I Care About Us

Nov 25, 2018

Northwestern won the Big Ten West, but I don't really care. Minnesota won two of their last three after losing to Illinois to make it to 6-6 and a bowl (with a young team), but again, don't care. Twitter is full of "but look at what Syracuse did in year three", but I honestly don't care.

OK, I "care". I hate that Northwestern is the better football program in this state (and has been for the better part of 20 years), and I hate that PJ Fleck took one of the youngest teams in college football to a bowl while we took one of the youngest teams in college football to 4-8, and I hate that Dino Babers - the guy who would have been the head coach at Illinois had Mike Thomas not been fired - is now 9-3 in his third year at Syracuse. I care that there are programs and coaches who can be lined up next to ours and compared. And I care that we finish last every time we do that. I want to win.

But really, I don't care how they're going about it or what they're accomplishing. It hit me today that I've been sucked into that game and I hate myself for it. In the ten years I've been doing this, I've had one rule - I take a deep dive into Illini land and pretty much ignore everything else. I hate all things butwhatabout, and there I've been, butwhatabouting.

I went on the radio last week and talked about possible coaching hires across the country and now I'm mad at myself for answering the question instead of declining. Seriously, what would I know about coaching hires? I barely watch any college football. I'm an Illinois football fan, not a college football fan. Why would I care about coaching hires? I only care about us.

I mean, as a fan, of course I have "even KENTUCKY is good now?" feelings, so I'm aware of what else is happening elsewhere and how everyone seems to be having fun while we're miserable. It's not that the current situation doesn't bother me. This is the first time since Gary Moeller that a coach has gone through his first three years without a bowl. Believe me - it bothers me.

But I feel like I've been lost in "so how come Purdue can do it and we can't?" land. And I've found myself wondering how Zook got to where he did in three years while Lovie did not. I feel like I've been lost in the land of comps this fall when I should simply be evaluating us.

What do I see when I peel away comps and butwhatabout? A few things.

  1. The crater after Cubit is a very real thing. People hate it, and when you're 4-8 in year three, no one wants to hear anything resembling an excuse, but that's #1 on this list. It just is. Three head coaches in eight months, a lost recruiting class, a roster set to fall off a cliff in 2017 - it's a giant hole.
  2. That doesn't mean 4-8 with losses like 63-0 and 46-3 can be explained away by that hole. This team went 4-8 because it was the worst defense of the last three years, and when your worst defense is not the first year, not the second year, but the third year, then there are major structural deficiencies within your rebuild.
  3. I predicted 4-8, and Vegas put the over/under at 3.5 wins. We won four games, but that doesn't mean we met expectations. Far from it. This was the worst Illini defense of my lifetime, and while inexperience and injuries played a part in that, when the numbers are this bad, the defense clearly isn't working.
  4. Regardless of your frustration or my frustration right now, 2020 still sets up as one of the more experienced college football teams this decade. Illinois was the youngest team of the decade in 2017 and still the youngest team in the country this season (back-to-back). And once those players are all seniors, they'll all have Allegretti-like start charts and Illinois will be the most experienced team in the country.
  5. But no, that doesn't mean we will win. It's about player development, not just "he has 31 starts under his belt", and we haven't seen enough of that to expect it across the board in the future. If we're going to win, we'll have to see it across the board.

That's my focus these next ten months. Will getting older produce more games like Minnesota (where we dominated our opponent) or games like Northwestern (where we won most statistics but penalty'd and FG-instead-of-TD'd our way to a loss) or games like Nebraska (out-schemed + killer turnovers)? I need to stop thinking about everyone else and only concentrate on us. The crater was unique, the chosen rebuild method is unique, and it must be evaluated that way.

My takeaway after three years? I agree with the methodology (don't rebuild with the upperclassmen or by recruiting jucos/fifth-years - rebuild from the ground-up with true freshmen and take your lumps in years two and three), but I'm stunned by the lumps (I was expecting bruises, not compound fractures).

I really think that's my takeaway from 2018: stunned by the lumps. Yes, there's wisdom in a "take your lumps - it will pay off later" rebuild scenario. But man - have you seen these lumps?

+ I think this needs to be a complete defensive overhaul. I'm a consistency guy (I mean, look at what Northwestern has done with their dinosaur staff), but I'm not sure Austin Clark or Gil Byrd did anything that means they deserve to return. Byrd could return as a position coach maybe (and not pass defensive coordinator), but the whole defense needs a coaching reboot.

