Bret Bielema had his first media availability since his Dec. 21 introductory press conference on Wednesday afternoon. Through Zoom, of course. Here’s some of what the new Illinois football coach had to say:
Get your body right
The Illinois football team returned to campus a week-and-a-half ago for the start of the spring semester. Winter workouts, too. The latter won’t include much discussion of football scheme or playbook.
There’s work to be done by strength and conditioning coach Tank Wright and his new staff and athletic trainer Jeremy Busch first. Several weeks of work, actually, with Bielema saying football discussions won’t happen until at least Week 5.
Workouts started Monday with four different groups every day except for NCAA-mandated off days Wednesday and Sunday. The workouts had to wait, though, until all of the players went through a three-day analysis of their physical standing.
“They were with Jeremy and Tank basically looking at every aspect of their body — body composition, stretching, flexibility, movement,” Bielema said. “All kinds of measurables that really gave us a baseline of where they’re at physically. If you talk to the kids, they were probably taken aback by that. They hadn’t really gone through something like that. It really gave us a physical assessment of where they are — positives, negatives, underdevelopment, overdevelopment.”
Bielema’s last two hires were wide receivers coach George McDonald and outside linebackers coach Kevin Kane. McDonald and Kane also arrived in Champaign with additional titles, as assistant head coach and associate head coach, respectively.
“I’m really going to lean on (McDonald),” Bielema said. “One of the things that’s always followed him in his career is the players’ lives that he touched. … He’ll work with me specifically on player development in trying to get our players to understand everything away from the game.”
Kane was on Bielema’s defensive coordinator short list before he hired Ryan Walters away from Missouri. Discussions between Kane, who was defensive coordinator at SMU, and Bielema’s chief of staff Mark Taurisani kept that window open.
“He’s never been a full-time coach under me,” Bielema said. “I really want Kevin to be involved in gameday management.”
Both McDonald and Kane will also have an enhanced recruiting role on their respective sides of the field to give, while Walters and offensive coordinator Tony Petersen’s attention will be directed more toward scheme.
“Those two guys will be the people (director of recruiting) Pat Embleton and I will sit down and talk about how our roster pieces together,” Bielema said of McDonald and Kane.
Recruiting the state of Illinois better was considered a priority when Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman hired Bielema. That point has remained heavily emphasized in the last month-plus. That will continue, with Embleton dividing the state into 10 geographic regions for the 10 assistant coaches.
“Bart Miller will hit the upper side of the Chicagoland area and work his way into Wisconsin,” Bielema used as an example. Another is Cory Patterson’s efforts in St. Louis giving him the neighboring portion of Illinois, too.
“I need my 10 coaches all to recruit,” Bielema continued. “Tony and Ryan will have one area outside of that Illinois area, but they’re going to have a minimal recruiting obligation. The other eight coaches are going to have a huge part. They’ll have a primary out of state area and also a secondary area.”