Tim Beckman will be back at Illinois in 2014Continue reading.
Illinois AD: ‘We need to win more football games’
Napoleon had his Waterloo nearly two centuries ago. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas had a pleasant lunch interrupted by yours truly in the town of Waterloo, Ill., just last week. It’s hard to guess which guy’s experience was worse.
Actually, Thomas — who was on a Fighting Illini Caravan tour and was very accommodating, as usual — knew the Sun-Times was coming. And he knew the subjects on the table would include a main course of Tim Beckman. Below is our discussion of the third-year football coach.
What are you looking for from the Illini, and from Beckman, in 2014?
MT: They’re obviously tied together. As we’ve talked about before — we probably had the same discussion a year ago — we need to move the ball down the field, need to move in the right direction. I think last year we showed progress in a number of areas. Did we show progress in every area? Have we arrived? Are we where we want to be competitively? No, we’re not. To win at a high level and win consistently and to win in the Big Ten conference, you need to play at a high level in all phases of the game. I think we saw there was improvement in certain phases of the game, but there were certainly areas that we could improve on. So the goal and the intent is that we continue to do that to a point where we’re playing in bowl games and that’s the norm, but also eventually we’re competing for Big Ten championships.
You’re talking in somewhat broad terms, and I can understand why. But all over the internet, this is being called a “make or break” season for Beckman. Is that accurate?
MT: You look at what people say, whether they’re Fighting Illini fans or not, certainly they can do the Monday-morning quarterbacking or they can assess the situation; we get a lot of that. But we’ll continue to assess our program like we do all of our programs as we go through the year. I’m sitting here in a very optimistic way to say we’re going to be successful and we’re going to win football games and we’re building a successful foundation for the future.
Literally, five victories would be an improvement. That might put not only the coach and the program, but also you, in a difficult position, though. It would be hard to sell that to the fan base as progress.
MT: You’ve heard me say this before: I’m not going to quantify anything. I wouldn’t sit here and say a basketball coach needs to win 20 games or a baseball coach needs to win 50 games, so I’m not going to say winning how many football games is enough. I think like I said, we just have to continue to move the ball down the field. I think you’ll know it when you see it. But I will say that, as relates to Tim and his staff and the kids on the team, we would all agree we need to win more football games.
You look at everything else that’s happening in the program, they’re really excelling at a high level. The classroom, in the community — those are things that are important as well, but they’re not mutually exclusive. You can excel at a high level in the classroom and be involved in the community and have a great culture in the program, but at the end of the day it’s still important to win football games. I think we can do all of those things at the same time.
The flipside: If Illinois makes it to a bowl game — any bowl game — will Beckman’s job be safe?
MT: I think you would sit here from a wins and losses standpoint and say that you’ve improved. You’d certainly say that. But you can say that, as you said, if we win five games. So, at the end of the day, you take in the whole body of work.
I’ll ask you to bear with me as I sort of think out loud about Beckman and his reputation among fans and media in general. I’ve seen and heard people question whether he looks or sounds or acts the part of a big-time head coach. There are many coaching “types,” of course: the Saban control freak, the Meyer cold-blooded closer, the Mack Brown ultimate charmer, the professorial type like Jim Tressel or Bill Snyder. I don’t think Beckman fits any of those profiles, for example. What makes him head coaching material as you see it?
MT: The first thing I would say is that if you’re a winning football coach, any imperfections that you’re perceived to have, people tend to give you more of a hall pass. If you’re not winning, some things that would otherwise be less significant become more significant.
I think Tim is a very genuine, sincere person. He’s someone who relates well to people in that he treats everyone the same. He is OK to engage with about anybody. He’s very external. He has done a lot in the community, a lot for this program outside of his office, which I think is important. I can tell you, the culture of the program is a reflection of him, and him wanting to develop these kids in a way that’s more than just between the lines. And they know that they have someone who is going to be part of their lives regardless of what they do on the football field and after they’ve finished playing football for four or five years for the University of Illinois.
Are Illinois fans responding to him the way you’d want? Are they inspired by him? Do they believe in him?
MT: I think those people that he’s touched or spent time with would give you a different scouting report on Tim than those who haven’t. There’s probably a lot of very successful coaches out there that win at a very high level that may have a lot of warts, but because they’re winning at a high level, they get a hall pass from their fan base or from others. If we’re winning at a level that we all hope to, does that change that so-called perception of how people feel about Coach Beckman? I can’t say. But if that truly is there, my sense is you’d certainly see a softening of that.