We knew this day was coming, it was just a little surprising when the news broke.
Much like the day that Tim Beckman was fired last August, one week before the 2015 football season began, it came as a relatively small shock when news broke early on Monday morning that University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas was let go, and in his place, interim (remember that word, because it will be used as nauseum in this blog entry) AD Paul Kowalczyk was named by interim (there's that word again) Chancellor Barbara Wilson.
In addition to having an interim football coach in Bill Cubit, who really doesn't know what will happen to his fate until the end of the season, there is also an interin Provost at the University of Illinois, leaving many to speculate as to what direction the athletic department will go in the naming of some of these positions to take the venerable 'interim' tag off. In order to hire a new football coach, there has to be a Chancellor in place to hire an AD, which in turn will hire the new football coach.
Confused? You're not alone. Since August, there seems to have been news weekly in the athletic circles at the U of I, and it's rather amazing that all of this was concocted by a series of tweets by a former football player that we thought was just venting from his dislike of Beckman and the way that he was treated.
Thomas. at the press conference announcing the change at the top of the athletic department, was lauded by Wilson, and appeared to do nothing wrong except one thing, the hiring of Beckman as head football coach. It is evident without a doubt that the hire was a colossal mistake, and the fallout of everything since that fateful day can be linked to it.
Cubit, who is an all-around good guy and a pleasure to talk to, because he tells it like it is, could possibly get hired as the permanent football coach, but that will probably be dependent on how the rest of the season goes. As far as recruiting goes, there is quite a bit of indecision right now, and a recruit will not want to come to Illinois if there is not a stable situation, which is what is happening right now.
Oh yeah, there was a game last Saturday, amidst all of the happenings off the field. Illinois snapped a three game losing streak in a big way, throttling the Purdue Boilermakers 48-14 last Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana. Just one week after getting it handed to them at Penn State 39-0, the Illini welcomed back Josh Ferguson to the offense, and he immediately made an impact, rushing 12 times for 133 yards, while catching 6 passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Ferguson's return made freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn that much better, as Vaughn scampered for 180 yards on 16 carries and two scores. The spike in offensive performance is a welcome sight, but they will need to continue it in a much larger way if they plan to knock off their next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes this coming Saturday (11:00 am CT. ABC).
The Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0) are coming in as the #2 team in the nation, and are currently on a 22 game winning streak, dating back to last season, when they won the 2014 National Championship. However, the Buckeyes have won a couple games by a slim margin, and are coming off a 28-14 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers last Saturday in Columbus. The Buckeyes have been in the news recently for some off-the-field incidents involving their star quarterback J. T. Barrett. Out of the three signal callers that head coach Urban Meyer has at his disposal, Barrett gives them the best chance on a weekly basis, although Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller are not bad options either.
The Illini (5-4, 2-3) have nothing to lose against the Buckeyes, and if the unthinkable happens, which is an Illinois win over the Buckeyes, then the head coaching job should be given to Cubit immediately after the game. Hands down.
Now begins the time of the crossover in sports on the University of Illinois campus, and men's and women's basketball begins with the regular season openers this coming weekend. Due to construction being wrapped up at the State Farm Center, both teams are forced to begin their regular seasons on the road, so to speak, with the men playing in Springfield at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center, and the women beginning in Champaign, only at Parkland College. John Groce's squad will play North Florida on Friday evening (7:00 pm, ESPN3) and North Dakota State on Sunday afternoon (2:00 pm, ESPN3).
Wednesday was signing day, and Groce inked one player in Te'Jon Lucas, a point guard from Wisconsin. Lucas fills a void at the position and ends a long recruiting battle trying to find someone to bring in after several near misses. Groce also announced at the press conference that Kipper Nichols has also signed, but will not be able to play until late in the fall of 2016. Nichols originally committed to Tulane and had enrolled there, but only stayed two weeks before leaving, and that action has caused him to have to sit out the duration until he is eligible to compete.
Matt Bollant's women's squad will begin play at Parkland against Chicago State on Friday night (7:00 pm), and then turn around to host Ohio University on Sunday afternoon (2:00 pm). The first game in the newly renovated State Farm Center is scheduled to be the Big 10/ACC Challenge game on December 3rd against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Should be a pretty tough ticket to obtain.
Bollant signed four players, including Ali Andrews, Brandi Beasley, Courtney Joens and Sarah Overcash.
Kevin Hambly's Illini volleyball team continues toward the culmination of their season, and after stringing four victories together, they dropped a match against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus on Wednesday night. Illinois will return to Huff Hall on Saturday night when they welcome Rutgers to Huff Hall. Illinois will also host Wisconsin next Wednesday night. Currently, the Illini are 17-9 overall and 8-7 overall.
Not much going on for a week, eh?