Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Illinois Fighting Illini, Part 1, Overview
The Fighting Illini boast five national championships. They have been to the Rose Bowl five times, which is tied with Iowa for the fourth-most appearances by any Big Ten team.
With 15 Big Ten championships to their credit, they only lag behind Michigan, Ohio State and...uh...Minnesota (yes, the Gophers were once really good).
They produced such legendary stars as Red Grange, Dick Butkus, George Halas and Jim Grabowski.
The state of Illinois regularly produces the second-most FBS football players within the Big Ten footprint, (far) behind only Ohio.
Yet, since Ray Eliot retired in 1959, only two of nine coaches have posted winning records: Mike White, who (via the Chicago Tribune) was forced out due to recruiting violations, and John Mackovic, who spent four years in Champaign before bolting for Texas.
Add Ron Zook to the fire after 2011's schizophrenic season, a year in which the Illini started out 6-0 and finished 0-6, which Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire aptly describes as "Illinois football in a nutshell during the Zook era."
Losing Zook might be the biggest comedic loss in Big Ten history, but the rest of the Big Ten's loss is, in all probability, Illinois' gain.
New head coach Tim Beckman will be the latest in what has been a coaching shuffle—six new or second-year head coaches will be on the sidelines this year, to go along with four fully or semi-revamped staffs—in the Midwest's favorite football conference.
The good news is that like almost every other new hire in the Big Ten, Beckman looks to be a decided step up from his predecessor.
Now, can he win?
2011 Record: 7-6
2011 Conference Record: 2-6
2011 Home/Away/Neutral Record: 5-3/1-3/1-0
2011 Record vs. Ranked Teams: 0-2
Record Last Five Seasons: 31-32 (t-68th-winningest FBS program over that period of time)
Conference Record Last Five Seasons: 17-23
Home/Away/Neutral Record Last Five Seasons: 20-12/8-14/3-6
Record vs. Ranked Teams Last Five Seasons: 3-14
Best Record Last Five Seasons: 9-4 (2007)
Worst Record Last Five Seasons: 3-9 (2009)
Number of Coaches Last 10 Seasons: Three
Tim Beckman is originally from Ohio. He played college football at the University of Findlay—located in Findlay, Ohio—and has spent over half his coaching career within the Buckeye State. Furthermore, his father, Dave Beckman, was an offensive line coach for Iowa (1973-1978) and spent 1979-1984 with the Cleveland Browns.
While this is not a guarantee of Big Ten success, it does guarantee that he knows the lay of the land.
After graduating Findlay, Beckman worked as a graduate assistant at Auburn. He moved to Western Carolina in 1990, where he served as secondary coach and recruiting coordinator until 1995.
He then went on to serve as the defensive coordinator (DC) for FCS's Elon University, where he stayed for two years.
In 1998, he was hired by Gary Blackney to be the defensive coordinator for the MAC's Bowling Green Falcons.
Beckman was retained when Urban Meyer succeeded Blackney, and further retained when Gregg Brandon succeeded Meyer. Beckman remained at Bowling Green through 2004, at which point he became the Ohio State cornerbacks coach under Jim Tressel.
In 2007, he became the DC at Oklahoma State under Mike Gundy. Though his Cowboy defenses weren't impressive from a statistical standpoint—28.8 PPG over his two-year tenure—one has to remember that Mike Gundy's focus is and has always been offense, and the Big 12 is and has been an offense-dominant conference.
In 2009. Beckman was named the head coach of the Toledo Rockets, a team that had gone a combined 13-21 in the previous three seasons.
In his first year in Toledo, the Rockets went 5-7, but they turned it around in 2010, going 8-4 and securing their first bowl bid since 2005.
In 2011, Toledo went 8-4 and won its bowl, finishing with a 9-4 record.
Illinois hired Beckman (via the Chicago Sun Times) "after striking out or passing on more glamorous candidates."
Though Beckman is not splashy, he could be just the type of under-the-radar, focus-on-fundamentals hire that Illinois needs to purge itself of Ron Zook.
Coming next Wednesday, an overview and breakdown of Illinois' offense.
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