+ This game was death by footballing. Win the total yards battle, win the time of possession battle, put up more first downs, put up more average yards per play, but lose because 1) they turned their drives into seven while you turned your drives into three, 2) you committed penalties and they didn't, and 3) you turned the ball over and they didn't.

That's a massive concern for the future. Sure, the roster will get older and older players make less mistakes. But will they clean it up enough to not get football'd in a game like today?

+ Positives today:

  • AJ Bush had his best game. Unfortunately, it was his last game.
  • Chase McLaughlin finishes the season 20-25 on field goals with all of those FG's made from 50+. He'd better be first team All Big Ten.
  • Welcome back Ricky Smalling. That's the sophomore receiver we all expected to see this season.
  • The offensive line continues to show signs that it might be dominant next season. Replace Allegretti with Boyd and keep on rollin'.

+ Negatives today:

  • We lost our fourth straight to Northwestern.
  • Our coach is now 9-27 in three years.
  • This defense was the worst defense of my lifetime.
  • Northwestern getting their longest running play of the season on their very first play against us was a fitting end to the 2018 defensive disaster.

Really, that's the whole thing, right? Defensive head coach has disastrous defense his third year. He has enough coming back on offense to put up even bigger numbers next year, but it will all be moot if he doesn't fix his defense. In the next 280 days, he fixes the D or we'll have to start over again.

And I'm ready to obsess over it. It's all I care about.


illiniranger on November 25 @ 07:40 AM CST

Are we building to one team in 2020 or a program?

Chukwuwumba on November 25 @ 08:28 AM CST

IMO, it may have appeared this way last year, however with the transfers/attrition, I feel it will not be a significant drop as originally thought. It’s possible the transfers/attrition have balanced or will be balancing out the classes out a bit. Also, if some guys do not develop, will look to underclassmen to fill these spots.

HiggsBoson on November 25 @ 02:20 PM CST

I see no signs of either.

Jacob on November 25 @ 02:37 PM CST

The one area that points to a program is the 2 lines and MJ Rivers. There are legitimate players that will have lots of playing time around for the 2021 season. Butkus is guaranteed to be here and there seems to be honest to goodness growth on the line every year so far.

Also Ranger please come back to the deuce, I miss reading your posts. They were very intelligent and compliment the place well and you elevated the discourse of the place

orangejulius on November 25 @ 04:25 PM CST

Agree. The talent level is gradually improving. Lovie has opened doors in recruiting, but not to the extent we were hoping when he was hired. Let's see how he finishes out the 2019 class. So far the class is top heavy, but have to be excited about Beason and Williams coming in.

Jacob on November 25 @ 05:15 PM CST

You do see P5 lineman on D, I hope it is primarily youth for their struggles. I think the only thing that will give me true faith for next year though is Khalil Tate coming to town. Otherwise I will be worried the entire time

ATOillini on November 25 @ 08:17 AM CST

Hey, at least you know you're obsessed. Of course I knew that after the first three or four readings of the blog way back when. I remember some hotel room picture of Mountain Dew and a horrendously gross snack food when you were visiting Camp Rantoul (at least I think I remember that). That was enough for me.

I admit I wish you'd tone down the self pity a bit. I'm also glad you finally mentioned that you don't watch college football. Rather you watch Illinois football and the teams they are playing. Every once in awhile I've wanted to suggest you go visit a training camp where they actually know what they're doing (I'm kidding). But in reality I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thanks for your passion. Thanks for your better half who seriously must be an angel. Thanks for what must be an understanding employer. Go ILLINI.

Illinimac68 on November 25 @ 09:08 AM CST

I hope the DC isn't another pro retread. In college football there's still a need to motivate 18 to 22 year olds, the sort of rah-rah that the pros disdain.

illiniranger on November 25 @ 09:19 AM CST

I’d be surprised if it’s not a NFL retread.

Jacob on November 25 @ 02:39 PM CST

I think it will be a coach that has a connection with Thad Ward or Rod Smith that seems like he wants to recruit. But that is just a guess. I hope C-Patt switches to DB coach and Nate comes back home

Joe Edge on November 25 @ 02:00 PM CST

When Josh Whitman became the AD, and hired Lovie, he gave a speech using a metaphor about running a marathon. I think this was the most brilliant analogy that could possibly be given about the UI situation. I remember a particular MS150 bike-a-thon back when I was much younger. I wasn't a regular bike person, but I joined my companies team for this MS150 because I wanted to help. Because I wasn't a 'regular' my 'starting' position was near the very back of the pack. It was a tough slog for me (at age 50) but I finished... And that was the end of my biking days. Later I was viewing the results, and discovered that at least 4 riders had finished the first days 80 miles, only a few minutes AFTER I came to the first rest stop (at 10 miles)... How depressing.

