The OC

Dec 26, 2017

"Illinois is looking for a new offensive coordinator". Words that have been true for what, 40% of my adult life? Ever since Lou Tepper went Beck-Landry-Schudel it feels like we're always looking for that next offensive coordinator. The only real consistency we've had - Ron Turner running his offense for 7 years.

Here's the list since Lou Tepper took over as head coach:

1992: Tom Beck
1993-94: Greg Landry
1995-96: Paul Schudel
1997-2004: Ron Turner (there were "offensive coordinators" but it was Turner's offense and he called the plays)
2005-08: Mike Locksley
2009: Mike Schultz
2010-11: Paul Petrino
2012: Chris Beatty/Billy Gonzales
2013-14: Bill Cubit
2015: Ryan Cubit
2016-17: Garrick McGee
2018: ????

I feel like I write this post every summer, and then half of those winters we fire the offensive coordinator. In fact, I finished that post this summer with "oh wait - we're finally doing that" and now we fire the offensive coordinator in December. On to the next one.

Here's what I'm not saying:

  1. McGee should have absolutely kept his job. This point of mine is never "any old offensive coordinator will do". People who understand football much better than me say that his schemes were bland and unoriginal. I don't pretend to know football that well, so I just leave that up to them. I thought the main issue was youth and inexperience in the scheme, but it might very well be bad playcalling.
  2. All of the OC's listed above would have been good if given more time. Paul Schudel had an experienced team and his scheme was very similar to the other offenses that we ran under Tepper. It completely fell apart under his watch and he absolutely deserved to be fired. I'm more talking about the coordinators given only one year - I just don't think we knew yet.

Here's what I AM saying:

  1. For what feels like every December, I'm frightened we switch schemes and now have two recruiting classes built towards running a run-heavy spread offense and suddenly some NFL-ish guy is the OC and we have to recruit from scratch again because we just spent two years purging all of the guys recruited for the Cubit offense. I don't think we would do that, and I want to believe there's no way Lovie would get away from the kind of offense he wanted McGee to run, but I'm an Illinois fan and these things happen nearly every winter so I'm scared again.
  2. Keep the scheme with a better playcaller and yes I think the offense could make a leap next year. Right now I have nine sophomores starting, and those nine sophomores got a mountain of snaps as freshmen, so if the scheme remains similar, we survived a year of green under the old guy and can maybe thrive a little under the new guy. We more or less have 10 returning starters - that's a really good thing for any offensive coordinator (as long as we're not, you know, scrapping the whole offense and starting over with a Ron Turner offense).
  3. Whoever we hire, can we at least try to keep him (or his offense) around for a long time? It doesn't really have to be a guy - I just want The Illinois Offense that stays the same for a decade. Dream with me for a moment - say we convince Kevin Sumlin to be an OC for a year before he looks for another head coaching job next season. I'd be down with that. Just hire him AND his understudy (make the understudy the QB coach or something) and have him as the OC-in-waiting when Sumlin gets another head coaching gig. My point isn't so much "stop changing names" as it is "stop changing schemes".

If Lovie is here for a decade, we know exactly what the defense will be for that decade. We could swap out Hardy Nickerson for another coordinator and we still know what the defense will be. That's my point. That's what I want for our offense. I want something like The Wisconsin Offense or The Iowa Offense - predictable, but it works. And the more you do it (like, for decades), the more consistent it becomes.

Next year we'll have an offense almost completely dominated by sophomores and freshmen. Lovie will have two recruiting classes, and he'll be attempting to build the Illini offense with maybe... 85% of the players coming from those two classes? My hope was that this would be accomplished under the same offensive scheme as the last two seasons, but we're changing OC's again and that makes me worry that the scheme will change.

So my wish list has just one item: an OC with a similar offense that fits with what we've been recruiting to. Take the foundation laid last year and build on it next year. "Tear it all out and rebuild the foundation" just doesn't sound like any fun.

