Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Fresh Start

Last Friday, Tim Beckman was introduced as the 23rd head football coach at the University of Illinois, replacing Ron Zook, who was fired late last month. Beckman comes to Illinois from the University of Toledo, where he compiled a 23-16 record over the past 3 seasons, including a 14-2 record in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). There has been an awfully lot of conversation since Beckman was hired, and a good deal of that chatter has not been on the positive side. There are certainly a lot of questions that need to be addressed with this hire, but a couple really stand out above the others. The first question is whether or not this was the correct hire for the University and moving its football program forward. I have mentioned before that Zook left the program much better than he inherited it, and a lot of that is based on his ability to recruit and bring in some of the higher caliber players. Can Beckman carry on that tradtion? A lot of the bigger, more trusted names either were not interested in the job, or were lured away by other schools that have deeper pockets to pay the head coach. Athletic Director Mike Thomas, himself well-known for hiring MAC coaches where he previously was at the University of Cincinnati, is sure that he has hired the right guy for the job. At his introductory press conference when he was introduced, Beckman gave a speech that would lead to believe that he is ready for the job.

The second, and perhaps more important question that the Beckman hire raises is the fate of the current coaching staff and what lies in store for them as the new staff is formed. Interim coach Vic Koenning, who also serves as the defensive coordinator, remains on the staff, but it is unclear as to whether or not he will stay on once Beckman begins to formulate his staff. On Monday, Beckman extended an invitation for Koenning to stay in a co-coordinator role, and then on Tuesday, modified that invitation to the full coordinator spot. Beckman gave Koenning until Wednesday to make up his mind, but rumors have been circulating about Koenning being offered defensive coordinator positions elsewhere that would undoubtedly be worth more money than what Illinois would be willing to pay. The reversal of fortune tells me that Beckman intends to bring in his own man on defense, and who knows how much input Koenning would have. Granted, Koenning has a lot to think about in making this very important decision, as well as trying to get a football team ready to play in a bowl game in just over two weeks from now. Word came out out late on Tuesday that none of the offensive staff will return for next season, so it appears that the dominoes have already begun to fall. And, just announced on Wednesday, Koenning has indeed chosen to leave the program to pursue other opportunities. Koenning will stay with the team through the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, then leave once the bowl game is over. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore will remain on Beckman's staff as he begins to assemble it over the next few weeks. Stay tuned for more information on this breaking news.

For the first time since 1992, the Fighting Illini women's volleyball team is off to the Final Four. They punched their ticket to San Antonio by defeating Florida on their home floor last Saturday evening in an exciting 3-1 match. The match was tight from start to finish, as most regional finals are. The Illini have been one of the top teams in the nation all season long, and remain the highest seed left in the tournament. They will take on the Women of Troy, otherwise known as USC on Thursday evening at the Alamadome in San Antonio (approximately 8:00 pm, ESPN2), following the UCLA-Florida State matchup, which begins at 6:00 pm. Both matches will be televised, with the winners facing each other in the national championship game on Saturday evening. Coach Kevin Hambly has kept the distractions to a minimum all season long, and downplayed the stretch of games during the season that saw them fall from the top spot. Hambly was more concerned with being #1 when the season ended, not in the middle of it. Now, the Illini have their chance to do just that, and are two wins away from accomplishing that feat.

The Fighting Illini men's basketball team has raced out to a 10-0 start to the season, their best beginning since the year after the Final Four year. The latest victories weren't easy ones, but they still count in the win column nonetheless. St. Bonaventure presented a unique challenge for the Illini, and they proceeded to triple team center Meyers Leonard, thus essentially taking him out of the game. The Illini won a hard fought 48-43 contest, one that they had to come from behind in order to win. Then, on Sunday night, the Illini hosted Coppin State, another team that didn't want to go away easy. The Illini prevailed in that one as well, 80-63, and as a result of yet another perfect week, saw them rise in the rankings to #19 in both the AP and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll. Rankings mean nothing at this point of the season, and the Illini have a challenging week ahead as they try to maintain their unbeaten record and Top 25 ranking. The Illini make their annual trek to the United Center on Saturday to play UNLV (4:00 pm CT, Big Ten Network). Then, the Illini will return to the Assembly Hall on Monday evening to face the Big Red of Cornell before making their yearly trek to St. Louis to face their first top 10 team of the season against Missouri in the Busch Braggin' Rights game.

The Fighting Illini women's basketball team had been idle for nearly a week since defeating Illinois State 66-56 in Normal. The Illini will also be playing at the United Center on Saturday afternoon ahead of the men when they take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Jolette Law's team currently has a 4-5 record on the season.

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