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A Track Coach Hammers Illinois…..Is He Right?

According to Football Scoop, Toledo’s director of track & field and cross country, Kevin Hadsell, has taken to Twitter to give his buddy, former Toledo HC & current Illinois HC Tim Beckman, a few choice words about taking the Illinois job. According to his Twitter account, Hadsell told Beckman that he was better than Illinois. Hadsell also implied that Illinois was a dead-end job in football & that he couldn’t be paid enough to take certain jobs at big time conferences. Hadsell told Beckman over Twitter that he needed to think 2 moves ahead. This was actually interesting advice, because Hadsell is essentially saying that Beckman can’t really move on from Illinois. If the first move is Illinois, then the 2nd move is nonexistent because the Illini job is a “dead end.”

It’s actually an interesting thought. The Big 10 is different than it was just a year ago, but it was as recent as 2007 that Illinois went to the Rose Bowl. They went by default because Ohio St. was playing in the national championship, but a Rose Bowl berth is a Rose Bowl berth & I doubt any of the powers that be in Champaign were upset that Illinois was Pasadena’s 2nd choice when it came to selecting a Big 10 opponent. Granted, Illinois got hammered by USC 49-17  to finish the season 9-4, but again, Illinois can say they went to the Rose Bowl in recent times.

A better argument of course as to why Hadsell is right is looking at the records of Illinois’s last two coaches, Ron Zook & Ron Turner. Zook took over in 2005 & promptly went 2-9 in his first season. He followed that up with a 2-10 season in 2006 before having the breakthrough in 2007 that saw Illinois finish 9-4 with a Rose Bowl appearance. That was the highlight of the Ron Zook era however as 2008 brought a 5-7 season followed by a 3-9 2009 campaign. Last year Illinois finished 7-6 & Zook took Illinois to 6-6 before being fired this season. That’s 7 seasons with only 3 bowl appearances. Zook’s overall record at Illinois was 34-50 (.405) while he finished a dreadful 18-37 (.327) in Big 10 games.

Ron Tuner wasn’t any better. He spent 8 seasons at Illinois & finished with a 35-57 (.380) record overall & a 20-44 (.313) record in the Big 10. Turner did win the Big 10 in 2001 & landed Illinois in the Sugar Bowl where the Illini lost to LSU 47-34 to finish 10-2, but like Zook, Turner only got to 2 bowls in 8 years.

Combining Turner & Zook, the Illinois football program has spent the last 15 years in a steady state of futility. They aren’t as bad as Indiana, but they aren’t fantastic either. Taking a look over the last 15 years of Big 10 play, we find the following standings among Big 10 teams not counting Nebraska as they just spent their first year in the conference:

1. Ohio St. 90-30
2. Michigan 83-37
3. Wisconsin 76-44
4. Penn St. 71-49
5. Iowa 63-57
5. Purdue 63-57
7. Michigan St. 60-60
8. Northwestern 48-72
9. Minnesota 42-78
10. Illinois 38-82
11. Indiana 25-95

That’s worse than I thought. Illinois isn’t even better than Northwestern! Wow. The standings really are constructive in a way. When you think of how big Illinois is as a university and the talent that has come out of the state, especially with a city as big as Chicago, it’s amazing that Illinois has sucked this bad for this long. I’m also not convinced you can put Illinois in the same camp as you can an Indiana or a Kansas or a Duke where basketball is the lifeblood of the university & football is a mere afterthought. I don’t discount Illinois football when I think of the university even if the basketball program has been one of the best over the past 15 years.

A quick look at the Rivals 100 for 2012 & you’ll find 2 guys from Illinois. Neither of them are committed to Illinois, but they are committed to Big 10 schools. A look at the Rivals 250 for 2012 gives us 3 more players from Illinois, but none of the 3 are committed to the Illini. That’s a total of 5 players from the state of Illinois being among the best 250 high school football players in the country & not one of them are going to the state’s flagship university. Even more damning is a quick look back at Rivals Top-30 for the state of Illinois for the Class of 2012 before the 2011 season started. Of the top-30 players in the state of Illinois, only 2 are committed to Illinois right now, and not a single one of the top-15 players in the state are committed to play in Champaign!

