Meeting Minutes

Dec 31, 2014

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Stayed up until 2:45 in the morning Friday night talking Illini football. Craig, Steve, and I joined my friends Brian and Carmen at something called WingBucket in downtown Dallas where they serve wings and drinks until 3:00 am. That was us in the booth over in the corner, solving every single issue that faces Illini football. Here's what we collectively decided. Meeting minutes, if you will.

+ Steve's preseason "let's hold off on the Lunt praise until he actually does something" proved to be depressingly accurate. It's not that we've all given up on Lunt by any means (Steve included). It's just that this season, especially Lunt post-injury, showed us that he has a long way to go.

As does our running game with a quarterback who can't/won't run. That's the #1 concern on this team going into next year. The receivers are great, maybe even fantastic, possibly even 2001-fantastic with Dudek, Allison, and Turner forming the best core group we've had since Lloyd/Young/Lewis/Moorehead. If Justin Hardee can take a step forward as a senior next year, WR is the strength of the entire team.

But - and I can't believe I'm asking this - will Lunt be able to deliver the ball like O'Toole did in the last three games? He has twice the arm, but he doesn't have legs and his head is a work in progress. There's your entire 2015 storyline.

+ One thing we discussed at length: so much of this decade of Illini football hinged on Ron Guenther's decision in the fall of 2009. A team that Vegas thought would win 8 games finishes 3-9. Does Ron Guenther get rid of the coach? Or does he spend money on a new offense and a new defense and keep the coach for his recruiting?

He chose B. And at the time, several of us agreed with it because we were drunk on Zook recruiting. Problem was, from that moment on, Zook's recruiting was over. The three players in that class with NFL abilities (CJ Fiedorowicz, Corey Cooper, and Andy Gallik) all decommitted that next month. And from that point forward, for the next 24 months, Ron Zook didn't bring in another NFL player (after bringing in 19 in the previous four years).

+ Speaking of, we sat around tossing out names of players we were all ridiculously excited about when they verballed to Zook... but then never panned out. D'Angelo McCray! Leon Hill! Lendell Buckner! Hubie Graham! Reggie Ellis! Cordale Scott! So many names - so many four stars who were going to turn this program around, and then most of them didn't even make it to their sophomore year.

+ I think most of us felt better about the defense next year than the offense. Brian said the words "BUT WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT THE OFFENSIVE LINE??" about 15 times. Great arms at quarterback, really solid senior tailback, three great receivers, and huge question marks all across the line (including the tight ends). From the center to right tackle looks great. Carmen loves Joe Spencer at center. Craig calmed everyone's nerves about Teddy Karras' knee. I bet Carmen $20 that Christian DiLauro would play in the NFL some day.

But the right side? It couldn't be more wide open. Craig likes Austin Schmidt's feet, but can he gain the upper body strength needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? What about Pat Flavin? He was a part-time starter at right tackle this year - might he be able to hold down left tackle for a year until some of the younger guys are ready? And at left guard, who? Chris O'Connor for a year? I want it to be Nick Allegretti starting for four years. Craig says don't sleep on juco Zach Heath. Whoever it is, we're green green green on the left side.

+ Lots of discussion about assistant coaches. Beckman mentioned in a postseason press conference that there are some things they "might need to address" or something like that - I believe he was being intentionally vague. I also believe he was hinting that at least a few staff changes will happen.

Most likely, we all agreed, was that Tom Brattan would leave/retire. These are all just guesses, but he was mostly retired when we called him in July to step in after Ricker bailed. So if he was just a one year plug and is headed back to play shuffleboard soon, perhaps we'll have a new OL coach in the next few months. Some thought he'd certainly be back, some thought he'd certainly be gone, and one person (can't remember who) brought up the possibility that Eric Wolford, recently fired as head coach at Youngstown State, might be persuaded to come back.

