Could we win if we had Keonig and Cubit? Perhaps, but what are the odds of pulling that off? Could we get an Urban Meyer type, willing to mount up losses on his resume, until he could turn things around? That did not work out too well the last time. Short of a miracle hire like John Groce, I think the program is in real trouble. It is a shame that we appear to have an offense that could be okay if we had a defense that could stop anyone. With just an average defense this year we would a few more wins now, and this discusson would be a moot  point.  

JimOATSfan wrote on November 21, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Just offer Coach Koennig 750,000 per year to be the defensive coordinator. Then raise Coach Cubit's salary to match.

Promise Koenning 1st shot at head coach if Beckman is put out to pasture.