Q&A with Tim Beckman
Starting with Saturday’s game against Youngstown State, Tim Beckman faces a critical year in his Illinois coaching career. If he matches the third year of previous coaches Ron Zook, Ron Turner, Lou Tepper, John Mackovic and Mike White, Beckman will take the Illini bowling. Staff writers Bob Asmussen and Matt Daniels sat down with Beckman and asked him about pressure, fans and his favorite food:
What are you doing this time next year?
Getting ready for the 2015 football season.
What kind of season?
A successful season. Better than what we had the year before. I want it for the kids, first and foremost. I want it for the players. Also, I want it for this program. I think sometimes the expectation level at this program, when you’ve only had two winning Big Ten seasons in the last 20 ... It’s a process. Consistency will be the biggest determination. If we can keep on building it and getting better and better and better, then I think that process is headed in the direction we want it to.
Is it fair that you are being judged on two seasons?
That’s college football nowadays. That’s just part of what this business brings to you. I understand it. That first year was just a poor year. I know we got better last year, and I know the fans believe we got better last year. We have to make those strides to continue to improve each and every year.
Compare the talent level when you arrived here to the talent level when you arrived at Toledo?
Probably a lot of the same. We had some good football players, but we had no depth. We had to play a lot of freshmen. We had some good football players here, too. Just very, very depleted in depth.
How long should coaches be given when they take over a program?
I think each situation is different. Somebody that comes into a program that played in a championship and now they are inheriting a program that’s pretty good, that’s maybe a little bit different than other things when you’re trying to build.
Coaches used to get five years.
Again, each situation is different. I understood what this situation was like. Coach (Urban) Meyer understood what the Ohio State situation was like.
Is early pressure a good thing?
It’s the life of a coach. We put the pressure on ourselves. I hope everybody is in this for the kids. What are the kids doing that’s better? Have we gotten better academically? Have we gotten better of not getting in trouble? Have we gotten better on the football field? The game of college football is about the student-athletes, not about the coaches.
Would your life be easier without Twitter, Facebook, etc.?
I don’t read things that are said about me. I like to be able to talk to the recruits. We can’t use texting, which is fine. I agree with that. We can direct message, and we can send pictures of what we are doing as a football family. I like it in the recruiting aspect.
Illinois has been playing football for 125 years but has rarely been able to win at a consistent level. Why?
We do utilize what the past was about. We do utilize the number of Big Ten championships, the number of national championships, the number of former players. I think that’s huge. That is about tradition. I’ve been more focused in on how do we get this tradition, right now, better, so that there is a pride of being a Fighting Illini.
How often do you talk to Mike Thomas?
All the time. Every two days or every day. He’s a very busy man. During the season, we’ll have a meeting every Wednesday. He goes out of his way to come over here (football offices). I didn’t have that at Toledo. We didn’t have that at Oklahoma State. To be honest with you, it wasn’t like that at Ohio State, either. I think Mike is more involved as an athletic director than anyone I’ve been involved with.
You bought a bunch of tickets at the flash ticket sale earlier this month. What are you going to do with them?
I’m going to give them out each week. I’d like to use 40 each game. The Challenger League is getting the first 40. We’ll split it up.
Do you read The News-Gazette during the season?
I’ll touch on it. It’s nothing against The News-Gazette. I don’t read anything. You can’t rely on it, but you have to be able to touch base with it every now and then. I’m not going to say I read it every day, but I will read some things that I feel that are important.
Does your wife, Kim?
She gets it online. She’ll say certain things to me. It was a tough first year. We probably weaned away from it a little bit the first year. What is the reality of the situation? There is only one team in the Big Ten that has less wins than we do in the last 10 years. That’s the reality of it. We want to change that. That’s our intention, to change that reality.
How does your family handle the criticism?
It was new. We were winning a lot (at previous stops). As a coordinator at Oklahoma State, we got a lot of it. We weren’t very good that first year at Oklahoma State defensively. We went out and got some players and made ourselves good the next year. I think everybody handles (criticism) because we’ve been involved in it, my family, Dad. I lived through my father at a couple places that we weren’t very good.
What’s been the most pleasant surprise for you at Illinois?
I love this community. I really do. I’m a football coach, but I’m also a person. When you take your family out to eat, the warmth of the community, the hands are out. Those type of things are very rewarding.
What about the biggest disappointment?
I know it comes down to winning and losing, but last year with that Northwestern football game when we didn’t have very many (fans). Winning does that. These players, it wasn’t their fault. We didn’t have players, depthwise, who were ready for the Big Ten. We better be ready now. It’s not fair that the stands weren’t packed. Two years ago, Iowa won four football games, and that place was packed every weekend. That’s part of the process. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody. I understand that it’s winning. I just want our kids to feel that.
What’s the one food you absolutely could not live without?
Something on the grill. A burger or chicken.
If you win the Big Ten, how are you celebrating?
I would do something together with the team.
What would a bowl mean to the team?
That’s the goal. All of the hard work that these kids have been through, that’s what it is all about. It’s the reward for what they’ve been doing.