Brian pretty much wanted every non-coordinator (except for Bellamy and Golesh) to be let go and replaced with "young recruiters" (Brian tends in the Zookian "fix it with recruiting" direction), but that opinion gets shot down quickly with "um, Beatty and Gonzales". Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales pretty much ruined any "who cares if they can coach - just get me some recruiters" for Illini fans for the next 20 years.

The young recruiters we talked about making room for on the staff? Pretty much just the walkon wide receivers from the Sugar Bowl team: Aaron Moorehead (outstanding recruiter at Virginia Tech) and Greg Lewis (same thing at Pitt). The problem: we already have a pretty good WR coach.

Everyone agreed that at least one change would happen. Some of us thought it might be two or three. But likely after Signing Day.

+ We talked about the Big Ten West. Steve is a bit of a college football historian, so we spoke in terms of "has a door ever been this open for Illinois in the Big Ten?" Nobody really liked the Paul Chryst hire at Wisconsin (The Most Boring Man In The World). Barry wanted to hire an actual puppet. Several people hated the Mike Riley hire at Nebraska (I disagreed and I think Craig did too - I think he's perfect there). Ferentz is Ferentz and doesn't seem like he has another nine win season in him (I think it was Steve who pointed out the flaws of the Greg Davis offense). Purdue is a mystery, Northwestern can't win six games anymore, it's wide open.

The coach who brought the biggest debate was Jerry Kill. Carmen and (I think) Craig love him and wish he was here. Steve and I still can't believe that zero NFL players and mesolithic quarterbacking can consistently win in the Big Ten - we know we're wrong, but it still feels like luck. Brian - I think Brian had had too many at that point.

+ We talked about the incoming recruits. Craig and I both love Justice Williams as a Will linebacker. We're both big on Julian Jones, too. Carmen loves AD Miller but is afraid we'll lose him - Craig claims we're good. I professed my love for Sam Mays and might have even claimed he was our best wide receiver recruit in five years. The night is hazy at that point.

The jucos are jucos - of the six, two will be really good, one decemt, three probably won't be able to cut it. Carmen thinks Henry Enyenihi will be the big back to replace Donovonn Young next year - I still think it's going to be Dre Brown + 15 lbs. Craig threw out a bold prediction: the first freshman OL to see the field will be Adam Solomon.

+ Overall, even with the loss, almost all of us saw the season as a step forward. Not a big step, but a consistent, keep-everyone-in-school, build experience step. The three conference wins were a big part of that satisfaction. In the last 20 years, we ALWAYS lose that Northwestern game (any game with a chance to move from five to six wins, really). And not only did we win, we dominated them.

So onward and upward, Illini football. So many questions will be answered in the next 12 months. Here's hoping we reconvene next January at some wing place in a warmer city.


illiniranger on December 31, 2014 @ 04:04 PM

Julian Jones is my fave recruit followed by Sam Mays.

I don't think Dre is ready, but like him as a prospect. Gotta be ready for college pass pro.

I like Solomon most of all the OL coming in.

If Allegretti is as good as advertised he should be starting by years end.

Jerry Kill got his starting QB this year - the 6'6" speed demon from Rockford. Prepare to be terrorized for 4 yrs after he redshirted. Perfect fit for what they want.

This staff desperately needs recruiters. Staffs need balance between old campaigners and youngsters. First staff was a catastrophe of youth. This one is way too old and recruiting is tailing off. Need balance there.

Spencer21 on January 1, 2015 @ 05:28 PM

Robert's position on Minnesota is really strange. He claims what they doing is luck based. Fair enough. But what they are doing is exactly what he has claimed Beckman's ongoing plan is - that is to recruit to systems, keep everything consistent and keep everyone in school. Minnesota is executing this plan and winning 8+ games a year without having highly rated recruiting classes. Yet, it looks like "luck" to Steve and Robert. Huh? If they really believe that doing it the Minnesota way is simply trying to get lucky, then why support Beckman atttempting the same thing? If anything, you'd think Minnesota would be the model program to aspire to if Robert really believes everything he writes about Illinois/Beckman etc.

