#ILCOACHSEARCH: Fin (In Which Mike Thomas Hits a Stand-up Double)

Although he will not be officially introduced until 3:00 today, Tim Beckman has informed his players that he’ll be taking the head coach position at Illinois. Immediately after Ron Zook was fired, here’s what I wrote about Beckman:

Would leave me nodding approvingly like when I hear about a friend making a good life decision: Tim Beckman, Toledo – the anti-Leach? Beckman has a good Midwest base, turned around a Toledo team in decline, has experience at Ohio State and Oklahoma State and seems to run a pretty tight ship. Akin to hearing about a friend buying a nice condo/house in a nice neighborhood and for a reasonable price. “You hear about Illinois? They hired Tim Beckman.” “Nice, good for them!”

And here we are, with me nodding approvingly.

Here’s the thing – hiring coaches is a crapshoot. You try to evaluate as many indicators as you can, but really, after you’ve done that, you’re hoping to catch lightning in a bottle to some degree. I understand that people are somewhat let down that we didn’t land Kevin Sumlin, but Sumlin would have just won the “hire” phase of this process. People would’ve perked up and said “Whoa – wasn’t A&M thinking of that guy? And Illinois got him? Interesting.” But that’s it. It would’ve been a few blips on the national scene in December and then you need to go win games. And it would seem that Tim Beckman and Kevin Sumlin are about equally as likely to win games at Illinois.

Here’s a borderline insane nugget – this is the first time since 1971 we have hired away a current head football coach (Bob Blackmon, from Dartmouth). Our last six hires were guys that had been fired, guys that hadn’t been coaching in college, coordinators, etc. Although they didn’t totally feel like it, these were, in a sense, gimmick hires. Two of them were made by Ron “Fighting the Last War” Guenther, who went less for splash and more for a dramatic overcompensation of whatever the previous coach was lacking, be it offensive prowess (Lou Tepper) or recruiting chops (Ron Turner). Now we’re getting a guy that righted a capsizing ship at Toledo (as ships are wont to do when there is a point-shaving scandal) and worked under Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer and Mike Gundy. That’s a smart move. Sorry, it just is – sometimes the smart move is the less exciting and less fun move; that’s life. Take a quick glance around the Big Ten over the last 10-15 years, and you’ll see a few guys that were fallback options or unsexy choices at the time: Kirk Ferentz, Mark Dantonio, Brady Hoke, Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez, Joe Tiller. Look around the country and you’ll see guys emerging from the MAC and hitting the ground running at BCS programs: Urban Meyer, Gary Pinkel, (grits teeth) Brian Kelly. I mean, for crying out loud, this is a coach that Ohio State fans had on their radar as the eventual guy to take the reins in Columbus.

And it has been quite something to watch rapid deification of Vic Koenning – there are Illini fans vowing that the only way they can get on board with this hire is if Beckman immediately lands in C-U and kneels at Vic’s altar. Let’s get a grip. To be sure, Koenning did a phenomenal job with the defense this year. They were literally a joy to watch in games that were devoid of all other positive feelings. But keeping an offensive or defensive coordinator on staff through a coaching change is the exception, not the rule. If he stays, great; but people expecting Mike Thomas to say “Hey Tim, we think you really did a great job shaping that Toledo program and building a winning culture, come do the same for ours….except you’ve gotta keep the DC we already have from the staff that I fired,” are just not connected to reality. Part of having head coaching experience – and this is key – is going through the process of hiring coordinators and knowing what kind of styles you need to delegate and be successful. I think we’ll have the means to find and pay for some top-notch coaches to support Beckman.

So I’m in. We’ve got a bowl-ready team and a coach with a track record of success at the college level to lead them. You know how many times I’ve been able to say that in my time of Illini fandom? Zero times.


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