How do I know? Because we've torn out 11 foundations in the 25 years. Please, someone, at some point, stick to one thing.


illiniranger on December 26 @ 04:44 PM CST

Schultz was the sacrificial lamb. Beatty/Gonzo were a symptom of a 2012 staff that was as dysfunctional as possible because TB was a zero. Ryan Cubit was the OC in the same way Turner’s guys were the OC - it was Bill’s offense.

A good recent comp is Brian Kelly hiring Chip Long. Kelly was a pass first spread guy going back to his days at GVSU. he threw that in the garbage and hired Chip Long to run an uptempo spread with great results.

Another example is Saban. Getting beat by Spread Os encouraged him to spread it out and use lots of presnap motion to great results, and they’ve had a revolving door of OCs at Bama.

Another example more our talent level is Brohm at PU. PU was run of the mill run spread and Brohm brought a hurry up pass first system and got better results.

End of the day I think it’s more the guy doing the coaching than anything else.

Joe Edge on December 26 @ 05:04 PM CST

Yeah, Well... You could be right (and probably are).... But I'll give out the Wisconsin example from my seat. Barry A. installed a system. The fans were patient enough to give it time to work, and it paid dividends. Now Barry is AD.... and he hires coaches who fit within 'his system', and make sure they don't change it. Head coaches come and go, OC's come and go... But their system doesn't change - I'm sure there are minimal changes made along the way sure, but it basically stays the same old boring, winning football.... How dull and old school can you get ? huh ?

HiggsBoson on December 26 @ 06:04 PM CST

I has half way been expecting McGee to leave for another job before he lost the reputation he had before he came to Illinois, though I'm a bit surprised that he is being fired at this point. I'm not expecting a big turnaround like Robert's examples, though. Lovie Smith has not been known for having good offensive teams as a head coach and Illinois probably isn't going to be different.

Bottom line is that our guys will be learning yet another scheme that probably won't fit who we've been recruiting either. The shifting OCs over the years is as good an explanation as any as to why Illinois is only occasionally good.

neale stoner on December 26 @ 07:30 PM CST

We’re Illinois football. We can’t have nice things.

steveinseattle on December 26 @ 09:37 PM CST

All you needed to do to form an opinion on McGee’s offense was to watch any one of our games that Tommy Tuberville called. He noted. correctly - that our offense had zero downfield passing concepts (his term) and it was easy for anyone to scheme against, which it was. Some of that was our QB play but a lot of it was on GM himself.

Look, lots of schools bring in coaches who IMMEDIATELY make low level talent move the football and score points. It IS possible. You don’t have to re-recruit the offense to adopt a new just need to find somebody who can teach it.

(BTW there are versions of the spread that feature running QB’s. Ditto Air Raid.)

Illinimac68 on December 26 @ 11:10 PM CST

I was given to understand that McGee's personality did not work well with players or coaches. I don't know what to say about Paul Petrino's playbook but I remember that half of Zook's last team was wanting to boycott their bowl game until they understood Petrino was gone. I understand Robert's point about scheme but coaches can be locker room cancer as well as players.

Bear8287 on December 27 @ 01:55 AM CST

So my wish list has just one item: an OC with a similar offense that fits with what we've been recruiting to.


Take the foundation laid last year and build on it next year.


"Tear it all out and rebuild the foundation" just doesn't sound like any fun.

Not only would it not be fun, it would probably be fatal to Lovie's career as the head coach at Illinois. Two more seasons at Illinois with only 2 B1G wins and that'd likely be all she wrote.

If there was a problem with chemistry then that has to be addressed. At this point though, this is all on Lovie. Lovie hired McGee. It will be interesting to see who replaces McGee. It's hard to see how this will be a good thing in terms of the current recruiting class. Any players who may leave the program now or drop their commitment?

Bear8287 on December 27 @ 02:18 AM CST

McGee joined Smith's staff in March 2016, shortly after Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman hired Smith. McGee cited his close relationship with Smith as a main reason why he left Louisville, where he was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator and took a $200,000 pay cut to come to Illinois, and arrived in Champaign.

One would hope that Lovie would have a number of candidates lined up before pulling the trigger on this one. If not, oh boy...

