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Breaking Down the Buzz: Illinois

By Tom Fornelli | College Football Writer

Tim Beckman has won only one Big Ten game in his first two seasons at Illinois
Tim Beckman has won only one Big Ten game in his first two seasons at Illinois. (USATSI)

Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not. Today's team: the Illinois Fighting Illini.

What they're talking about is ... Tim Beckman. The truth is, on Illinois message boards, most of the talk right now is about basketball. What talk there is about football right now generally centers on recruiting, but that talk eventually turns into people talking about the man running the program right now, Tim Beckman.

Beckman has seemingly been on the hot seat since the moment he set foot in Champaign-Urbana, as some fans weren't exactly pleased with what they saw during his first year running the show. In his first two seasons with the Illini Beckman's teams have gone 6-18 overall and 1-15 in Big Ten play. The lone conference win came just last season, a 20-16 victory over a Purdue team that finished the season 1-11.

What they're saying is ... different versions of the same thing. There are basically two ways that Illinois fans look at the Beckman regime. You either think Beckman is the problem and needs to go, or you think Beckman took over a program in terrible shape and that you can't blame him for everything that's gone wrong. At the moment, the larger faction seems to be on the "you can't blame Beckman" side.

No matter which side you're on, you agree that Illinois football needs a lot of work.

Here's a sampling of things being said about Beckman recently on an Illinois message board, Illinois Loyalty.

  • "I feel like this [hot seat] narrative is actually being told more often recently. I understand that nobody likes waiting for results but I can't stand the idea that you're on the hot-seat starting year 3. I know lengths of contracts come into play most of the time but to completely (and I mean this in every sense of the word regarding Illinois football) change the perception (and reality) of something as large and as dysfunctional as what the football program had become is not something that will happen in two years. Short of an all-time great coach I don't really know how much more we should have expected the first two years."
  • "I am pro Beckman, its not so much the W/L's that surprised many people, at least the ones that are/were realistic, as much as the way it was done. Many vocal naysayers simply felt we looked terrible on the field (bad fundamentals) and our coaches didnt seem to know what to do on the sideline and at halftime."
  • "The Turner and Zook tenures were widely believed to have lasted too long. A coaching carousel has not been our problem at Illinois. If Beckman can't get to six wins this year I doubt seriously that recruiting will be hurt any worse if he is cut loose vs retaining a coach who has has 3 straight losing seasons."
  • "I think even the most strident of Beckman supporters would have been terrified at Beckman guaranteed for 3 or 4 years after 2012. It was about as bad a first impression as someone could make. Since then he has started to build some credibility back, but recruiting is still hampered in part by 2012. Beckman needs to get some wins now."
  • "The fundamental problem was that we didn't hire good college football coaches. If you don't hire good college football coaches, then giving them a long lease only exacerbates the problem. However, if you hire a coach with the potential to be successful then you need to give them a chance to be successful. How do you know the difference? You don't. We don't. This is where the AD has to know what he is doing, has to know more about what is happening behind the scenes and know whether to fish or cut bait."
  • "Any fan with a brain knew that Beckman inherited a disaster as well. However, the 'casual fans' [edit. note: not the fans in tuxedos], to put it nicely, saw two bowl games and thought Beckman ran the program into the ground. However, they failed to look at everything that we have discussed ad nauseum on this board in the last two years. Should his first year here have raised some eye-brows? Sure, but to say people without deep concern weren't paying attention is a bit much. Most had enough common sense to look at what happened at Toledo along with realizing that it was one year and assistants were going to be let go and take a wait-and-see approach."
  • "Any time a new head coach has to replace most of his assistants after one year, there is cause for deep concern."

What we're saying is ... no matter how you feel about the situation, the truth is Tim Beckman's team needs to improve in 2014. It doesn't matter what school you're at, or who your coach is, there are always going to be fans blaming the coach and calling for his head. There are Alabama fans out there who think Nick Saban should be fired after every loss. It's not that hard to figure out. When your team loses, you're upset. When you're upset, you look for someone to take it out on.

And the coach is the easiest target.

Now, Tim Beckman is no Nick Saban, and he has taken over a program that had gone to two consecutive bowl games and lost 18 games the last two years, which makes Beckman an even easier target. No matter the reasons for it, more than ever, college football is a results-based business, so it's hard to imagine Beckman surviving another season at Illinois if things don't improve drastically. Now, the good news for Beckman and Illinois is that improvements were obvious in 2013. The offense was much better, but the defense performed horribly. Should the defense improve (it was a very young unit that will have a lot more experience in 2014), more wins are going to come, and Beckman won't need a lot of wins to keep his job.

Let's not forget Illinois' recent history with head coaches, as the school isn't exactly quick on the trigger. Ron Turner went 3-19 in his first two years, and Ron Zook went 4-19 in that same span. Those two spent 15 combined seasons as Illinois' football coach despite their slow starts.

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