CHAMPAIGN — Sitting on a leather couch inside his office, his right leg crossed and resting comfortably on his left knee, Tim Beckman has a clear view of Memorial Stadium.
On this morning, the sun is out.
The wind is a bit breezy.
The temperatures aren’t too warm, yet not too cool, and no fans are inside the venerable venue.
It’s a portrait of tranquility, with the playing surface about to transform with the Illinois Marathon instead of for an Illinois football game.
Those days are coming, though. Soon.
Beckman is eager. Ready for the season to start. Ready to quiet critics who have not exactly enjoyed the 6-18 record the 49-year-old has accumulated his first two seasons.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Beckman said. “I didn’t want to be in the NFL. I didn’t want to be an NFL head coach. I wanted to be a college football head coach.”
Post a winning record this fall and athletic director Mike Thomas might not have to answer questions like he has the last two winters. Is Beckman still the coach at Illinois?
Don’t finish the 2014 season with a bowl game and, well, Beckman could find himself anxiously awaiting the next few days once the final regular season game at Northwestern on Nov. 29 ends.
“I’ve been so blessed with winning,” said Beckman, who has had 10 winning seasons in 16 as a coach at an FBS program. “(Losing has been) real hard, not just for me, but my family. When your family is tied so much into the program, it affects everybody. My family loves being around football. What’s different about me, and I don’t mean this in a cocky way, is I’ve been around this profession my whole life. I was at practices when I was a baby. When (my youngest son) Alex was born, we had a game the next week. He was there when he was 5 days old.”
The process of leaving Toledo to coach at Illinois happened quickly. Like the way Beckman snapped his finger when the topic was broached. Perhaps, in hindsight, he could have adapted sooner to what he was getting himself into at Illinois. The lack of depth he inherited at certain positions shocked Beckman.
“First of all, it was a dream to be in the Big Ten and having this opportunity,” Beckman said. “Maybe a little bit on the confidence level, I thought I could create a winner anywhere, so maybe I didn’t study it enough as I should, but I was also out on the road recruiting for Toledo. I was in California, and then in Miami. I wasn’t looking at depth charts of Illinois and what the stadium looked like and all those things. I was trying to prepare to get a running back to back David Fluellen up at Toledo. That’s what I was doing. I wasn’t looking into this program. I was trying to get Toledo as good as I could because I was the head coach at Toledo.”
From the day he accepted the Illinois job to when the Illini played UCLA at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011, Beckman didn’t want to immerse himself too much with the program since Vic Koenning was the interim coach for the bowl game.
He busied himself with compiling a staff and recruiting.
“I watched two practices,” he said. “I didn’t feel that I should go out on the practice field because I thought I might affect it with my presence just being there. I was trying to get my coaching staff together, and I had guys that were committed, but they were all playing.”
Including Koenning. The popular defensive coordinator during his two seasons at Illinois took a job at North Carolina shortly after the 2011 season ended at Illinois.
“I tried like hell to keep Vic,” Beckman said, “but he didn’t stay.”
Some of the commits Ron Zook had managed to attract stayed. Others didn’t.
“You look at those guys and then try to get some of the guys you’ve been recruiting that you feel are capable of playing in the Big Ten,” Beckman said.
Beckman said when the losses mounted his first season at Illinois, he would find himself in his office immediately breaking down film of what had just transpired. He took a bit of a step back his second season, allowing himself a few hours to process the game before plunging himself back into preparation.
“I didn’t do a good enough job the first year. Bottom line,” Beckman said. “It’s not the kids’ fault. It was my fault. I thought our team played hard last year. Sometimes we might not have had the same talent as we had the first year on the football field, but they played hard.”
Now Beckman wants the talent and effort to mesh together into getting Illinois winning again. On a consistent basis. An aspect that has eluded Illinois head coaches throughout the program’s history.
“To see Michael Buchanan not being happy because we didn’t play well, I take that personally,” Beckman said. “Same thing with Nathan Scheelhaase. I want Simon Cvijanovic to feel good. I want Alex Hill to feel good. I’m just using seniors from each class as an example, but I want them to feel success.”
Edwards checks in
Illinois already has a quarterback commit in the Class of 2015.
Centennial’s Jimmy Fitzgerald fits that description.
But Illinois is actively recruiting another in-state signal-caller.
Albeit one that likely won’t play quarterback in college.
Downers Grove North’s David Edwards made at least two trips to Champaign-Urbana in the past two months, checking out the Illinois spring game on April 12 and attending a spring practice in mid-March.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Edwards will likely play tight end in college as he mulls through offers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.
Illinois inside linebackers coach Mike Ward — whose recruiting area covers Downers Grove North — and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh, who also coaches the Illini tight ends, are the lead recruiters on Edwards.
Tight end is a position of need for Illinois in the Class of 2015 with projected starters Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis set to graduate after the 2014 season.
Edwards already has a built-in connection to Illinois.
His cousin, Garrett Edwards, was a safety at Illinois from 2006 to ’09.
Hence he already has an idea of what tight end he enjoys watching.
“Michael Hoomanawanui was my cousin’s roommate in college,” Edwards said of the current New England Patriot, “and he’s big around my family.”
Edwards’ big frame is an asset college coaches feel will prove valuable in college once he makes the switch to tight end.
Edwards said he is still slated to play quarterback this fall for Downers Grove North, which advanced to the Class 7A state quarterfinals last season before losing to Illinois running back signee Matt Domer and Chicago Mount Carmel, and isn’t upset about moving to tight end in college.
“I think my size and athleticism will help me the most (in college),” Edwards said. “I am comfortable with (switching to tight end). I understand that’s what colleges want me to play, and it doesn’t matter to me.”
The pitch the Illini coaching staff is making to Edwards is direct and to the point.
“They want to keep the top players in Illinois so we can build something special,” Edwards said. “I really like the school and the campus, and I have a great relationship with the coaching staff.”
Illinois should know before its season opener against Youngstown State on Aug. 30 what college Edwards plans to choose.
He doesn’t want to hold off on the decision too much longer.
“I’d like to decide before the start of my senior year,” Edwards said. “I would like to get it out of the way before the start of football so I can focus on school and sports.”