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New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman knows where he wants to go

New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman is big working hard doing things right. | AP

New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman is big on working hard and doing things right. | AP

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Updated: January 14, 2012 8:17AM

CHAMPAIGN — There has been a lot of focus on who new Illinois football coach Tim Beckman isn’t. Maybe it’s time to look at who he is — a coach who has as good a chance to be successful as the guys who aren’t here.

Beckman isn’t the big name some wanted. He didn’t hoist any hardware in his three years at Toledo. He doesn’t have an offensive background or ties to Illinois.

But Beckman, 46, does come from a conference — the Mid-American — that has been a springboard for Urban Meyer, Brady Hoke, Gary Pinkel and a host of others. He has worked for Meyer, Jim Tressel and Mike Gundy. He signed the top recruiting class in the MAC the last two seasons, and his familiarity with talent-rich Ohio holds promise for
future Illini rosters.

For example, junior Whitney Mercilus, who received the Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in the country, is from Akron. He will have to think seriously about declaring for the NFL draft, but Beckman thinks he could benefit from another season in Champaign.

‘‘You’re constantly learning in this game,’’ Beckman told the Sun-Times on Monday, ‘‘and he’d be a great
addition as a leader, as someone who could take this program from a six- or seven-win season to a nine- or 10-win season. What better way to leave a program than as one that started building it?’’

Athletic director Mike Thomas said he thinks Beckman is well-equipped to take an approach that will help Illinois avoid the problems that can taint a football

‘‘You need someone who is really a CEO of your program,’’ Thomas said. ‘‘It’s not just about the X’s and O’s.’’

Although Beckman plans to give three coordinators (offense, defense and special teams) considerable responsibility, he intends to be more hands-on with the employees than your typical CEO.

‘‘I don’t know if it’s actually a CEO,’’ he said. ‘‘I still like to think I’m just one of the coaches that started in this profession — and continues to do it — because he loves to be around kids.’’

But Beckman is thorough and organized and soon will have a staff that reflects that.

Toledo’s naming of 32-year-old rising star Matt Campbell as its new coach Monday removes Beckman’s first option as offensive coordinator. But Beckman, who was expecting the move,
quietly has been working to find another choice.

After meeting with fired coach Ron Zook’s assistants Monday, Beckman wouldn’t rule out retaining defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. It’s not clear yet, though, whether both are serious about working together.

Two Toledo assistants who are likely to end up in Champaign are co-defensive coordinator Mike Ward, 49, and running-game coordinator Louis Ayeni, 30, a former Northwestern player and graduate assistant who
could help with Chicago-area recruiting.

The first three games of
Illinois’ 2012 Big Ten season — home against Penn State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan — will tell a lot. But that’s a challenge Beckman eagerly accepts.

‘‘This is a great conference, no question,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘But I really do believe you have a fighting chance if you work hard and do things right.’’

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