Or, perhaps Jerry Kill and his staff are simply way better coaches and developers of talent than Beckman and his staff, and thus his way works.. That would seem to be the answer, no?

EJ33 on December 31, 2014 @ 04:58 PM

Last season was a step forward, but we're playing for mediocrity as the gap grows ever wider between ILL and the bigs, particularly in coaching talent. The coaching moves this week made that clear. The serious programs are investing big money in coaches - whether it's Harbaugh at Michigan or Auburn and Texas A&M hiring coordinators for more money than Beckman makes. It seems that we've fallen so far that there's not enough money to lure a big time coach to ILL.

I listen to Mike Thomas every week on WDWS and all he talks about is investing in facilities - he thinks that's the key (in public and if you follow where he spends the money). Maybe he has a chicken-egg problem in that he can't get the coach he wants until he gets the facilities. Or, maybe he just doesn't get it. I tend to believe that he thinks he can win with a MAC coach and better facilities - just like he did at Cincinatti (and just like Minny is doing). I doubt it.

The only bit of hope we have is that we ended up in the West. As you've pointed out, if we could just get our act together we could be a contender. I doubt that Riley and Chryst can take Wisky and Nebraska any higher, which is good news for us. Those are pretty pedestrian hires compared to what's going on in the East. The East is setting itself up to be SEC West-ish.

NERDstats on December 31, 2014 @ 09:19 PM

Ya lost me at 2009. Yes, how terrible it was that we went to 2 bowl games (and 2010 would have been a lot better but for Guenther's psychotic scheduling--Missouri and @Fresno could have been 2 more Ws).

Zook's recruiting was fine, even then. It wasn't Benn, but even compared to today, it stands up. In fact, you're trying to have it both ways by complaining that the recruiting fell off, but also about how all these big-time recruits never made it to upperclassmen. Can't have big-time fizz outs if you don't recruit them.

Still though, plenty of impact players in just the 2010-11 classes: JBrown, O'Toole, Jon Davis, LaCosse, Karras, Ferguson, DY5, Bates, Simon C, Heitz, Alex Hill, Lankford, Trulon Henry, Prosch, Teitsma, Earnest Thomas, DeJazz. That's not a terrible core.

And Beckman doesn't appear to be immune to the fizz-outs. Anyone see Aaron Bailey taking the full-time job anytime soon? How's Caleb Day doing? Domer.

I also think Beckman's heavy reliance on JUCOs contributes to his ability to keep a roster together. The blockhead doesn't make it 2 years at JUCO. These guys have largely had character filtered. That's great. What's not so great is that JUCOs generally don't have the upside of an incoming freshman. A lot of them are there because they weren't good enough the first time around (for many others, grades, sure, but we're not getting the dummy 5-stars).

The roster he's putting together isn't going to out-talent anyone. He's going to have to win on schemes.

(What is our scheme, anyways? Other than "hope the other team turns it over many times," I don't really know how we plan to beat the other guys).

I do agree though that mistakes were made by Guenther. We could have fired Zook (which I think would have been a mistake), or we should have extended him another year, to show he wasn't on the hot seat. We did neither, which was probably the worst choice. Guenther was a pain who should have just stepped aside when he knew he wasn't getting extended. Instead he took advantage of the chaos in administration to ride out his contract to the bitter end.

Craig on January 1, 2015 @ 09:16 PM

My take, Guenther had some legitimate high end interest in the job, and went coordinators. Had he pulled the trigger, those two seasons could have been 8-4, and Illinois is better placed to take advantage of a couple of up Illinois classes.

NERDstats on January 2, 2015 @ 09:42 AM

I don't know that you can predict 8-4...especially considering that the 2010 team fared better than the 2007 team against the Big Ten in terms of point differential. That was a really good football team—it seems pretty cavalier to say a new coach would have given us our best football team (in terms of actual quality, not W/L) since Mackovic.

And as we've found out through the last 2 coaching hires, you might have to go down pretty far on the hot board to find a guy that actually wants the job.

