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Third season is crucial for Illini’s embattled Tim Beckman

In this Nov. 10 2012 phoIllinois head coach Tim Beckman looks clock during time out during first half an NCAA

In this Nov. 10, 2012 photo, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman looks at the clock during a time out during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Illinois and Minnesota in Champaign, Ill. The Illini are the only Big Ten team without a conference win this season. Purdue plays at Illinois this Saturday, Nov. 17.(AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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The beckman record

Tim Beckman’s two-year Big Ten record of 1-15 almost literally couldn’t be worse, but — as Illinois’ 10-game records against its 2014 conference opponents show — he was facing a steep uphill climb from the day he took over for Ron Zook.

Last

Last Beckman Illini

10 vs. team win

Nebraska 2-7-1 0-1 1924

Purdue 3-7 1-1 2013

Wisconsin 2-8 0-2 2007

Minnesota 3-7 0-1 2009

Ohio State 1-9* 0-2 2007

Iowa 3-7 0-0 2008

Penn State 2-8 0-2 2010

Northwestern 3-7 0-2 2011

* Includes an OSU victory in 2010 that later was vacated by the NCAA.

Illinois A.D. Mike Thomas: ‘We need to win more football games’

Updated: June 2, 2014 10:54PM



CHAMPAIGN — Better win in 2014, Tim Beckman. Or move along.

That seems to be the read of the national media on Illinois’ third-year coach, whose teams were 2-10 in 2012 and 4-8 in 2013.

“The first year was terrible,” Beckman told the Sun-Times during an interview in his office last week. “Last year was better. This year has to be better again.”

But if it’s true the man is on the hottest of seats, that predicament doesn’t jibe with how he conducts his business. Beckman, 49, views himself as a patient, steady program-builder.

“It’s just being who I am,” he said.

Might he get to hunker down and stay awhile? In a Sports Illustrated online story last month, Beckman was quoted as saying “five or six wins” would represent meaningful improvement — not necessarily inaccurate, though hardly a Knute Rockne moment. He clarified his position on the coming season to begin our interview.

Q: We know five wins isn’t your goal for 2014. Tell us what is.

A: I want our players to experience the greatness of college football. Greatness to me is being able to go to a bowl game. It’s being able to play in Soldier Field like we did last year [against Washington]; I thought that was a hell of a damn experience for them. It’s the unique things that the game of football gives you. Having the opportunity to go to a bowl game is a tremendous opportunity not just to play football, but to also maybe go to [somewhere] a young man’s never been. Everybody’s trying to take the program as far as it can go, and that’s what we’re trying to do this year.

Q: There are a lot of people saying it’s bowl game or bust for you. Are they correct?

A: As you look at what this program has done — not in football wins but in doing things correctly, not being in the newspaper for things they shouldn’t be in the newspaper for, increasing the image of this program — we have made tremendous strides. But winning football games is the bottom line to everything, and we’ve got to be better. This program needs consistency. The way that consistency is built, and this is just my opinion, but consistency is built on being able to establish yourself as you build a program.

Q: When does what you inherited from Ron Zook cease to be part of the explanation for the Illini’s ongoing struggles? Should this year’s team be judged purely as the product of you and your staff?

A: We’re in the process of still playing with a bunch of young players, but that’s why we feel good as coaches and [why] we’ve got that sense we can be pretty good this year. Our players are maturing into what a Big Ten football player’s supposed to be. … We’re probably one more year away from where you could say, “We can redshirt this whole [freshman] class.” We can’t do that yet because we’ve still got some needs and continue to balance up with some junior-college players, but it’s a totally different football team in the fact of strength, in the fact of speed and in the fact of maturity than what it was a year before.

Q: You continue to refer to Northwestern as “that school upstate.” Why is it important to you to position NU as a rival so disliked you won’t speak its name?

A: I’ve been involved [as a coach] in Ohio State-Michigan, Bowling Green-Toledo, the Oklahoma State-Oklahoma rivalry, the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. I’ve been involved in the best rivalries there are, in my opinion. The game of football is made through rivalries, and the rivalries are based on respect. Coach [Jim] Tressel gave huge respect for the Michigan program when I was at Ohio State. Same deal with Pat Fitzgerald. I totally respect Fitzy and what he has done with that program, what Northwestern has done with that program.

Q: Even after last season’s debacle in Evanston, Fitzgerald is one of the golden boys of coaching. Where do you see Fitzgerald — and yourself — among your fellow Big Ten coaches?

A: I hope we both have the same respect [from] our peers throughout college football. You’d probably get the same things I hear said about Pat said about me. I hope so.

Q: What sort of things?

A:

Highly motivated. Good recruiter. Treats his people and his players with respect. Is involved in our [national] coaches association, as Pat is. If you talk to the people around college football, I’d hope they’d be saying the same things about Tim Beckman as they say about Pat.

Q: Have some people missed the boat on you a little bit?

A:

I’m not involved in as much media as probably I should be. Nobody’s perfect. There’s only been one person perfect. To me, all I’m worried about is making sure I’m doing the best I can for my family, for who I am. I came here understanding what I had to do and what I had to try to create, and I believe we’re heading in the direction that we need to head in. That first year wasn’t what it was supposed to be based on, what? Based on the way everybody wrote and the perceptions after [the 2011 team] lost six straight games [to end the regular season]? Big Ten-wise, in the last 10 years [before 2012], there was only one team Illinois had a winning record against [Indiana] in the whole Big Ten. This has been more of a process. I believe it will end up being very, very good if we continue to strive and make the program better.

Q: Is Year 3 too soon to be coaching for your job?

A:

I want to be here. I love the University of Illinois. This has been a dream for me. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I really feel that this program can be considered one of the tops in the country consistently. Is it three years? Everything I’ve wanted, I’ve been able — and I want to continue — to do here. But I don’t make that decision. It could be [made] based on how many football games we win; that would make it easy. I’m going to try my hardest to make sure that these football players who are playing for us at the University of Illinois [have] a better experience than the year before.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: SLGreenberg



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