Comparing Zook and Beckman

Jul 16, 2014
football-recruiting, illini, illini-football
football-recruiting, illini, illini-football

I spend a lot of time wondering how I can best make this point.  The list inside this post was compiled more than three months ago, but I haven't found the right time to post it.  Mostly because it's something that can so easily be interpreted the wrong way.  But hey, it's 11:24 pm, and this is the first chance I've had to blog in four days, so let's do this.

The topic: Zook's recruits leaving and Beckman's recruits sticking around.  To speak of this subject makes one a wild Tim Beckman homer, so I guess that's just what I'll have to be today.  I think it's important that this information is out there, so let's talk about it.  This is that information:  Zook's recruits tended to leave; Beckman's recruits - and yes, it's still early - tend to stick around.

So let's turn this into an unfair comparison.  Let's compare apples to, I don't know, apple blossoms, and then let's see where all of this lands.  I've written about the 2006-2008 classes before, where nearly 50% of Zook's recruits never made it to Senior Day.  Now let's look at how that has changed in the end of the Zook era and the beginning of the Beckman era.

Starting with the 2009 recruiting class until the day he was fired, Ron Zook added 78 recruits.  Of those 78, 33 left the program.  Since Tim Beckman took over, he has inked 54 recruits.  Of those 54, only three will not be in uniform in a few weeks - Bryce Douglas due to an injury and Matt Domer/Tyree Stone-Davis did not qualify.

I'll break that down in a bit, but first, let's write that out graphically.  In bold and italics are the players who left the team - bold because they left or were kicked off, italics because of some other circumstance (such as a career-ending injury). Here are those players in order of when they picked Illinois:

Lendell Buckner (left team)
Leon Hill (left team)
Greg Fuller (left team)
Joelil Thrash (left team)
Steve Hull
Nathan Scheelhaase
Terry Hawthorne
Tommie Hopkins (left team)
Jake Feldmeyer
Andrew Carter (medical scholarship after injury)
Bud Golden (transferred to Tennessee Tech)
Hugh Thornton
Justin Lattimore (left team)
Aaron Gress
Tim Kynard
Walt Aikens (kicked off team after theft arrest)
Eric Watts (left team)
Akeem Spence (declared early)
Michael Buchanan
Justin Green
Shawn Afryl (left team)
Chandler Whitmer (transferred to junior college and then Connecticut)
Mark Wilson (admissions issues, left team)
Michael Heitz
Simon Cvijanovic
Jonathan Brown
Ryan Lankford
Trulon Henry
Jake Howe
A.J. Williams (left team)
Miles Osei
Spencer Harris
Evan Wilson
Ean Days (transferred to Georgia Southern)
Alex Hill
Jay Prosch (transferred to Auburn)
Austin Teitsma
Brandon Denmark (transferred to Florida A&M)
Darius Millines (kicked off team)
Earnest Thomas
Dejazz Woods
Houston Bates (transferred to Louisiana Tech)
Fritz Rock (left team)
Zeph Grimes
Chris O'Connor
Reilly O'Toole
Justin DuVernois
Chris Boles
Tony Durkin
Josh Ferguson
Ted Karras
Clint Tucker (did not qualify)
Scott McDowell
Henry Dickinson (medical scholarship after injury)
Ralph Cooper
Jordan Frysinger (left team following arrest, now at Wyoming Idaho)
Matt LaCosse
Nick North
Pat Flavin
Jeremey Whitlow
Dondi Kirby (did not qualify)
Kenny Nelson
Kenny Knight
Donovonn Young
Eaton Spence
Darrius Caldwell (kicked off team)
Valdon Cooper (transferred to Georgia Southern)
Willie Beavers (did not qualify)
Jon Davis
Chris Jones (arrested, kicked off team)
Daniel Rhodes (left team)
Jason Robertson (did not qualify)
TaJarvis Fuller (kicked off team)
Joseph Spencer
Taylor Barton
Vontrell Williams (released from team)
Robbie Bain
Dami Ayoola (kicked off team)
Mason Monheim
Ryan Frain
Teko Powell
T.J. Neal
Devin Church
Justin Hardee
Jevaris Little
BJ Bello
Mike Svetina
Lakeith Walls
V'Angelo Bentley
Dillan Cazley
Jesse Chadwell
Kendrick Foster
Christian DiLauro
Aaron Bailey
Jarrod Clements
Merrick Jackson (did not qualify)
Austin Schmidt
Caleb Day
Bryce Douglas (medical scholarship after an injury)
Darius Mosely
Dawuane Smoot
Darwyn Kelly
Martize Barr
Tyler White
Zane Petty
Abens Cajuste
Eric Finney
Marchie Murdock
Dallas Hinkhouse
Dionte Taylor
James Crawford
Jaylen Dunlap
Paul James
Trevor Kanteman
Nick Allegretti
Tito Odenigbo
Mike Dudek
Chayce Crouch
Austin Roberts
Henry McGrew
Malik Turner
Matt Domer (did not qualify)
Julian Hylton
Tyrin Stone-Davis
Tyree Stone-Davis (did not qualify)
Geronimo Allison
Peter Cvijanovic
Tre Watson
Joe Fotu
Carroll Phillips
Jihad Ward
Chris James