Many people within the fanbase, I believe, don't understand just how far back we are in the race for even a 'decent' football team. Too many just refuse to look at the 'facts'... They want to live in some alternative universe, where everything can be fixed by snapping your fingers and making it happen.... I'm sorry to announce that it's just not that easy to fix - IF you want a PERMANENT fix ! If you desire just another band-aid then keep repeating the hire-fire sequence we've been on since 1967....

orangejulius on November 25 @ 04:20 PM CST

This is absolutely right.

ppbob on November 26 @ 02:39 PM CST

I'm sure you remember Einstein's definition of "insanity"; repeating the same the thing that's failed and expecting a different result!

Now we know that hiring Lovie was a disastrous decision, and JW should have known that before he started chasing him. All the re flags for failure were there:

1) Lovie had virtually NO recruiting or top college assistant contacts to get the staff and players he needed to succeed.

2) When a team where you got a 10-6 record, a super bowl appearance, and had a 9 year tenure fires you, there must be a REAL problem with the way you coach. We're seeing those flaws today. He's just not a staff manager, and he'll hire "yes men" with minimal qualifications rather than top, successful and independent minded coaches. His disputes with DC Ron Rivera (Current Panthers coach) and his leaving (many thought he was more the reason for the Super Bowl than Lovie) showed this deep flaw. He was the same way with players. He'd play "his guys" over more talented holdovers to the detriment of the team.

3) We're not the youngest team in the nation for two years running by accident; Lovie made it clear that certain talented players wouldn't get a chance regardless of being more effective and talented than Lovie's recruits. RB Foster and Vaugh (Vanderbuilt), DBs Nelson, DT Obendigbo, LB Trey Watson and that OL who transferred to ISU and others are cases in point. This is consistent with his Bears management style.

4) The staff and Lovie generally have poor, or no, close relationships with players, and it's shown in the number of top players who are now gone of have been suspended. OL Dart, DB Williams, the TE we just lost and the suspended DBs are cases in point.

5) Lovie's Tampa Bay HC experience was a HUGE red flag. To be dumped for a $10 million severance price tag shows there were some real uncorrectable defects in Lovie as a coach that made him incapable of rebuilding a team, even when he could draft and negotiate instead of recruit....and he was better at drafting and gettig free agents than recruiting.

6) during interviews with JW. it should have come out that Lovie didn't value college coaching and recruiting success in staff, instead hiring retreads who had NO, or very little, successful college recruiting and coaching experience. His poor staff choices and recruiting seem to be the primary reason for his three year failure, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better.

When he just went with Coach Byrd as "passing game coordinator" (who'd never coached college a day in his life) Hired his unqualified son as CB coach, fired his unqualified DC/LB coach in mid season (what good did that do, since he replaced him with an unqualified grad assistant) and hired a 27 year old DL coach who'd never been a position coach before and was an assistant's assistant at underachieving USC, Lovie became the laughing stock of the coaching community. With arguably the weakest staff in P5 CFB, and failing to even TRY to upgrade the staff with available experienced staff after the vacancies, he showed that he's not suited to be a serious HC.

What more do we need to see about Lovie? He's made huge mistakes at virtually every aspect of the job from staff selection to recruiting to defensive philosophy. Can you find ONE reason to believe that he can even do a mediocre job here? I sure don't see one...

1970 John on November 26 @ 04:10 PM CST

Did Einstein really say that? If so, I guess Einstein didn't know anything about carpentry. Keep hitting a nail over and over again and what happens? Yep, it hits bottom and you've nailed two things together.

I wish people would stop using that analogy. It's simply wrong.

Joe Edge on November 26 @ 08:50 PM CST

YOU think this is all about Lovie.... YOU ARE WRONG.... This is about football at the University of Illinois....

Using the example you cited: Einstein defining 'insanity'.... You can't keep firing coaches and changing systems, and tearing down and rebuilding every 3 or 4 years, and expect to be anything other than a bottom feeder in the B1G... THAT is trulyl INSANITY.... We've been hiring, firing and rebuilding ever since 1967, and in case you haven't noticed... IT'S NOT WOKRING....

