Summer Conversations: Tim Beckman (Part I) June 13, 2012
The first thing I said to Tim Beckman was that I was the world’s biggest Illini football fan. I couldn’t help myself. That’s how I self-identify. I shook his hand, I told him I might ask some off the wall questions because I’m a blogger, and then I gushed about Illini Football being my life’s great obsession and how I check almost daily every June for the freshman numbers to be released. I think I might have even mentioned something about watching the Wrigley game 43 times. Not sure. I was in gush mode.
I can’t say for sure, and this wasn’t my intention, but I believe this set the tone for some great answers. He seemed to understand where I was coming from, and our conversation became, well, conversational at times. We talked Memorial Stadium wind and Illini traditions and the future of the football team I so dearly love. Here’s Part I of our chat:
Let’s start by talking about traditions. You said it in your introductory press conference, that tradition is very important. Why is it so important to you?
I think it’s the backbone of college football. I’ve been around football my entire life – 47 years I’ve been around it – and I’ve been involved in big-time football games. The Ohio State-Michigan games. Auburn-Alabama. Oklahoma State-Oklahoma. And my father was involved with the Steelers-Browns games in the NFL. So to me, tradition in football is the most important thing. It’s important that the players understand tradition – that they understand who it is they’re playing for.
That’s what I’m trying to portray to this team. It’s not about the guys that are playing now, it’s about the guys who have played in the past, the ones that built the program and gave you the opportunity to put on this uniform now.
And the thing Illinois has, as you know, is Red Grange and Dick Butkus. Two of the top 10 college football players in history played at Illinois. Not Michigan, not Ohio State – Illinois.
Yes. And the other thing is, Big Ten Championships and National Championships. No, we don’t have what Michigan and Ohio State have, but on the next level, in the Big Ten, we’re right there when you look at national championships. So tradition shows us that it can be done here.
So the traditions you learned when you were at Oklahoma State or Ohio State – are those things you’re going to try to implement here, or are you more interested in the traditions of Illinois Football?
I think what we’re going to try to do is implement some of the things we did at Toledo that brought the tradition of Toledo football back. Such as former players being coaches of the spring game. At Illinois, we have 26 players in the NFL right now. So I want to bring some of those players back this fall when they have a bye week in the NFL. Make them the main speakers on Friday nights before games.
We’ve talked about building traditions around the rivalry game with Northwestern. At Toledo, we implemented something with the Bowling Green rivalry where the players would get dog tags for every win over The Team Down South. We want to add some things that will be special that can be included in the traditions of our program.
This might be a bit of an off-the-wall question, and I’m not sure how aware of this you are, but tell me your thoughts on the wind in Memorial Stadium. In October and November, you’re probably going to have that 40 MPH wind game. For the fans, the wind has always been a bit of a frustration point, as we’ve never really used it to our advantage. Talk to me about playing football in the wind.
Let me ask you a question: have you ever been to Northwest Ohio?
Yes I have. Winds off the lake?
Yes. It’s terrible. Both at Toledo and Bowling Green. We don’t call it Bowling Green, it’s Blowing Green.
As an assistant coach, I’ve been involved in coaching punt returners how to set up to catch a punt in the wind. I did it at Bowling Green and Ohio State and even Oklahoma State – I was in charge of those things. There’s no question, you have to understand it might be an issue each and every game.
We had a practice this spring where half of the practice was on individual, and then the last half of the practice was just kicking. And the wind played a huge factor in the kicking game we played. Some blew past them, some stood straight up in the wind.
So you’re in kind of an interesting situation taking over this program. When Ron Turner took over, we were coming off a 2-9 season. When Ron Zook took over, we were coming off four wins in two seasons. Both of those tasks were complete rebuilding jobs. You’re taking over a program that has won 14 games the last two years. So do you see this as a rebuilding job, or…
That’s what was intriguing to me when I had the opportunity to interview for this job. At Toledo, I took over a program that was 3-9. So I thought about that.
I think the thing that needs to be built here is consistency. The last two years, yes, Coach Zook did a great job and they won some football games.
And he put some people in the draft.
No question. Since 2008 we’ve had five first-round draft picks. That’s more than any other Big Ten school. So I think it’s not really a rebuilding job, but we’re not where we need to be. We’ve been, I guess, acceptable, if I can use that word. But in college football, “acceptable” isn’t always a word you want to hear. I just feel we need to build to a consistent level. And it’s something that has to be built. We don’t have any depth right now, and that’s a major concern.