Cubit gets down to business — on field
RANTOUL — Bill Cubit spent a late-April Friday morning in Philadelphia.
The city carries significant meaning for the Illinois offensive coordinator.
He grew up 10 minutes away in Sharon Hill, Pa. Met his wife, Nancy, when both were still in high school.
He was there, though, with a purpose for his current employer. Cubit visited Philadelphia native Jihad Ward, checking in on the defensive lineman more than two months after he signed with Illinois.
He wasn’t done, however, for the day. Cubit caught a flight back to Champaign. Was in Memorial Stadium later that night when highly coveted offensive lineman Gabe Megginson of Jacksonville orally committed to the Illini.
Those were two moments that, in the grand scheme of what Cubit’s role is at Illinois, aren’t significant. How well his offense plays this season is of utmost importance, with the season opener against Youngstown State less than two weeks away.
But those two moments are meaningful to Cubit. And give a brief snapshot into how he was raised.
“My dad and mom told me to go to work every single day,” the 60-year-old Cubit said. “Each day, these kids are counting on me. There’s nothing better as a coach when you go up to a kid and he tells you, or you tell him first, ‘Hey, I love you.’ They know I’ve got their back, and I know they’ve got my back. There’s nothing better than that.”
Those around him understand why the new contract Cubit is working with this season doesn’t faze him. Illinois made a commitment to Cubit in December, extending his contract one year through the 2015 season. Gave him a pay bump, too, increasing his salary from $400,000 to $500,000.
“Before I go to bed, I just pray that I’m going to be the best coach out there,” Cubit said. “I go out there and do the exact same thing every day. Sometimes guys will get extensions and think, ‘Oh, I’ve got a thing in my hip pocket now.’ I’ve never been that way.”
Working on the details
Cubit and golf go hand-in-hand. The Delaware native has spent a fair part of his coaching career in Florida. He has children living in the Sunshine State, along with grandchildren, now. Another reason for him to visit.
He was apt this offseason, whether it was when Illinois was about to go on spring break and spring practices took a brief hiatus, or when most of the Illinois coaching staff took vacations in early July, to tell various reporters he had a flight booked to Florida. With tee times already arranged.
But playing golf year-round doesn’t give him the same satisfaction he gets from coaching football.
“He has a hobby in golf,” Illinois recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh said. “With us not having (much) turnover on the staff this offseason, we didn’t meet a lot. For him to be able to go play and have football and have the best of both worlds, it’s been awesome.”
His son, Ryan, has watched his dad relish coaching more since he arrived at Illinois after he was fired as Western Michigan’s head coach after the 2012 season.
“Over the last two years, I’ve seen him have a lot more fun,” said Ryan, who was hired to the Illinois staff as director of student-athlete development this past spring. “A lot of pressure is off him from being a head coach to just being a coordinator where there’s a lot more interaction with the kids and football. That plays a big part in him just being able to enjoy it every single day.”
That isn’t to say Cubit is all smiles and laughs when he’s out on a football field. He is constantly coaching with the Illinois quarterbacks, working on their drops, their mechanics and their grasp of the offense. Cubit carries the same attention to detail to other parts of the offense.
During a drill this week in Rantoul, he didn’t like how an Illinois running back ran a route out of the backfield when the pass sailed behind him. So Cubit put his foot on the ground, made a cut and properly performed the 5-yard diagonal route he wanted run.
The next pass, with the running back correctly running the route, hit the running back in stride.
“He’s very demanding and is a perfectionist with this offense,” Ryan said. “He’s done it for a long time, so he knows all the little ins and outs, but he can really put a lot more emphasis on the little things now.”
Connecting with Young
Donovonn Young wasn’t in the best of moods last winter.
The running back’s playing time diminished throughout the course of last season. Any dreams of a 1,000-yard season for Young were gone when Big Ten play started. Josh Ferguson was clearly the starter at running back.
“He’s been vital in the maturation of me as a person,” Young said. “He’s made a lot of people grow up.”
Young contemplated transferring from Illinois. Sitting down and talking with Cubit helped ease his mind.
“He’s given me a reality check,” Young said. “He’s made me see that things might not go my way, but he has a role for me, and I have to fit into that role. Maybe it’s not what I wanted initially, but in order to make the team successful, I’ve got to fill that role. At first, it was kind of difficult, but now, my perspective on how things are around here have changed, and Cubit played a major role in that. Got to give him credit for that.”
Along with improving an Illinois offense. The Illini didn’t reach 30 points in Tim Beckman’s first season, when Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty were the co-offensive coordinators. Illinois hit that mark seven times last season.
“He used to tell us during the season last year that guys worry about us now,” Young said. “He took us from being one of the worst in the league to one of the best in the league.”
Whenever Beckman, Golesh or any other Illinois assistant coach went into the living room of a recruit this offseason, Cubit’s name was usually bandied about.
“We sell the heck out of Bill,” Golesh said. “We don’t negative recruit. I don’t accept it. Coach Beck doesn’t accept it. A lot of people negative recruit, so when you can say, ‘Hey, he’s here, and he’s going to be here for the long haul,’ it’s nice. There’s some people who say that you have a lot of success at Illinois, you’re going to go to bigger and greater things. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for him. The extension helped. Getting Ryan here helped. He feels great. I think he could do this for 10 more years.”
