Saturday, November 16, 2013

Time for Beckman to Go

The fact that I'm writing this as halftime comes in Illinois' game against Ohio State tells you everything you need to know about the current status of this program. It's reached new depths of ineptitude. The funny thing is, though, that this isn't the wakeup call for Illinois fans, alumni, and administration that Tim Beckman isn't the right guy to lead this program out of the abyss. Strangely enough, anyone who watched this team last year saw the same thing. The missed tackles, the poor planning, the poor construction of a staff, the blaming on the previous coaching staff, and the inability to do even the slightest things right are obvious to even the most casual of fans.

While watching this broadcast, ESPN's Brian Griese brought up a great point. He mentioned that in their pregame meeting with the Illinois coaching staff that they got the feeling that the coaches blamed a lot of their struggles on the dearth of playing talent left over from Ron Zook's tenure. That argument admittedly might help save Beckman's job, but I think it is wrong for Beckman to point the finger anywhere else but himself. He's going to be 5-17 after this loss to Ohio State in his slightly less than two years on the job. I'll be the first to admit that Zook's abhorrent recruiting in his final couple years at Illinois has hurt this program and made it difficult for Beckman to win while playing younger players. But that isn't enough, in my opinion, to save his job.

The other argument in Beckman's favor, and really, it isn't his argument, is that firing the coach two years into a major rebuild would throw up a major red flag to other prospective coaches and make it extremely difficult to hire a new coach. I look at this more in the vein of a straw man argument, though, because I fervently believe that it isn't true and it is disguising us from the truth.

Coaches are some of the most competitive, hard working people in sports. They look to challenges to further cement their own legacy and satisfy their own ego. It's hard to believe that a real coach, the type of dynamic, energetic, fresh, and eager coach that Illinois desperately wants and needs, would turn down the Illinois job because they're afraid of failure and getting fired. The fact that we're worried about this appears to be more insecurity on the part of the administration and fanbase that hey, we're Illinois, we can't be the program that fires coaches after two years because then no one will like us. That's the same defeatist garbage that would lead to Beckman sticking on another year to begin with.

More than that, though, we're in an era of college football where quick success is paramount. It may not be the right or fair thing, but coaches more than ever are expected to take the job and turn things around quickly. You saw it with Jim Mora at UCLA, Al Golden at Miami, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, Todd Graham at ASU, and so on. So, while it may not be the fair thing, it's the expected thing amongst the coaching fraternity. Therefore, worrying that future coaches will think they'll have a five year cushion coming in and not making the move because of that would be a serious misstep in the development of the program.

Dipping on camera, one of many gaffes in his tenure
And really - what causes more damage? Refusing to fire a coach because of the so-called message it would send to prospective hires, or letting that coach who is clearly not the right man for the job stay on for at least another year? Right now, it comes down to building a program for perennial success. To anyone watching this coach, with his lasagna/franks/beans, "Only Orange," dipping-on-the-sidelines gaffes, it is clear that Beckman can't handle a program on this level. Everyone who thinks Beckman can, please raise your hand.

Good program leaders recognize this very fact. That's why you saw Ben Cherington fire Bobby Valentine in Boston after one year. You saw Theo Epstein fire Dale Sveum after two seasons. It's likely Greg Schiano will be fired in Tampa after two seasons. You see it all the time, where coaches are fired when it is determined right away that they aren't the right fit. In these instances, the program is actually being considered above all else, without fear that the quick fire will hurt chances of hiring someone else, because there is recognition from leadership above that the program can and will survive the firing.

Thomas needs to make the right decision
That means the onus is on Mike Thomas to make the hard decision (well, maybe hard for him) to fire Tim Beckman for the betterment of the program. This is the same athletic director who went out on a limb to hire John Groce, and look at how well that has played out for the basketball program. Thomas has to look and see the glaring fundamental mistakes this tenure has made. Bad coaching hires. Zero to little game-to-game development. Players making the same dumb football IQ mistakes on a continuous basis. Bigger issues that we can all tell have their genesis with coaching (like tackling, bad blocking, poor execution on both sides of the ball). Those things, and the fact that recruiting isn't going well either, have to show that the program is being damaged and set back further by keeping Beckman around.

This is still an attractive program. It will be difficult, to be sure, to reestablish a foothold in the area's recruiting market, convince kids that it is a program on the rise, and to incorporate that all into perennial success. But with that said, it's possible. Thomas has seemed to acquire the trust of the alumni, securing financing to go after a coach the last time around. Every program starts somewhere. Wisconsin football wasn't successful every year until Barry Alvarez arrived. Stanford was a Pac 12 doormat until the Harbaugh/Shaw era. Teams rise and fall, but to reach that consistent success the right coach is needed. Illinois has the resources, the conference, the big school atmosphere, and the proximity to Chicago to supposedly be the "sleeping giant" in the Big Ten. Whether they can find the right person to lead the program is the first, and biggest step in the process towards building a successful program, because they for sure don't have that person on campus now. Your move, Mike Thomas.