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Having A Plan October 11, 2012

If you’re a long time ALE reader, you’re probably familiar with The 19 Point Plan For Fixing Illini Football. After the miserable 2009 season, I took it upon myself to fix the program. By writing about it. On my unaffiliated blog in the middle of Nowheresville, Internet. I laid out 19 things that the University of Illinois could do to change the culture around the program. I started right after Zook was retained. I ended some time in April. It took a long time for me to write 19 posts back then.

I’ve always believed that the coach that would finally turn around Illini Football would have a similar plan. These are the tenets of who we are. These are the systems we’re going to put in place. This is how we’re going to get from point A to point B.

Lou Tepper’s plan seemed to be “who cares about offense; we can win games 7-0″. Ron Turner’s plan seemed to be “who cares about recruiting; my offense will be unstoppable”. Ron Zook’s plan seemed to be “who cares about systems; I’ll recruit the top athletes in the country and they’ll win by out-athleting everyone”. Fail, and a fail, and a fail.

Which is why I was excited to hear Tim Beckman talk about his plan. The things he wanted to do to build a football program at the University of Illinois. The way his players would behave, the way his staff would recruit, the way his systems would be implemented. I was cautiously excited that we had finally hired a coach with a Plan.

And that excitement lasted about five games. After the Penn State loss, I couldn’t really see the Plan for all the turnovers, penalties, and uninspired players on the sideline. Sitting at 2-4 with what should be a top-25 defense, it’s really hard to see the forest.

But there’s still a plan. And on the Big Ten teleconference this week, Tim Beckman talked about it again. You can listen to it here (starts at about the 5:00 mark), or you can read some of the transcript here. This is the part I focused on:

“The blueprint is not just my blueprint. It’s a blueprint that has worked in numerous places,” he said. “It’s some things I’ve learned from some great head football coaches that have won or competed for national championship and people that I’ve been around. It’s a plan that I believe in, and a plan I’ve seen work as an assistant, as a defensive coordinator and as a head football coach. Are there road bumps in it? There are right now, because we’ve lost three straight football games. But we’re going to continue to do what we believe in, what this coaching staff believes in, and basically what these players believe in.

“No, we’re not playing up to what we’d like to, but everything else that we’re doing off the field has been very positive. Our players are going to class, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. We’re providing them with community services and those sorts of things. That hasn’t won a football game for us yet in the last three weeks, but I know our players are doing what they’re asked to do. I’m proud of them in responding that way. Now we just have to finish football games.”

I asked him a few questions about this plan back in Rantoul. He kept referencing a “manual” that he goes by, that he’s assembled over the years. I asked which coaches greatly influenced that manual, and he said it was mostly three: Urban Meyer (who he worked with at Bowling Green), Jim Tressel (who he worked for at Ohio State), and Mike Gundy (when he was defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State). He watched how they set up their programs, and how they handled their athletes, and he kept notes so that one day, when he had his own BCS-conference program, he could implement everything.

From the way he talked about it, I don’t think the plan had much to do with football schemes. I don’t think it has a page for “we’ll run the football on offense and implement a 3-4 defense”. I believe it’s mostly a plan for how to build a college football program. How to build a recruiting base and recruit to your systems. Class attendance responsibilities for players. How to bring young players along slowly and build depth. That kind of stuff.

To be honest, I needed him to reiterate this on that teleconference this week. Staying home for the holidays will be tough to swallow this year (we finally go to back-to-back bowls and suddenly I’m all “how about FIVE in a row?”), so I need to be told that we’re not about to fall off another 1996 or 2003 cliff. I need to know there’s a plan. Because when you’re losing four of your first six games by 17 or more points, well, it’s tough to see any plan.

But hearing about it again reminds me that this is the only way we’ll ever climb out of the basement of the Big Ten. It has to be a long-term plan, implemented slowly, built with a firm foundation, where each position group on the field is slowly pieced together and developed. You identify the type of offensive linemen you want, you have a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan C at every position in every recruiting class, you slowly develop the players when they arrive on campus, you find places in blowout games to get young players experience, and you try to balance everything so that you’re never in a situation with all of your OL talent in one class. And you do that for every position. That’s the path that I believe will get us out of the 20 year rut that we’re in.

Which is why I’m encouraged after hearing about his “blueprint” again. Yes, early returns are very poor. Our defensive players have taken to this revised defensive scheme like Missouri has taken to the SEC. What should be a 6-6 season looks like it’s headed for 4-8 or 3-9, and that’s an awful first sign. Especially with so many seniors graduating.