Cubit had overtures from other programs before he chose Illinois. His phone didn’t stop ringing this offseason, either. But he’s happy at Illinois and isn’t actively looking for a different gig.
He’s made moves before. This is, after all, the ninth college he’s coached at since his first college coaching job at Central Florida in 1983.
“I’m just having a great time,” Cubit said. “I love the people in Champaign. I know last year was kind of a honeymoon for me. We could have played better, but I look at it as I’ve got to do better every single day. I can’t take a day off.”
Golesh said he doesn’t. Not with recruiting, either.
“Every time I get an offensive recruit to call me, Bill will take the call,” Golesh said. “He will drop everything for recruiting. Most guys think older guys don’t recruit, but he does.”
Golesh is the youngest assistant on the Illinois staff. The 30-year-old said he values the experiences of watching how Cubit interacts with his family almost more so than watching his various play-calls work.
“In our profession anymore, you don’t embrace your kids and you don’t embrace your wife,” Golesh said. “He embraces his kids and his wife more than anybody. I’ve learned more about how to be a man and how to be a husband and how to be a dad from Bill than anyone else. Every morning you walk in, he’s FaceTiming with his granddaughter. It’s easy to sell when you believe in somebody.”
Cubit’s salary of $500,000 isn’t tops among Big Ten offensive coordinators.
“It’s more than I’m making,” Illinois offensive tackle Pat Flavin said with a laugh. “I’m envious more than anything, but he earned it.”
New Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier leads the group with a salary of $830,000. Cubit is making more than Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis ($325,000) but less than Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000).
“You want to be on the same level as other schools,” Illinois receivers coach Mike Bellamy said. “You compare yourself to the same guy at the same position at another Big Ten school. Guys do that to us, too. You always want to be rewarded for what you’ve done and what you’ve worked for.”
The fact Illinois extended his contract and increased his salary after one season left a good taste with Cubit, who isn’t one to delve into all the money talk. His son doesn’t mind explaining what the extension meant to the family.
“He’s got a really good situation here,” Ryan said. “He loves the area, and he loves the school. My mother loves it, too. They were really excited about the extension just knowing, ‘OK, we’re wanted here.’ The administration and the community has welcomed him in. It’s a good feeling for them.”
Illinois fans went into last season not quite knowing what to expect out of Cubit’s offense. What they got in return was well worth the uncertainty. Now they’ll eagerly await a second season, wondering what types of formations he’ll utilize in games, how Ferguson will factor into a game plan and how he can develop quarterback Wes Lunt. The fact Lunt, the likely starting quarterback for Illinois, is even about to start his first season with the Illini after transferring from Oklahoma State is a testament to Cubit.
“Being on the offensive side of the ball with the guy who’s calling the plays and working with you every day is exciting,” Lunt said. “Coach Cubit is a huge part of this staff. He was my recruiter basically, him and Coach Beckman, and he was the main reason why I came here.”
Bill Cubit landed at Illinois after seven seasons as Western Michigan’s head coach. The coaching veteran, however, isn’t the only former FBS head coach who is making his mark as an assistant in the Big Ten. A closer look, courtesy college football writer Matt Daniels:
Coach Current role Head coaching stint Record
Bill Cubit Illinois offensive coordinator Western Michigan, 2005-12 51-47
— About to start second season with Illini. Moved Illinois up from 168 passing yards per game in 2012 to 287.7 last season, which was second in the Big Ten.
Greg Davis Iowa offensive coordinator Tulane, 1988-91 14-31
— Won a BCS national championship in 2006 calling plays for Texas and Vince Young, but third-year assistant on Kirk Ferentz’s staff didn’t have much luck earlier in his career with Green Wave.
Luke Fickell Ohio State defensive coordinator, linebackers coach Ohio State, 2011 6-7
— Jim Tressel was supposed to coach the Buckeyes in 2011 before Tattoo-Gate enveloped the program. Former Ohio State nose guard is in third season on Urban Meyer’s staff, but he produced first losing season since 1966 in Columbus, notwithstanding the 12 victories vacated by the NCAA from the 2010 season.
Ralph Friedgen Rutgers offensive coordinator Maryland, 2001-10 75-50
— Man who guided Terrapins to seven bowl games in his 10 seasons in College Park will square off against old employer during regular season finale this season.
Jeff Genyk Wisconsin tights end coach/special teams coordinator Eastern Michigan, 2004-08 16-42
— Gary Andersen brought him to Madison prior to the 2013 season. He never produced a winning season during his five years in Ypsilanti, but he produced honorable mention All-Big Ten tight end Jacob Pedersen last year.
Brian Knorr Indiana defensive coordinator Ohio, 2001-04 11-35
— Kevin Wilson hired coach whom Frank Solich replaced in Athens. Needs to improve a Hoosiers defense that was 120th in the country last season in total defense.
Mike Locksley Maryland offensive coordinator New Mexico, 2009-11 2-26
— Left Illinois to take control of Lobos, only to get canned four games into his third season. Son Kai is a highly touted Class of 2015 quarterback who recently committed to Florida State, and the elder Locksley is in his third season with the Terps.