19 Point Plan Refresher Course March 26, 2010
For those of you unfamiliar, during my deep depression the week after the Fresno State game, I devised a plan. A plan to fix Illini Football. On a little slip of paper on my desk, I wrote out 19 necessary changes to improve our football program. In between Gonzaga overtimes and bubbles bursting, I had planned to sprinkle in all 19 points before spring ball. I was able to get to 12, but for the last month, I’ve been solely focused on hoops. Wednesday night, Dayton dunked us out of the NIT, so it’s back to the plan.
But before I get to lucky #13, a refresher. If this blog were an 80′s sitcom, this post would be the recap episode where they film 5 minutes of everyone scratching their chin and then fill the rest with reruns. I’ll be Alex, you be Mr. Keaton, and let’s think back to that time when Mallory lost her car keys at the mall……
Point #1: Gut The Assistant Coaches
What do I want from the new coordinators? Playcalling. Especially on defense. The Disch/Mallory combo had the defensive playcalling instincts of a frightened box turtle. They never called first down blitzes. Zone blitzes were called at the exact wrong time. And worst of all, they could be read like a book. Offensive coordinators had a field day. “Hmmm… Disch and Mallory will likely call a weakside blitz here – hello wide receiver screen!” So I want the new coordinators to be known for their playcalling instincts.
I also want them to have carte blanche. No more “here’s Zook’s scheme – please come in and run it for us.” I want new schemes that are implemented in the spring, drilled in Rantoul, look awful against Mizzou, gain traction after the MSU game, and are humming right along in Fresno in December.
Point #2: Zook As A Figurehead
Ron Zook needs to give up control, hire the two best coordinators he can find, let them choose their assistants, let them practice they way they want to practice, let them set the depth chart, and let them run the gameplanning. No more of this joint CEO/CFO/COO crap. He can be Chairman of the Board, and he can speak at all the shareholder meetings, but no more running the product line. He can hire people to do that.
And you know what? A high energy guy like Zook? I think he’s built for a role like that. Play to his strengths: sell the program, cast vision, speak to the press, recruit – he’s made for that. And heck, he can even still play good cop with the players. They can still love him and come to him with their concerns. He just needs to hire two bad cops as his coordinators.
Point #3: Bad Cops
Jack Ramsey is trotting over to the sideline. On third and 2 from the Northern Illinois 46, Ramsey covered up the tight end, resulting in an illegal procedure penalty. Third and 2 became third and 7, and after an incomplete pass, the punt team was headed out on to the field.
As he passes head coach Ron Zook, he gets a “that’s alright Jackie – we’ll get ‘em next time. You’re still my boy. You know that, right?” just like always. Loves his coach, Ramsey does. But then, as he takes a seat on the bench, he sees new Wide Receiver coach Arthur McBadass headed his way. *gulp*
“Ramsey, you’re done until halftime. If you can’t show me the decency of lining up correctly, you don’t belong on my field. And get ready for a fun practice on Monday.”
Good cop/bad cop. That’s what I want. We already have a good cop – one that seemingly hasn’t ever written a ticket in his life. We need a bad cop. Or two.
Going pretty good so far, right? Within days of these posts, assistants were fired, assistants with new schemes were hired, and Zook publicly spoke of the “new ideas and new direction” of the assistant coaches. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. They read the blog, and they decided to implement everything. Everything was going great until…
Point #4: Find A Way To Keep Benn Here One More Year
Point #5: Terry Hawthorne = Chris Gamble
It happens every season for nearly every BCS team – fans think back on how Billy Studpants played both ways in HS (and kicked), pick out the best athlete on their college team, and say “hey, can Watkins play both ways for us?” And 99% of the time, no, Watkins can’t play both ways. Besides physical exhaustion, learning two roles within intricate collegiate offensive and defensive schemes is above the pay grade of nearly every Division I athlete (pun intended). It is very, very rare for a team to have an instinctive, born-to-play-football athlete like Deion Sanders or Charles Woodson or Chris Gamble on their team.
