The Zook/Beckman Transition

Mar 21, 2014
illini, illini-football
illini, illini-football

While watching football practice last Friday, it struck me: this team is increasingly Tim Beckman's. There's always a transition period when a new coach takes over.  New ways of doing things that require some getting used to. In Major League Baseball, it usually happens the first or second season; in college football, sometimes it's four or five years.

The reason college football is the longest of any coaching transition is mostly scheme and roster make-up. I always point to Rich Rodriguez at Michigan. Michigan had spent 50 years recruiting big, lumbering, immovable offensive linemen. At the time Rich Rodriguez took over, they had perhaps the most old school NFL-like offensive line system (and linemen) in the country.

Immediately, RichRod wanted those linemen to get out in space and zone block. The match of scheme to personnel was atrocious (not to mention similar issues on defense), and RichRod lost his job. (Worth noting - his transition at Arizona has been much smoother in part, I think, because the roster he inherited matched the schemes he wanted to run.)

So we're now beginning the third year of Beckman, and I think the transition is starting to take place. The clear transition, of course, is that Zook's quarterback is gone and now Beckman will likely hand the ball to the top two recruits he's brought to the program: Wes Lunt and Aaron Bailey. But it goes even deeper than that.

And that's easy to see when you look at the roster. 83 scholarship players will enter camp this August: 31 were Zook recruits, 52 were Beckman recruits. The starters are still mostly Zook recruits - they're the upperclassmen, so that's normal - but the roster is really moving in the Beckman direction.

And I think that's best seen when looking at the 2012 recruiting class. I wrote this up on the football board, but I wanted to expound on it here. Half of the players in the 2012 class were Zook recruits, and half were Beckman recruits that he added in his first six weeks on the job. And it's rather eye opening to see that the majority of the Zook recruits are no longer with the team, while all of the Beckman recruits are not only still with the team, but the core of this 2014 Illini squad.

Here are those lists:

Zook recruits from 2012
Daniel Rhodes -_ no longer with the team_
Jason Robertson - no longer with the team
TaJarvis Fuller - kicked off team by Beckman in September 2012
Joe Spencer
Taylor Barton
Vontrell Williams - kicked off team by Beckman in February 2014
Robbie Bain
Dami Ayoola - kicked off team by Beckman in February 2014

Beckman recruits from that same 2012 class
Mason Monheim - starter
Ryan Frain
Teko Powell - starter
TJ Neal - probable starter
Devin Church - in the rotation at WR/RB
Justin Hardee - starter
Jevaris Little
BJ Bello
Mike Svetina - starter at star, moving back inside
LaKeith Walls
V'Angelo Bentley - starter

I've been following Illini football and Illini recruiting for a long time, and I can't remember a scenario like that.  It's 25 months since that class signed, and five of the eight Zook players are gone while seven of the 11 Beckman players will be on top of the depth chart as true juniors or redshirt sophomores (eight if you count Jevaris Little, who is likely our third safety this fall).  11 of the 11 Beckman players are still here and three of the eight Zook players still here? That's what you call a telling statistic.

My takeaway from that: Tim Beckman arrived on December 9th and on December 19th he started building the kind of defense he wanted by landing Mason Monheim.  In fact, the core of this 2014 defense - Monheim, Mike Svetina, and TJ Neal at linebacker, plus Teko Powell at defensive tackle and V'Angelo Bentley at cornerback - were all added that first month.

As we've discussed this offseason, it's still probably one more year before that defense is set up the way he wants it, but this fall will provide a clear picture of what kind of team he wants to put on the field.  And I should also note that this doesn't mean guys like Joe Spencer, Robbie Bain, and Taylor Barton - Zook recruits in Beckman's first class - are to be viewed as outsiders.  Just like guys in the 2010 and 2011 classes, a new coach must embrace and find roles for the players he inherits.

I'm just saying that there's a clear line here.  From the moment he got here, Beckman started building his kind of roster, and this fall provides the first true glimpse of that.

Will it work?  No clue.  Might be a gigantic disaster.  But if fans want to see the type of student athlete Tim Beckman wants to win with, just watch the development of those 11 players in the 2012 class.


Steve on March 21 @ 05:19 PM CDT

Interesting stuff, as always. Thanks for the perspective. Sounds like TB is growing on you. Hopefully that will be the case for less informed people, such as me, soon. Less than 6 months to football. Hard to believe today, but true.

rml on March 21 @ 05:47 PM CDT

Meh. As I recall, a bunch of guys left Michigan when RichRod came in. So is the point that our turnover is comparable to the turnover at Michigan when RichRod came in? OK; but as you conclude, that only means that the team is a lot different, not that it's a lot better.