It will be interesting to see who the new OC is for the Illini.

illini82 on December 27 @ 09:17 AM CST

Given the poor performance of the offense and play calling last year no love will be lost for McGee departing but the bigger issue as pointed out by the article is how does that change the scheme? Will it impact who we have recruited or better said did we recruit to certain type of scheme such as a dual threat/read option/spread offense. which it seems we did vs. a pro set Wisconsin type offense. Gotta think Lovie will want an OC who will use a scheme that matches the talent/recruits we have vs. starting over again. Changing offenses seems to have a negative impact for a year or two until the players especially the QB understands it. As others have said and being a Bears fan Lovie has a poor track record with OC's but his longest tenured OC was Ron Turner. I've always thought Turner was a better OC than a head coach especially recruiting but his offense is a complicated drop back pass first offense. We don't have a QB or OL capable of running it. That siad given RT's history with Lovie an RT hire for OC wouldn't be a complete shock. Whether it would fit would be a concern.

Joe Edge on December 27 @ 02:11 PM CST

Ron Turner must be nearing retirement age, so I'd wonder about his desire to 'get going again'... However, It wouldn't completely surprise me. Lots of ties there with Josh W. & Lovie.... Besides, wasn't RT the Bears OC in their Super Bowl year? ... Also, didn't RT have Mendenhall as RB along with Kitner at QB ? Kitner wasn't exactly a 'dual-threat', but he was pretty mobile. That was a very balanced offense as I recall.... Maybe I'm mis-remembering...

Illinimac68 on December 27 @ 08:34 PM CST

Mendenhall was a Turner recruit but actually played during Zook's first three years. Kittner's last game was the Sugar Bowl January 1, 2002. After that the quarterback play was mediocre.

Illiniiniowa on December 28 @ 11:08 AM CST

I'm not opposed to Turner's coordinating skills, but he didn't want to really work at recruiting 20 years ago. I don't imagine that has really changed and we need some more recruiters on staff somewhere.

Joe Edge on December 28 @ 04:08 PM CST

Thanks... we've changed coaches so often, and been to so many bowls lately, that I just got them all mixed up. Happens when you get old.... Sorry.

illiniranger on December 28 @ 06:52 PM CST

My beef with hiring Turner (or someone like him, i.e. NFL guy) is that college football just isn’t played that way. Teams score more by going faster, simpler, and getting the ball in space. Give me a spread guy vs a Pro guy.

The other thing is IMO it’s easier to recruit Spread players vs pro style players. We can find and recruit little fast guys that can thrive in the spread. It’s hard to find big fast guys to play a Pro style because there aren’t many of them and everybody wants them.

blackdeath on December 28 @ 07:24 AM CST

Sometimes I just listen to my kishkes and think, to hell with reason. My kishkes tell me that Turner could be a great breath of life here for our absolutely moribund offense. Sure, his would represent a different style of offense vs. what McGee apparently wanted . . . but so what? What offense? I don't see how it's a drawback to hire a super competent, proven OC with his offense when the risk is to flip from a previous offense that has been at the very bottom of performances nationally. I say bring on the change! At least we'll be heading in a proven direction!

Also speaking to my kishkes is how Turner loves C-U and how he's remained a patron of things important to our town. I sense this program needs some love, and if Turner gets and accepts the nod, I'll be very excited.

Illiniiniowa on December 28 @ 11:12 AM CST

What I'd really like to see with our personnel is an offense similar to what the Cowboys have run with Dak Prescott. Big mauling lineman and heavy running game with play action passing and run/pass options to bring balance. It would work and their passing game is simplified to have fewer reads which would work better for young inexperienced passers also.

Joe Edge on January 09 @ 06:26 PM CST

I'm really surprised that there hasn't been more talk/speculation/interest in the 3 new coaching positions available.. Particularly the OC... I am afraid that apathy has really set in dramatically..... Sad....

HiggsBoson on January 09 @ 07:19 PM CST

The only rumor I've heard was that it would be an NFL guy.

Or maybe Lovie's waiting for his guy to be done with the Bowl Playoffs. Well, a guy can dream...

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