I think we have one. He would clearly rank fourth when listed with the above players, but I think we have one. He is the Black Cat. And he was born to play football.
Point #6: Move Players Around
Many have wanted to see what Martez could do coming off the corner as a Simeon Rice-ish LB/DE hybrid. Yet the scheme is just as entrenched as Tez is at middle linebacker. We have 7 outside linebackers on the roster and 2 tight ends. Can Justin Staples catch? How about Supo Sanni at outside linebacker? Justin Green cornerback? Greg Fuller middle linebacker? Leon Hill defensive tackle?
I’m not saying make all of these moves. Or even half of them. I’m saying I want our staff to be more creative than “4th-string linebacker Anterio Jackson has been moved to offensive guard”. Most all of our position moves over the past few years have been line-related (Xavier Fulton from DL to OT, Rahkeem Smith to DL, etc.) We have the “he’s too bulky now – let’s move him to the line” thing down. Now I want creativity.
I want a scheme that is set in stone, and then a roster shaped around that scheme. I want roster audits at the end of every season, trying to find areas of depth and areas of weakness, and then moving a few pieces here and there to bring more balance. This is all to be done with purpose – “you are being asked to move because it will benefit our team, and team is our #1 goal”. No more promises. No more attempts to keep everyone happy.
Most of all, I don’t want to see another athlete like Cordale Scott sit on the bench for 2 years and then transfer. We’re building a team here, and everyone needs to fulfill whatever role is chosen for them.
Point #7: Utilize The Depth Chart
And that’s what I want: urgency. When there are 4 starters at running back, there’s no urgency. When the defensive line depth chart doesn’t change once the entire season on a defense ranked last in Total D, there’s no urgency. No, I’m not saying start the third-stringer every time the first stringer needs motivation. I’m asking that we do what Iowa and Ohio State and Purdue and Wisconsin and nearly every other Big Ten team does: go public with the depth chart, and let it serve as a motivating tool for the players. Keep the “-OR-” out and simply list one starter and one (or two, if the position requires) backups. No more “everybody gets their name on the list”.
Point #8: Schedule Like We’re Illinois
Here are the regular season records of our last 6 non-con opponents: 8-4, 12-0, 8-4, 9-3, 6-6, 9-3. Nope, not a misprint. 52-20. We get to choose our opponents, and we choose opponents who went 52-20. Let’s compare that to a few of our Big Ten brethren:
2008 & 2009 FBS non-conference opponent records
Penn State: 32-40
And are you ready for this one? Seated?
I want to put those two opponents records next to each other, just so no one is confused:
Illinois’ non-conference FBS opponents the last two seasons: 52-20
Northwestern’s non-conference FBS opponents the last two seasons: 16-56
For a little more perspective, let’s stay with those two teams for a bit. Overall regular season record of all opponents for the last two seasons?
Illinois: 82-50 (2009), 82-50 (2008)
Northwestern: 58-74 (2009), 60-72 (2008)
Um, why, again?
Point #9: Feed Five
I really hope we gameplan for LeShoure. It’s not so much his burst or his drive that has me so impressed; it’s his vision. He’s an instinctual runner who knows when to wait for his blockers and knows when to hit the hole. Watching the 1990 Colorado game recently (I do this occasionally to boost my spirits), I noticed a similarity between Mikel and Howard Griffith. HG was thick, but with a surprising burst and great vision. I think that describes My Man Mikel. And I want to see more of him.
Most of all, though, I want our offense to be intentional. I want it to have purpose. I want it to have an identity. And with a green quarterback (whoever it is), that identity next fall will need to be a running back who can get you 4 yards on 3rd and 3. And 31 yards on 2nd and 9.
So I want to see the same counter play practiced 135 times in Rantoul until the offensive linemen know it by heart. I want the threat of LeShoure to open up the passing game (and play action), not the other way around. I think he’ll be our best offensive player by quite a large margin – let’s make Big Ten opponents gameplan around him the way they gameplan around John Clay at Wisconsin. When we have a 28-17 fourth quarter lead next fall , it should be treated the same as 2007 – if you want the ball back, you’re gonna have to stop #5 before he gets to the sticks.