Talk about problems! Illinois has essentially sucked for the last 15 years. Ron Zook brought in a couple of pretty good classes, but that happened 2-3 years ago. For the most part Illinois recruiting is in the tank. This is a football program that is basically the very definition of irrelevant. Indiana’s football program in contrast is simply a laughing stock. I’m not sure which is worse.

IS TOLEDO’S TRACK & FIELD DIRECTOR CORRECT?

That’s the big issue isn’t it? I think the information above has given us enough food for thought to answer the question. At this point in time you have to believe that Kevin Hadsell is correct. Keep in mind that you can’t look at Illinois in a vacuum. With the current structure of the Big 10, Illinois is going to be facing Ohio St., Wisconsin & Penn St. in their own division. Penn St. might be on the way down given the incredible circumstances surrounding the university in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Penn St. actually comes out looking better than it has in recent seasons. If the Nittany Lions reach out and grab a coach like current Mississippi St. HC Dan Mullen, don’t be surprised to see Penn St. actually come out ahead after leaving the outdated Joe Paterno era behind. Penn St. is one of the truly elite programs in the nation & is a football powerhouse. In the right hands, Penn St. becomes a dominant force in the Big 10 much sooner than anyone expects. Ohio St. just landed arguably the best coach in college football not named Nick Saban. Like Penn St., Ohio St. could actually come out smelling sweeter after the Jim Tressel/Terrelle Pryor scandal with the addition of Urban Meyer as the head coach. Resumes don’t get any better than what Meyer brings to the table and there might not be a bigger program in the nation than what the Buckeyes have in Columbus. Wisconsin is a machine. While probably not on the level of a Penn St. or Ohio St. as far as size & reach, the Badgers simply win football games, having the 3rd best record in the Big 10 over the past 15 years!

Looking at the “Leaders” division isn’t Illinois’s only concern. With the Big 10 going to 12 teams & adding a conference championship game, Illinois not only has to take out their own division rivals, but they also have to worry about beating the “Legends” division winner in order to get to the Rose Bowl or even a BCS Championship. Michigan had a breakthrough season with Brady Hoke taking over for Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines are 10-2 & in the BCS in Hoke’s first season in Ann Arbor. That isn’t going to change. According to Rivals, Michigan has the #3 recruiting class for 2012. Michigan is a BEAST of a football program. If Hoke is as good as I think he is, then even Ohio St. is going to have problems with Big Blue even with Urban Meyer on the sidelines. Michigan St. has a flat out incredible coach in Mark Dantonio. Dantonio is from the Nick Saban coaching tree & it shows. The Spartans are this close to breaking through in the Big 10. If they can somehow get through Michigan in the coming years then Sparty is going to be amazing. They are plenty good already. Kirk Ferentz at Iowa speaks for himself. Iowa doesn’t have anywhere near the talent level as the truly elite teams in the Big 10, yet they always win & always compete. Nebraska came extremely close to winning a Big 10 championship in their first go in the conference. Bo Pelini is the real deal and the Cornhuskers didn’t waste any time going 9-3 in their first season. Pat Fitzgerald is one of my favorite coaches in all of college football. Like Iowa, the Wildcats play with lesser talent yet are a difficult game no matter who they are facing & win games. Jerry Kill was absolutely the right hire for Minnesota. His resume speaks for itself with how he turned Southern Illinois & Northern Illinois into dominant teams. Kill only went 3-9 this year with the Gophers, but he got wins over Iowa & Illinois and came really close in 4 other games. His 3-9 inaugural season could have been 7-5.

Thus the road for Illinois in their own conference just got much much more difficult. Depending on who Penn St. hires, the Leaders Division might be entirely too difficult to navigate given the hand that Beckman’s been dealt in taking over the Illinois job.