Again, I want to re-emphasize this: this isn't exactly apples to apples yet. The Zook players had four and five years in which to leave - this latest Beckman class has only been on campus for six weeks (although, to be fair, Zook lost a player in that timeframe when Chris Jones was arrested for assault his first July). The reason I listed all three Beckman classes was to show the number of non-qualifiers as well - this last class is when Beckman began to lose players because of that.

Still, even with all of that, given the overwhelming difference to date, the Beckman losses won't be anywhere near the Zook losses. Zook lost 33 of 78.  Once Beckman gets to his first 78 recruits, I'm guessing he might lose... 12?  Given the rate of attrition of the guys he recruited, it's likely to be around one third of the player losses that Zook experienced.  Or look at it this way.  Of those 33 players that Zook lost, 27 left before reaching their third year.  Which means Beckman, entering his third fall, should have lost a lot of his own players by now.  He simply hasn't.

And I want to emphasize it one more time: Beckman has, in fact, kicked kids off the team for behavior and grades. All of them just happened to be Zook recruits.  For the guys he hand-selected, he has yet to lose one to behavior or grades.  Merrick Jackson, Matt Domer, and TSD2 didn't qualify (and it's worth noting that Merrick Jackson had "verballed" to Illinois but didn't have a commitable offer - due to grades, I'm sure - and signed with a junior college on signing day), and Bryce Douglas had the medical issue.

I realize the folly of writing such a post at this time.  For the next four years, when any of these Beckman players leave - and they will leave - I am certain to receive "I thought you said Beckman players were perfect" callouts.  That's not my point here, but that will be the takeaway.  I get it, and I accept it.

My point here: the two recruiting philosophies of the two coaches appear to be exact opposites.  Zook went after talent while taking academic and behavioral risks.  If that meant some kids didn't qualify, and some kids got arrested, and some kids flunked out, he simply replaced them with more talent.  One need only to look at the NFL draft lists from 2008 through 2013 to see that Zook could spot and land talent. Best of any Illini coach I've seen.

Beckman doesn't land nearly as much talent, at least going by star ratings.  The three classes (for each) listed above are likely quite similar talent-wise - Zook's recruiting had fallen off by then.  But Zook's first three classes were ranked much higher than Beckman's first three classes.

What Beckman does seem to land, though, are four- and five-year players.  At least that's the trend.  When Beckman arrived, in those six weeks before signing day, he added Monheim, Powell, Neal, Church, Hardee, Little, Bello, Svetina, Walls, and Bentley.  And this fall, the team is going to lean heavily on Monheim, Powell, Neal, Church, Hardee, Little, Svetina, and Bentley, with Bello and Walls front and center on coverage teams.   Nobody left.  Nobody flunked out.  If we were using the Zook averages, you'd have to pluck four or five of those ten guys off the list and replace them with underclassmen.

That's why I keep coming back to this subject.  Some people hear those names, and they picture them getting burned by Indiana last year, and they say "Zook recruited talent, Beckman doesn't; the end."  I'm saying that throwing these guys into the fire when he arrived was the point.  Take your lumps, keep everyone around, and eventually win.  And once you're winning, if you're still keeping players around and still graduating 22 seniors instead of 10, you might have just built a program.

There's no guarantee it will work.  Pick any Indiana coach in the last 20 years and they'll tell you that this was what they tried to do - recruit four year players, keep everyone around, build experience.  And then Michigan State's four-star defensive end runs right over your experienced offensive tackle and you realize that football is sometimes just purely talent.

