CHAMPAIGN – It’s a question Mike Thomas had hoped to sidestep this season.
“Is it time to reconsider an Illini football coaching change?”
Through the first month of the season, it looked very positive for coach Tim Beckman, who survived a first season that could kindly be classified as a disaster.
His first Illini team collapsed on the field and he often looked ill-prepared to be coaching it.
An off-season was spent making five changes on the coaching staff and one of them – the hiring of Bill Cubit as offensive coordinator – seemed to be a stroke of genius.
With Cubit cleverly calling plays, quarterback Nathan Scheelhause was reborn as a competent passer and leader. When Illinois won three of its first five games, the 2012 victory total had been exceeded and Beckman looked like he had created the kind of progress that would justify keeping him in place.
Then Big Ten play began.
Then a few key injuries put a dent in the progress.
Then penalties and mental mistakes cast further doubt.
And after last week’s 42-3 loss to Michigan State, the Beckman debate ignited all over again. So the question is still out there:
It is time to reconsider a coaching change?
Even before Saturday’s 24-17 overtime loss at Penn State, I would have told you the answer is no. It’s my belief that AD Thomas is willing to continue giving this a chance, believing that there has been progress and once the roster can become populated by older, better players, Beckman will be competitive in the Big Ten.
As an example, 31 of the top 33 players on defense return next season.
It’s also my belief that Thomas sees value in stability, rather than another change, and that patience is a part of stability.
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What happened Saturday can be viewed from each side.
On the downside there was a continuation of mistakes – penalties at the worst time, poor clock management at the end of the first half, a sideline interference penalty, the fourth since Beckman arrived.
But there was an upside on display, too.
Down 14 points early, Illinois never quit. Although there was a wave of frustration that swept across the team when Illinois fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter, Beckman and his staff somehow kept spirits from splintering.
A defense that has earned heavy criticism nearly pitched a shutout in the second half, allowing a late field goal that forced the overtime.
Scheelhaase had a very good day and hung in there despite being without his two best play-makers, receiver Ryan Lankford, who is out for the season following shoulder surgery, and tailback Josh Ferguson, who left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury and never returned.
I stand by my contention that the defense could use an overhaul, and if Beckman is safe going into 2014, coordinator Tim Banks’ job probably is not.
But here’s another question:
What happens if Illinois goes 0-8 in the Big Ten, including a loss at Purdue on Nov. 23? In case you aren’t aware, Purdue is awful.
Each team is winless in four Big Ten games. Illinois has been outscored 161-71 while Purdue has been outscored 155-17 and has been held scoreless two weeks in a row.
What happens if Beckman can’t keep the fight in his Fighting Illini?
I guess the debate will continue and for some fans, who just don’t like this guy, the debate will never end.
I understand that.
I try to remember who did the hiring and who does the firing. I believe Mike Thomas would like to find a reason to demonstrate patience beyond just two years.
As a result, I think Beckman will get a nod of confidence from the only person who really matters.