The second problem for Beckman is securing the boarders in his own state when it comes to recruiting. Rivals has the state of Illinois having 10 4-star recruits with not a one going to Illinois. Rivals lists Indiana’s top-20 players from 2012. Not one of them are going to Illinois. Rivals lists Missouri’s top-20 players for 2012. Not one of them is attending Illinois. Rivals lists Michigan’s top-30 players for 2012. Not one of them is suiting up for the Illini. I think Beckman will have to sell in-state players on the idea of bringing back Illinois to prominence the way Tom Crean has had to sell Indiana kids the idea of returning Hoosiers Basketball to glory. The problem there is that Illinois football doesn’t have a fraction of the history associated with Indiana basketball. Will it be a tough sell? You’d have to think it would be although if Beckman is as good a coach as I think he might be, he might be able to do more with less early on & hope to parlay that into better recruiting classes in the future in the hopes of competing with Wisconsin & Ohio St.

At the end of the day, Hadsell is spot on in his assessment of the Illinois football program. It’s a higher profile job than what Beckman had at Toledo, but over the last two seasons, Beckman has led the Rockets to a 14-2 conference record in the MAC. Beckman will be lucky to make it to 4-12 in his first two seasons in the Big 10, and even that might be a stretch. Is a 4-12 start in the Big 10 enough for Beckman to improve the program? It’s tough to say. Maybe. I think it depends on how good Beckman is as a coach. I don’t think Illinois is going to have problems with resources, but I do think it’ll be a matter of how good Beckman truly is. Illinois can be a factor in the Big 10. If Northwestern can go to bowl games every year then Illinois should be able to. Maybe the Illini aren’t on the same playing field as Michigan or Ohio St., but I think they have every reason to believe they can replicate the success of teams like Michigan St. & Iowa. If Beckman can produce the results Kirk Ferentz & Mark Dantonio have, then Hadsell will have been proven wrong in believing Illinois to be a dead end job.

TWO MOVES AHEAD

The other question Hadsell poses is what Beckman might be turning down had he been thinking 2 moves ahead. Assuming Beckman doesn’t take the Illinois job, we can be for certain that Toledo was not a destination job. What would have been a move forward that would have been a stepping stone to a destination job if Beckman proved worthy of the position? It’s difficult to say. The deck is stacked against Beckman at Illinois. That’s obvious, but could he have walked into a better position? The one interesting place that pops up is Oklahoma St. because Beckman was defensive coordinator there from 2007-2008. I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in Hades of Mike Gundy ever leaving Stillwater, but if the opportunity presented itself, I wonder if Beckman could have went straight from Toledo to Oklahoma St.? Beckman’s other ties revolve around the state of Ohio. Obviously Ohio St. isn’t going to b an option anytime soon, but another option might have been Cincinnati. The Bearcats have been pretty good in recent years of producing some excellent coaches. Mark Dantonio went from Cincinnati to Michigan St. Brian Kelly took over after Dantonio & is now coaching at Notre Dame. Butch Jones is the current HC, and while Jones has made no intimations of leaving the Queen City, it certainly seems like a foregone conclusion that Jones will end up with a bigger job down the line. The Big East is a mess & Jones is simply too good a coach to wallow in a small pond.

If Jones were to leave, then Beckman could easily take over the Cincinnati job & parlay that into a big time job the way Dantonio & Kelly did. I don’t know if Hadsell was thinking along this vein, but it makes sense, and it would be sound logic as well. Cincinnati has elevated itself to a much higher position in the college football hierarchy over the last 15 years than Illinois has. The UC job at least recently looks like a lot better job than the HC position in Champaign. Beyond Cincinnati & potentially Oklahoma St., it’s difficult to surmise where Beckman might have ended up that would have given him a much better chance at winning than taking the job at Illinois.

This will certainly be fun to watch play out. These situations happen all the time, but typically a coach at the school left behind doesn’t shout from the internet rooftops about how terrible the new job is going to be for the departing HC. I mean, we didn’t hear Bob Stoops take to his Twitter account & tell the world what a horrible job Indiana was after Kevin Wilson decided to stop off at Bloomington even though Wilson’s odds of turning Indiana into a winner are about roughly equal to my spending tomorrow night with Rachelle Leah. Will Muschamp isn’t telling everyone how bad Kansas sucks even though Charlie Weis just took the job there. The added twist of Kevin Hadsell makes the Beckman move to Illinois all the more intriguing.

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December 9, 2011 - Posted by | Illinois, Tim Beckman

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