But it's also sometimes not talent at all.  Ron Zook, with more NFL players than all but Ohio State in 2009, finished 3-9 in the Big Ten.  If you keep losing players and keep plugging in underclassmen (and then losing that underclassman and promoting an even younger underclassman), it's really hard to build a program.

You know what?  I could have saved myself 1,500 words and just written this:  By my count, Ron Zook inked 174 players to Illinois. 81 did not graduate.  In his first 30 months, Tim Beckman has inked 54 recruits.  Three did not qualify, and as of this writing, not one player has left.


davo2787 on July 16 @ 01:47 AM CDT

Let's get the players; let's have them love the University of Illinois; and let's win with hard work, ingenuity, and consistence. It's that easy, right?

detlef on July 16 @ 08:08 AM CDT

Robert: Frysinger is not listed on Wyoming's roster. His twitter feed said he is a Vandal. But he is not listed on Idaho's roster either.

Robert on July 16 @ 09:37 AM CDT

You're right - it's Idaho. Petrino offered him a spot. I'll edit.

Efrem on July 16 @ 09:24 AM CDT

Robert - interesting stuff.

Do you have any idea what the average percentage of players leaving for non-injury or going pro reasons is at other schools? Would be interesting to compare ours to that - or even just a few other schools that seem to be successful with the "keep players 4 or 5 year plan" like Wisconsin or Iowa.


Robert on July 16 @ 09:43 AM CDT

I attempted to research that but found it almost impossible. The only info I could use would be senior day lists and recruiting lists, but even then it's hard to know which players were on scholarship and which were walkons and which left early etc.

I did this list from memory - went through the recruiting lists and highlighted the players who left. I suppose the only way to do that for another team would be to have a Wisconsin blogger do that for Wisconsin's roster.

Efrem on July 16 @ 09:52 AM CDT

Too bad. That would have been interesting

Robert on July 16 @ 10:55 AM CDT

Well, I can give you this statistic from last year's Wisconsin game. Each team usually plays around 45 players each game. Starters, backups, special teams - you usually have a core of about 40-50 (more or less the two-deep).

In our Wisconsin game last year, Wisconsin used 4 freshmen and 5 second-year players (sophomores and redshirt freshmen). Only nine of the 45 players were green. Illinois played 13 freshmen and 15 second-year players. 28 players in the two deep were green. More than three times that of Wisconsin.

Fast forward two years to the 2015 season (I put together a 2015 depth chart this past winter -, and, if everyone keeps sticking around like they have, Illinois will have four underclassmen in the two deep.

Efrem on July 16 @ 02:29 PM CDT

Cool - and good to hear


Grogs on July 16 @ 12:06 PM CDT

Interesting stuff and a trend I'd love to see continue. I also wonder how many of those Zook guys were during the Locksley years. Seemed that the Zook recruiting "magic" waned significantly once he left.

The Beckman recruits might not be guys that get us to the Rose Bowl at their peak (as in when everything falls into place in a given year) like in Zook's heyday - maybe more like the Capital One Bowl in such a scenario - but I'd prefer a good team consistently over the "feast or famine" that we did have under Zook.

CL on July 16 @ 12:21 PM CDT

Its not a coincidence that Beckman is more willing to kick off players he never recruited vs his own guys that he has recruited. Every coach is like that. How many of Ron Turners left over recruits ended up leaving when Zook took over?

Give me talent with the right coach coaching that talent everytime. We have all seen the "win with lower ranked talent that stays in the program" argument fail under Ron Turner. Why would it be any different under Tim Beckman? He is doing the same thing that Turner did: MAC level recruiting with hopes that he has a franchise QB in Lunt, similar to Turner with Kittner. In the end, it was a losing proposition long term.

Perhaps stop looking for every "trash the past, hype the present" argument and instead try for a little intellectual integrity. It would go a long way towards building value in your opinions rather than people just dismissing them and labelling you an unabashed homer that will call anything good. No need to look for positivity all the time. Just be honest with your readers.

Did you ever make a big deal about the attrition in the Zook years while it was occurring? I must have missed those articles. But now it suddenly means something? Cmon. You are better than this.

backuplongsnapper on July 16 @ 08:32 PM CDT

Robert isn't a homer. He's OUR homer. Furthermore, comparing the recruiting of Turner & Beckman isn't really apt. Turner recruited "MAC Level talent" out of hubris, as he believed his offensive system was good enough to best superior talent. He never focused on recruiting. Beckman & staff are recruiting their asses off. however, given the state of the program, they sometimes have to add JUCOs & players with MAC offers out of necessity. But, they're making progress.

