Spring Mailbag II

May 13, 2017

I should do this more often. This and Pick My Post posts. You people are just the best for crowdsourcing post ideas. I'm not sure why I have this "mailbags occur after spring football and during training camp" rule. I mean, I made the rule - why wouldn't I just change it?

@ALionEye I really love or staff and direction of program - but can't help but feel a lack of urgency w crootin'. Meanwhile PJ is rolling. Concerned?

-- Aaron Alley (@aaronalley) May 10, 2017

I'm concerned but no more than I'm normally concerned. Which is to say that I'm always concerned about Illini football recruiting. I'll explain.

For starters, after attending the Signing Day press conference, interviewing some of the staff, and getting a general feel for recruiting (both for the incoming 2017 class and the upcoming 2018 class), I wrote the Low And Slow post. In that post, talking about expectations for the class (and my penchant for freaking out), I wrote the following:

Which means I'm going to need to adjust my recruiting expectations even further. I'll have to promise not to freak out when our class is five players come July. As every other Big Ten program adds player after player, I'll need to remind myself that the goal is 15-18 blue chip players by February 7th, not "first one to 25 wins". This is our new normal in recruiting - slowly build relationships with the confidence that it pays off on Signing Day.

I'm glad I wrote that because I need to keep reminding myself of it. "I promise not to freak out when our class is 5 players come July" and "as every other Big Ten program adds player after player..." have certainly come true. At this point, I hope we're at 5 come July. Low and slow is certainly the way they're going about it.

I think the restructured recruiting department is part of this too. With James Kirkland (the NFL Scout Lovie hired last year) taking over the department, it's naturally going to lean heavily "evaluate evaluate evaluate". Develop a target list and chase those players.

There have certainly been failures so far, especially in-state. But there's still a long way to go. A staff that leans heavily on player evaluations (like, say, Stanford) will spend a lot of time monitoring players during their senior high school seasons. So numbers-wise I would guess that we'd be at 5 in July, maybe 8 by the end of the season, and then fill out with the final 7-10 recruits in December and January.

If it looks like it does right now - two players without any other Power Five offers - then there will be cause for major concern come February. But I don't think it will look like that.

As for PJ Fleck and the high-pressure method, I'll just say this: nothing drives me more insane than "Minnesota, which has the #12 class nationally right now...". Minnesota's class has 14 players and is ranked 12th. Georgia's class has 3 players and is ranked 63rd. Which class do you think will be the best come February? It happens to Northwestern every year. They get 15 verbals by May and articles are written about "Northwestern's top-20 class" and then by the time everyone else fills out their classes that Northwestern class falls to #51. To rank classes when some teams have 17 verbals and others have 1 is kind of silly.

So the time to compare yourself to others comes in February. For now, let's find some blue chippers who are interested in playing for Lovie.

@ALionEye Thoughts on the new football facility? South EZ vs. east side of stadium? Things you would include if you were designing?

-- Matt Heinlen (@MattHeinlen) May 10, 2017

I have a lot of thoughts here. This is going to be a two-question mailbag post.

I'm a big fan of everything being in the south endzone and think it's a mistake if we pursue an additional building on the east side of the stadium. There, I said it. And while I'm at it, I hope we're looking at what's best for the next 50 years of the program, not just what's best for the current staff/recruiting environment. I have so much to unpack here.

For starters, I was a big fan of this section. This is the South Endzone as planned by the preliminary study that Mike Thomas commissioned. That "blue" layer at the very top? Those are the coaches offices. I think having the coaches offices at the very top of the structure, overlooking the stadium, would be amazing. If you've seen our current coaches offices (let's go with a safe estimate and say they'd rank 63rd out of 65 power conference teams), then I want Lovie having one-on-one conversations with recruits with that background. I want that sit-down to happen on the patio outside his office overlooking everything.

The rest of the sections there are all of the team activities - the sloped floor is the new "squad room" where all team meetings are held (we have the worst in the conference). Also on the lower level you'll find new locker rooms (the team would come out of the tunnel from the horseshoe not from the northeast corner). Dining, meeting rooms - everything would be down there under the new horseshoe. Even a new weight room and training facility. The entire north endzone (including the coaches offices) would be converted into training facilities for the Olympic sports.

The disconnection, of course, would be the indoor practice facility. Everything Illini football would move to the south end (and there would still be direct access to the practice fields on the east), but to get from locker room to indoor facility and back would be quite a haul. So Lovie seems to prefer a new structure, just to the south of the indoor, taking up a little bit of the practice field space, which would house all of the new stuff. Here's a quote from Warren Hood (Associate AD who is heading up the project) about that option:

"When we did our preliminary study, we had a different football staff and athletic director," Hood said, "so the first thing is to look at the prior plan and see what changes are needed. These architects have several ongoing operations around the country.

"About eight of us will travel next week to Kansas State and Texas A&M, and then later this month to Kentucky and Tennessee. What's happened is that some schools (Kentucky, for one) favored the construction of standalone buildings.

"Our original plan was to have (the) weight room and coaches offices moved to the south end. Now we'll study the possibility of attaching a building to the indoor practice facility between the grass practice field and the indoor facility ... or to work in the area where the existing football offices are housed.

"HNTB has shown us several options. We're still very much in the evaluation stage, but when we return from our trips, we expect to firm up our plan by late this month.

That... worries me a little bit. With a brand new structure on the south end, you can do all kinds of Oregon-like things with the facility. You can build a massive locker room like Penn State. You could build a slide like Clemson.

If you "work in the area where the existing football offices are housed", it feels like there are space concerns. That facility would have to be completely torn down. Our locker room is awful pretty much specifically because of structural engineering - when it was built a billion years ago no one saw any issues with structural columns everywhere, restricting the locker room to many small "pods". A recruit sees our locker room with 9' ceilings and then goes to Penn State and it's like we're a small high school.

So my fears are centered around how much room we'd have to work with between the northeast stair tower, the north endzone stands, and the ARC (IMPE to me). There would be a massive area to work with under the south endzone, but on the northeast corner, it would have to be some combination of replacing that small facility jammed in the corner and then building something onto the end of the indoor across the sidewalk. And connect the two somehow.

Not saying it can't be done. Good architects can do anything. A new facility there with Lovie's office at the top would be great (if it overlooked the stadium from there). But... I'm worried. Until I see something different, I'm fully on Team Horseshoe.


stigmata35 on May 13 @ 10:43 AM CDT

Hi Robert,

Your plan sounds amazing. I like the idea of consolidating everything in the SEZ.

I'll also be interested in finding out where the displaced SEZ season ticket holders will be sitting in 2018? I've had season tickets in the horseshoe for 15 years so I guess they'd move us to the Upper Deck on the Eastside of the stadium?

ontoolong on May 14 @ 10:14 AM CDT

You/we may get a better idea on this type of recruiting after you, Craig, etc. get a chance to view the freshman this fall. If they are about the same as Coach Beckman’s classes and during the latter years of Coach Zook’s reign, then maybe there is reason for concern. This might not be totally fair because Lovie’s staff did not have much time to prepare that first year. If the freshman look considerably better, athletically and technique-wise, then maybe there is reason for optimism.

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