Robert on March 21 @ 06:46 PM CDT

My point is not "turnover". Zook's seven years saw the most player turnover in Illini history, with nearly 50% of his recruited players leaving the program before their senior year. If anything, Beckman has stopped the player turnover.

The point of this post is that the line drawn down the middle of the 2012 class is stunning. 63% of the Zook players are already gone, three of them for violating team rules. 0% of the Beckman players are gone.

CL on March 22 @ 02:33 PM CDT

Its not stunning. Coaches get rid of players they dont recruit all the time. Look what Groce did to Jalen James, Michael Orris, Ibidje, Henry, Shaw, Langford.

If you want to make a point that none of Beckman's own recruits have been dismissed for breaking the rules, but a few of Zook's remaining players have - have at it. But I have to believe that Beckman will be more lenient on his own guys (that he recruited and wanted), rather on guys that he did not recruit and did not want.

You are trying to make a point here that is neither that interesting and not even close to "stunning".

Coaches tend to get rid of some of the players they dont recruit but are left with from prior regimes. Zook got rid of a few of the guys left over from him by Ron Turner. It happens everywhere.

BexleyIllini on March 22 @ 07:02 PM CDT

I think what Groce did was stunning - and necessary.

mrorange on March 21 @ 09:26 PM CDT

I believe that the culture change under Tim Beckman is a good thing. Now just win baby win.

Joe Edge on March 21 @ 10:30 PM CDT

Couldn't agree more... It truly is a 'good thing' that the culture has changed. And I think that is captured by Robert in his point about that 2012 class... And of course it matters. Significantly. However, winning will matter even more significantly. IMHO... So the question becomes: Will we end up doing what scUM did, and let the coach go after a short experiment, or have patience and enough faith that this works out for the best -- Over time?

CL on March 22 @ 02:26 PM CDT

I dont think there is a culture change at all, other than the fact that Beckman is way less of a recruiter than Zook was. Zook had roster turnover because he could recruit over the guys that couldnt play. Beckman cant do that at this point, so instead of Creaning them at the end of the year he'll hold on to them and hope they can improve as upperclassmen. I'm a believer in talent is more important than continuity. We'll see if this works. Looks from my view that in a couple years that Illinois will have a lot of upperclassmen that just arent very good football players. Similar to Ron Turner's final years.

Illinigrad on March 22 @ 12:12 AM CDT

I don't care if there is player turnover, as long as we win. Conversely, if all the players stay and we cannot put together a winning season, that means we have the wrong guys, even if they stay 10 years or longer (smile). The main thing is to win games and TB has to show that he can do so. I agree that the arrow seems to be pointed up.

Andyfirst on March 22 @ 10:22 AM CDT

I will never forget a conversation with Gary Horton, Mike White's first recruiting coordinator, not long after he arrived at the UI. He brought in Dave Wilson, Tony Eason and on and on...

He looked at me and said, "That's probably the best group of kids I've ever been around. There isn't a kid in there I would have qualms about dating my sister. But, there aren't any good football players."

May this staff not be so naiive. And may this not be deja vu.

steveinseattle on March 22 @ 12:48 PM CDT

I'll give Beckman this: he seems to be bringing in kids that at least make it on the field. They're not leaving the program for disciplinary reasons or ending up behind bars.

Now can the star setup (with Banks running it) stop a B1G offense? That's what we'll have to wait and see.

CL on March 22 @ 02:20 PM CDT

How is it "eye opening" that a coach will get rid of some of the last coach's final recruiting class? Thats pretty normal. Why would Beckman want to coach guys that he didnt recruit? Why would players want to play for a coach that does not want them? Look at how quickly Groce got rid of most of Weber's players. Should we be surprised when Beckman does the same thing to Zook's guys?

If anything, I hope this puts to an end the tired and endless "its Zook's fault" excuse making coming from this blog. If we can all agree now that its Beckman's team, hopefully Robert holds him accountable for his inept management of the program going forward. Since its now Beckman's team. He owns it, no?

Magoo2 on March 22 @ 05:09 PM CDT

Someone woke up with an Axe to grind today.....

dwalker444 on March 23 @ 02:24 PM CDT

Perhaps it is irritation from sand in a sensitive area.

Bear8287 on March 25 @ 02:54 AM CDT

Why would Beckman want to coach guys that he didnt recruit?

Bruce Weber seemed to be pretty happy to coach guys that he didn't recruit (no more than once).

Bear8287 on March 25 @ 02:55 AM CDT

should be "more than once".

Illinigrad on March 23 @ 12:44 AM CDT

It is bowl or bust time for TB.

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