But he still needs 4 years to implement his plan. When asked about it this week, Mike Thomas referenced his hiring of Butch Jones at Cincinnati. Brian Kelly went 12-1 and got the Notre Dame job, so Thomas went out and found Jones. And in his first year, Cincy went 4-8. But Jones has implemented his system, they won 9 games last year, and now they’re currently ranked #21.

Will we follow the same path? I doubt it. The 2009 collapse did a number on Zook’s recruiting, and there are several holes in future depth charts (for example, there’s not a single junior or sophomore cornerback on the roster – once these seniors are gone, we’ll only have freshmen and sophomores). That’s the kind of thing a fully implemented plan could have prevented. Even if they were Plan C recruits, you’d still have experienced cornerbacks on the roster.

But Zook never thought like that. He just collected talent. And slept maybe 3 hours ever night. And bench pressed the office staff. And water skied.

Tim Beckman thinks like that. He wants to fully implement this blueprint. Early returns are poor, but he deserves the chance to fully build this team with the plan he’s been developing for 20 years. He has his manual, and he’s going to stick to it.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t roll up a page and smoke it on the sideline.

phytynlini October 11th, 2012

Great post, Robert. Illini diehards need to step away from the ledge and put some confidence in both MT and TB. Are all the pieces in place on the coaching staff? Probably not, but just as MT said this spring re: Weber and last fall re: Zook, we will reevaluate at the end of every season.

TB was left with a dearth of players. It will get worse. He can only restock the sidelines one recruiting year at a time and is on the path to doing just that. Now, year three if we can’t make it or if recruiting does not maintain through year two, time to take a serious look.

rml October 11th, 2012

I’m not encouraged. Do we know that the plan focusses on the kinds of issues that you talked about? I’m worried that it focuses instead on ” motivational” issues, like “pick a team to be your rival, and make injured players wear that team’s colors.” If it’s mostly motivational stuff, I don’t see it getting us where we want to go.

Joe John October 11th, 2012

Speaking in generalized platitudes about off the field stuff is considered “having a plan”? What coach doesnt want their players to go to class? What coach doesnt want to recruit guys to “his system”?

This is all just a bunch of gobbledy-guke. So far, Beckman has shown that he’s very gimmicky (NW rival?) and very careless (8 coaches in Happy Valley and dipping on the sideline)…and thats only the off the field stuff.

The on the field action has been nothing short of a disaster. Has any player gotten better from last year to this year (individually)? I cant think of any. That should speak volumes about the developmental skills of this staff.

Joe John October 11th, 2012

I should elaborate on the gimicky stuff…the big 10 championship game wristbands, NW logo in the lockeroom, the Beckman’s balcony….All that stuff is cute when you’re winning..but its lame when you arent.

If this season is a lost season..Beckman at least has to show the direction he’s moving in…whether that means putting in ROT and saying he’s the QB going forward…or getting some younger guys in (at least he’s done this one defense somewhat)…or perhaps diverifying the playcalling or getting more agressive (lets play Penn State ball and go for it on 4th down inside the 40 until the 10 everytime)…

Illinigrad October 11th, 2012

Come on guys. We are expected to wait four years when the current staff has shown no ability to coach up a somewhat talented team, at least on defense. Oh no. We must watch while this team’s ability is wasted because of bad schemes and poor coaching. Meanwhile, we must somehow believe that Tim can bring in players that he can coach up because they will fit his scheme. Wait four years. Turner, Zook, had a competitive team sooner. Let’s be honest. Beckman is not a good coach, has shown nothing to indicate that he is, did not have the wisdom to retain last year’s defensive staff, and put together an inexperienced staff for this year. We have a true “meh” hire as a FB head coach. We are spiraling down and I see nothing to indicate that the descent will be stopped.

gyc October 11th, 2012

There’s no point putting O’Toole out there when our future is a speedy running QB like Aaron Bailey. As for the rest of the O, our OL is already young and overmatched, our backfield consists of 2 sophomores, and I see that Justin Hardee is getting playing time at WR.