Harry Lime on July 16 @ 09:55 PM CDT

Give me a beautiful wife with brains and money every time. It's just that easy.

CL on July 16 @ 12:28 PM CDT

Ryan Nowicki left. Does he not count as a Beckman recruit? Your last paragraph not entirely accurate.

Illinigrad on July 16 @ 06:26 PM CDT

As a long time season ticket holder going back to the 60s as a student I have seen a lot. Under Beckman, I am still waiting for the "good team" to show up. I wonder if we are getting the level of talent that we need to win. It has been proven with more than one coach that recruiting basically two star players or three at the MAC level will not cut it in the BIG. White and Zook were the only recent coaches that put together enough talent at one time to be competitive at a high level. One could argue that Zook's Rose Bowl team was built around Turner's slight resurgence of recruiting near the end when he realized his job was on the line. We will know more about Beckman's recruiting and if it works after this season. There still are a bunch of lingering questions about overall team talent and coaching on at least one side of the ball.

ATOillini on July 16 @ 07:28 PM CDT

CL..."rather than people just dismissing them". Wow. Seems a bit harsh as you apparently speak for others as well as yourself? Robert has never positioned this blog as 100% clinically unbiased, and it seems to me he's already laid things out in the first 2 paragraphs. We all know this is not a roster loaded with 4 and 5 star recruits. The article presents a topic for discussion, not a forum for putdowns.

Norcal Illini on July 17 @ 12:00 AM CDT

We're all biding our time until the season starts, so it seems like a slow news day story. I appreciate the research that went into the article about past recruits, but I really want to see if the team can win. When I was in school in the early 1970s, they had a lot of multi-year starters who even made it to the NFL like Gerry Sullivan, Larry McCarren, Revie Sorey, Lonnie Perrin, Tom Hicks, and Scott Studwell, but they still had only one winning season, and that was just 6-4-1. At some point, the coaching and better talent have to come together. I just hope Beckman can sustain a few winning seasons and move it to the next level. This year could be our best indication whether that's possible.

andy on July 17 @ 01:50 PM CDT

I think that keeping players around is a good thing and is path to B10 mediocrity given the level of players Beckman is getting (assuming it plays out that they do stay around). Please don't take that as a bad thing, mediocrity is great given where Illini football is now. But that mediocrity is a best case scenario for the next 3-4 years given the recruiting.

Robert's example of the 4-star DE blowing over the 2 star tackle is still the reality. I'm patient but I want to aspire to more. Let's hope Beckman can build the program to get there.

Antomine on July 17 @ 02:50 PM CDT

We need to get to mediocrity before we can jump to consistently competitive. My hope (and I assume other's as well) is that we get some decent mediocre B1G seasons in the bag over the next 2 or 3 years. Nothing crazy, just maybe some 3 and 4 win B1G seasons to couple our 3 wins in the Non-Con. Once we are consistently going to bowls, the recruiting should pick up. Then those 3-4 win B1G seasons suddenly become 4 and 5 wins. Our 3 win Non-Con suddenly becomes 4 wins. With a consistent staff and system for the players to be involved with over their entire stint at Illinois. In 5 years I would be happy with an 8 or 9 win season. The question that you have to ask yourself, is this: Would you be happy with that? This program is a mess right now, it's been a mess for 20+ years. The turnaround isn't going to happen over night.

Harry Lime on July 17 @ 10:47 PM CDT

Well said.

Douglascountyillinifan on July 17 @ 09:29 PM CDT

HCFS, is that you, posting as CL? Please point out one instance where Beckman failed to adequately discipline one of his recruits for a dismissible offense. Robert hypes the past, the present and the future, and that's why we love him.

kgwasmyfavorite on July 17 @ 10:11 PM CDT

The only comparison that truly matters: Zook 4-19 (after 2 seasons) Beckman 6-18 (after 2 seasons)

Zook 13-23 (after 3 seasons)

Honestly, I would be ecstatic if Becks reached 13 wins at the end of this season!

Illinigrad on August 01 @ 03:19 AM CDT

Blackman could have done better if his teams were eligible for bowls. Back then it was one and done, only the Rose. I have always wondered if Coleman (AD) had kept Blackman and not fired him if things would have continued to improve, because the team did improve under Bob Blackman. Coleman was a weak AD and if IIRC eventually fired.

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