(Plus, wasn't RG basically done at Illinois in 2009? I thought he was a lame duck by then. If so, that makes it all the tougher to attract a big time head coach.)

illiniranger on January 2, 2015 @ 06:29 PM

Our best football team in quality since the 2010 club was 2001. They were legit good, came out really unprepared in the Sugar Bowl.

i think the 2010 team was as good as the 2007 team

Craig on January 3, 2015 @ 01:06 PM

From moderately informed sources, there was interest though, and those interested have won 8 games with lesser talent at the current stops. The sheer talent in 2010 is stunning, should have won more than 6. If any of the three mentioned to me, floor is 7-5, even with the turnover.

illiniranger on January 4, 2015 @ 07:37 AM

We should have won 8 in 2010, probably 9.

UM, Fresno, and an awful Minny team should have been Ws

ATOillini on December 31, 2014 @ 09:58 PM

The beer and chicken bones look mighty appetizing.

MuckFichigan92 on December 31, 2014 @ 11:03 PM

I cannot release focus off of 2015 because the B1G West window will shut.

  1. Ratan, egad what a puzzle piece. We can make up the time now which we won't have later. If he is going to retire, God bless him. Otherwise, time to poach. Can we get a RG lure to bring in Harry Heistand or someone similar?
  2. Newbers: neither Chryst nor Riley is their answer. I will laugh like a lunatic IF Chryst returns UW to their historical means; they've been too good for too long, coming from nothing. Nebraska was DOA upon being invited to the B1G. With the lack of TV sets and ratings, I don't know what the dipsh1t Delany saw in them.
  3. Iowa, PLEASE no revival from the vacuum offered by the two aforementioned schools. The opposing side of Floyd of Rosedale could be our only hope, Minny, yet that would be a national indictment of the B1G. That is until, at least, people realize the same thing happened to Wisconsin.

Spencer21 on January 1, 2015 @ 02:15 AM

Jay Prosch is in the NFL. Does he not count?

Spencer21 on January 1, 2015 @ 02:22 AM

And the Gophers had 2 draft picks last year - Rashede Hagemen (2nd rd) and Brock Vereen (4th rd). David Cobb is projected as a 3rd rounder this year.

Spencer21 on January 1, 2015 @ 03:11 AM

It also looks like Max Williams will declare for the draft as a RS Sophmore. He's projected as a late 1st or 2nd round pick. 4 NFL players developed in the last two years under Jerry Kill. And their most highly rated recruit (Jeff Jones who has a 6.0 rivals rating) will be at RB next year.

illiniranger on January 1, 2015 @ 07:55 AM

TB and Golesh have done a good job having plan B recruits. Reon Dawson flips to UM, Jaylen Dunlap takes the spot, for example.

I agree Zooks recruiting tailed badly his last class/TBs first. HOWEVAH...

TBs recruiting has been pretty meh. It's probably bottom two in our division ahead of only PU. With great coaching & development that might be ok. We do not have great coaching & development.

Sweetchuck13 on January 1, 2015 @ 12:46 PM

Speaking of the decision to retain Zook in 2009 along with the Jerry Kill mention later on - a great "what if" would be if we fired Zook and hired Kill in 2009. He had already impressed at SIU and had a solid couple of years at NIU, albeit not the outstanding year he had in 2010. Not sure who else would've been a likely candidate that year, but it's definitely interesting to imagine what Kill might be doing here at UI entering his 6th season.

Illinigrad on January 1, 2015 @ 08:15 PM

We have to keep in mind that the key players who led the way to six wins and a bowl loss were Zook recruits.

NJJ87 on January 3, 2015 @ 07:14 PM

I'm glad that I read this post today (post blowout loss to tOSU in hoops), so I can again be reassured that all of the incompetence in the AD (MT, TB, increasingly looks like JG as well) is Ron Guenther's fault. I'm sure I'll be able to log back in a year from now to again read that the losing is still all RG's fault, but hopefully by that time the administration will be finished with the task of admittting their friends kids to start thinking about changing directions.

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