AHSIllini32 October 12th, 2012

GYC – good points
IlliniGrad (which I doubt) – there quite literally is not one correct thing about your post. First, why would we not believe Beckman will be successful once he gets his own guys in here? I mean I guess it’s not like he went 14-2 in conference AFTER A POINT SHAVING SCANDAL his 2nd and 3rd years at Toledo with his players.
Second, on retaining the defensive staff….really? I mean, come on. If you’re going to troll at least do it with stuff that has a chance to be rooted in reality. You can’t retain someone who doesn’t want to be here. We offered VK the DC position, he rejected. MOVE ON!
Finally, put together an inexperienced staff? Billy Gonzalez has been a D-1 coach for a handful of years, Alex Golesh was very successful with Beckman at Toledo, Keith Gilmore has been around forever and been successful, Tim Banks has been a DC in some capacity for something like 7 years before this. The same for Tim Salem as a ST coord.
As I said, you’ll be taken more seriously as a troll if you try to present factual information.

AHSIllini32 October 12th, 2012

I wish I could edit my post because I just realized which message board is IG’s favorite…it alllll makes sense now!

DanBloeme October 12th, 2012

Why is it AHS rather than presenting his own valid information to debate the article would rather attack other posters like IlliniGrad. It’s getting tiring seeing the same pattern of reader abuse from AHSIllini over and over again. Give it a rest please.

Yes, by all means let’s see what Beckman has up his sleeve 3 years from now. If he hasn’t shown signs of turning around the ship by then it may be time to change course yet again. Let’s not wait as long as we did last time with Zook.

illiniranger October 12th, 2012

After the LaTech game i thought Becks was absolutely the wrong guy. After thinking about it, here is what i think.
we are terrible this year. 4 wins is probably our ceiling. we aren’t going to improve game to game, our effort and performance will yo-yo wildly from possession to possession and play to play much less game to game. we will see very, very minimal improvement this year IMO. but…
i really don’t think we can decide where this is going until next year. i think our seniors decided they didn’t want to wear their big boy pants this year and so they have pretty much quit. i think 50% of that falls on timmy b and 50% falls on the players. mason monheim (there i go again) has never played in another system. he looks tremendous. mike svetina has never played in another system. he looks like a B1G linebacker. both of these guys were very, very lightly recruited and they are playing really, really well. so what?
so i think while overall there is a lot of gloom and doom i think there are JUUUUUUST enough glimmers of hope to think maybe timmy b can turn this thing around. i think we need another year of data to know where this is going.

AHSIllini32 October 12th, 2012

Umm excuse me Dan? I flat out refuted everything he said with my own points on this article.

Illinigrad October 12th, 2012

AHSIllini32: Thanks for the insulting post. Say hello to a graduate of the class of 1971 and season ticket holder since 1967, including undergraduate years. I probably have seen more Illini FB than most of the posters on any site. Vic could have been enticed to stay. This staff is relatively inexperienced beginning with the H.C. There is no doubt about that. Mainly, the team if FAR WORSE than last year. It shows no improvement in any single area and that is on the coaching staff. If we lose the rest of our games this season, or most of them, and continue to get blown out, I can’t wait for the Beckman “error” to be over. We can do much, much better IMO. I a sick and tired of A.D. making wrong hires in FB. I don’t have the time to wait four years for the next bowl game, if then. Look at what Franklin did at Vanderbilt. He took a team weaker than IL and went to a bowl the first season. Why should we be satisfied to take a huge step back when we have a decent defense. Illinois fans are conditioned to lose and by satisfied with it.

Robert October 12th, 2012

Grad: Vic could not have been enticed to stay.
My source: Vic.

Joe John October 12th, 2012

Robert – what if he had been allowed to keep all of his defensive staff underneath him? Along with no “co defensive coordinator” stuff originally thrown out there.

Robert October 12th, 2012

Neither played a role.

IlliniJeffrey October 13th, 2012

Kids going to class, contributing in the community, recruiting strategies…all those things are great, but Beckman has to prove that he will not continue to get completely owned by other coaching staffs every Saturday. Coaching matters. Game Prep matters. Offensive play design and execution matters. Defensive scheming and correctly anticipating what the opponent is going to do matters.

It doesn’t matter how much depth you have if players go into every game knowing that their head coach is going to get outcoached and outschemed. That’s when players lose hope. He can’t be playing tiddly winks to the other guy’s chess, making every opposing coach look like Nick Saban. Tim Beckman has to show that he himself and his staff can compete on Saturdays just like his players. So far, he’s shown the opposite. Until he can do that, show an improvement after a halftime adjustment, something…he’s going nowhere.