HiggsBoson on November 25 @ 02:19 PM CST

That idiot, Josh Whitman, just gave Lovie a two year extension. FIVE more years of this crap? I think I'm done until Whitman has been fired and drug off campus.

Lanta on November 25 @ 03:58 PM CST

Idiot? Please give it a rest. Is there a part of the you being “done” deal that includes a moratorium on you posting Eeyore?

HiggsBoson on November 25 @ 05:32 PM CST

FOAD, jackwagon. I'll post 20 times a day just to annoy you.

Lanta on November 25 @ 05:36 PM CST

No thanks Eeyore. All class as usual.

orangejulius on November 25 @ 03:58 PM CST

I'm not a huge fan of Lovie but I disagree with you. I like the move because it's all about recruiting. And our ticket back to respectability is to get better football players than we have now. Remember how devastating the Cubit ("dagger to the heart") 2-year deal was? This is the opposite. You're not going to get rid of Lovie due to the buyout, so you need to give him the ammunition to assemble a decent big ten recruiting class for 2019 and going forward. Lovie's game management sucks. But I think with Lovie as CEO he can take us to the middle of the pack of the Big Ten IF he can continue to recruit. When was the last time we had 2 4/5 star recruits on our roster and what happened when we did? Lovie is improving the overall talent of our football team (just compare next year's Roster to Beckman/Cubit) and if he can continue to do that we're going to start seeing bowl games.

ppbob on November 26 @ 02:58 PM CST

One problem there, Jules. Lovie's a lousy recruiter and salesman. he can't "close" on top players. They come in spite of him, not because of him. His recruiting skills on the staff are perhaps the worst in P5 CFB. Butkus has picked up a bit, but he's shut out in what was a decent OL class in state this year. Thad Ward can only recruit "projects" and he's being shut out in quality RBs and his Florida recruiting base this year. Cumby is an interesting pick up, but he can't keep 6-0 200 lb Epstein healthy. How long will Cumby last at 5-7 and 160 lbs? Hayes Stoker can't seem to bring in anyone outside of Dallas Dunne HS (curious) and is getting shut out on the WRs he needs to upgrade the poor talent he has at his position. Patterson has brought in a couple good ones in QB Williams and DE Okapala, but he's still got a long way to go recruiting his former players LB Cooper and OL Henry. He has no college coaching bonafides or experience, so recruiting is his value. If he can't do better than this when he's still close to his players, it'll only get worse in following years.

With the horrible ST coaching we had this year, how on earth can we keep Ligshesky? I don't believe he's brought in a single decent recruit in now three classes. If you can't recruit and you can't effectively coach ST, why is he still here?

This is why it's so foolish for Lovie to put off hiring replacement staff. If he doesn't know that bringing in a new DC/LB/DB coach who's been recruiting this year to help out in the final stretch of recruiting desperately needed defensive players and WRs is critical, that alone is enough reason to fire him.

He just doesn't have a clue about how to coach CFB. That's one of the reasons he couldn't rise above position coach in CFB before the pros.

Boneyard Surfer on November 25 @ 07:06 PM CST

I think extending Lovie makes sense from a recruiting and stability point of view.

I sure hope that the pay was flat and the buy-out is some number less than the contract value. Such as, we can get rid of you whenever we want, and we only owe you 60% of the remaining contract.

That might be a little monetary motivation to actually succeed. (Of course, Lovie already has all the money he needs...Maybe he wants his own jet or something...)

mrmill on November 26 @ 10:34 AM CST

I don’t understand the logic. Three years in - how can you say is he complete rebuild was the right move?

I get that there was a gaping hole in the roster, but think it’s pretty clear keeping as much talent as possible, plugging holes with a few grad transfers (especially years 1 and 2) would have avoided being a laughingstock.

We are three years in and have no clue if Lovie is the right guy.

Also seems pretty contradictory to want to reboot the whole defensive staff.

Unfortunately way more questions than answers. Especially when 3 of the best freshman from last year were suspended or kicked off the team.

ppbob on November 26 @ 03:03 PM CST

Yeah we do, mill. He can't impress recruits ("THIS guy coached in the super bowl? Never would have guessed it from talking to him..."). He has no idea of how to hire a successful staff, and has built arguably the worst developmental and recruiting staff in P5 FB, his defense is horrendous and staff is in disarray and recruiting is among the worst in the conference, and if we lose Williams or Beason it would rank at the bottom of the MAC.

What more do we need to know after three years? HE can't competently coach CFB. He knew that going into the job, and JW should've known that too if his hire wasn't more about politics and PR than building a quality program.

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