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Illinois football coach Tim Beckman looking for positives after 2-10 season

Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman speaks news conference during NCAA Big Ten football mediday meetings Wednesday July 24 2013

Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman speaks at a news conference during the NCAA Big Ten football media day meetings on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

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Updated: July 25, 2013 3:27PM

There was nothing easy about what Tim Beckman had to do Wednesday. At the annual downtown gathering of Big Ten football coaches, star players and media, Beckman was the face of the worst team in the league. But give him this: He wore it well.

Illinois was 2-10 last year and is on the business end of a 14-game losing streak in Big Ten games. A hangdog expression on Beckman’s face would’ve been more than understandable, but these days he’s all about sunshine, rainbows and the power of positive thinking.

“We’re not going to let negativity infiltrate our program,” he said. “We’re going to be positive, with a great passion toward what we want to get accomplished.”

From predecessor Ron Zook, Beckman inherited a team that somehow started 6-0 and finished 0-6 in the 2011 regular season. The Illini’s second-year coach wondered, with good reason, how a collapse like that could’ve happened. Chances are, the debacle that was 2012 made it pretty clear the 6-0 part of the equation had been a mirage.

The Illini are deep in the desert, a million miles from contending for a championship.

But at least Beckman is on his feet and pumped up to lead his beleaguered program somewhere, anywhere.

“I’ve seen progress,” he said, “and I’m excited about that progress.”

Beckman isn’t disconnected from reality. Quite the contrary. He’s steeped in it — and, no matter how enthusiastically he approaches his job, it can’t be all that comfortable.

But he’s hoping there’s value in numbers like 2-10 and 0-14. He knows he hasn’t gotten the best out of his players yet.

He knows he hasn’t convinced anyone outside the program that he’s the right coach for this major building job. In all that, he senses opportunity.

What’s he supposed to do, give up because of a little — OK, a lot of — losing?

“I learned quite a bit because I’d never been through it,” Beckman said. “I’m very blessed to have been around a lot of winning.”

This is true. He coached under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green, Jim Tressel at Ohio State and Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. He experienced all three programs getting better. There were lessons to be gleaned then, as there were in 2012 and as there are now.

Beckman’s players are keeping their heads up, too. They’re well aware that most folks don’t expect much from them these days.

The three players Beckman brought with him to Chicago — quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, offensive tackle Corey Lewis and defensive end Tim Kynard — can’t be sensing much of a buzz about the Illini.

“We want to [create] a buzz because we’re doing things the right way,” Kynard said. “And because we’re striving to be better.”

Sometimes that’s all a guy can do.

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