Point #10: Build A Program
I want recruiting relationships that stretch 10 years. When Mackovic left and Tepper started, he had to re-establish connections with high school coaches all over the country. And when Tepper left and Turner started, he had to re-establish connections with high school coaches all over the country. And when Turner left and Zook started, he had to establish connections with high school coaches all over the country. That whole time, Barry Alvarez was sitting on his throne in Madison, calling the same coaches and recruiting the same farm boys to block for the same running game. I want that.
I want schemes that evolve and grow as coordinators come and go, but I want consistency. I want this Petrino offense, whatever it is, to last 15 years. I want (ugh) what Missouri has right now (puke). Brad Smith leaves, Chase Daniel steps in and runs the same offense. Daniel leaves, Gabbo steps in and runs the same plays. Dave Christensen left for Wyoming? No matter, take an assistant (a floppy-haired freakshow at that) and promote him to OC and keep the train moving. Practice is run the same. Terminology is the same. Play calling feels like Christensen never left.
How many times over the last 25 years did Michigan run the same 18 yard out, with the same tall QB throwing to the same equally-tall WR running the same pattern, crushing Illinois when we finally had them in 3rd and 11? 100 times? Players come and go, but they all look the same. They all know exactly what is expected of them, because they’ve watched their predecessors do the same thing, and now they simply need to emulate it. Sure, when Michigan had a big back they ran it one way, and when they had a scatback they ran it a little different. But their offense (and defense) didn’t change much at all from year to year. Plug in new pieces, and keep the train moving.
Point #11: Interceptions
Four hundred nine minutes and nineteen seconds. I know that stat off the top of my head. In the middle of the 2008 season, we went 409:19 spanning 7 games without an interception. A bend-but-don’t-break defense that supposedly feeds off creating turnovers… and 6 interceptions that entire season. Good for 113th place out of 119 teams. So surely we’d get that turned around in 2009, right? Change the scheme a bit, hope for a little luck, grab some INT’s, get back on track? Nope. 5 interceptions. Dropped to 117th (tied for dead last).
Imagine the 2nd quarter of the Indiana game last year. We’re clinging to a 7-3 lead, and we have Indiana in 3rd and 3 from their own 40. Except instead of the 12 yard completion for a first down, imagine Tavon Wilson jumps the route and returns it 10 yards to their 35 or so. LeShoure left, LeShoure right, 14-3 Illini. But you know what really happened. 12 yard completion for a first down, Chappell to Doss, Chappell to Doss, 10-7 Indiana.
Or think of the Purdue game the next week. We’re down 21-14, and we pin Purdue at their 12. Say on first down, instead of a 28 yard completion to Bolden, Joey Elliot’s pass is tipped by Josh Brent and caught by Ian Thomas, who rambles in for the touchdown. Tied up, 21-21, and momentum has completely shifted to our sideline. But you know that didn’t happen. Purdue drove down the field, kicked a field goal, and hello 1-6.
Point #12: Change The Way We Practice
As I said earlier, I understand that they want the theme of practice to be urgency, but urgency is nothing without discipline. And every Zook practice I’ve ever observed has felt frantic. The coaches are all “we don’t have all day”, while the players slog along attempting to appear busy. Nothing feels crisp. Nothing feels structured.
Speaking of unstructured and un-crisp – 2009 Fighting Illini Football! I want to change that. And it starts with crisp practices. You catch Randall Hunt daydreaming during run blocking drills? Sit him down. Walt Aikens misreads the seam route? Run it over and over until he gets it right. Someone offensive lineman jumps before the snap? Lord have mercy.
So there we are. 12 points, with 4 of them already implemented. You’re welcome, DIA.
Tomorrow I’ll start hammering out lucky #13. By #16, you’ll be ready for football season to start. By #19, they’ll be ready to hire me.