Everything Is Fine - Goodnight
I'll just say it - this fanbase is in a rough position. We've exhausted most of our hope this past decade, waiting on a basketball program to return or a football program to appear, and now that we're almost to the next decade and nothing has happened, we're, I don't know, susceptible.
(I can already tell that this is going to be a post where I won't find a way to say what I'm trying to say. I know this feeling all too well. There's a disconnect between the concept in my head and the actions of my fingers on this keyboard.)
I'll start with me. I am an optimist. Not with sports, really - sports-wise I'm mostly just a worrier - but in life. "I'm sure it will be fine" is my greatest flaw. When raising our boys, there were times that my wife had to grab me by the chin (she didn't really grab me by the chin) and say "no, things aren't fine. They're not just going to work out. We need to intervene here." It's an awful trait I have
Maybe optimist is the wrong word. I'm frequently late to things, and I'm frequently late because I think I can pull off The Perfect Drive. Catch every light, no traffic, 17 minutes door-to-door. Sure, the average time door-to-door is 23 minutes, but that one time I did it in 17 minutes, so I can leave at 2:43 and still get there on time. I'm sure it will be fine.
Thankfully, I have an excellent partner who keeps my head straight on "we need to intervene here" as well as keeps me on time ("there's often traffic this time of day - let's leave at 2:30"). I'd like to think that I balance her out in other ways, but let's be honest - she's the good one. She senses my "everything is fine - goodnight" and will intervene.
If you're not familiar with that phrase, I'll tell the story. Back in 2006, in the post-Scout days when IlliniBoard went back to being mostly just a message board, Eric Gordon's dad had signed up as "IndyOldSchool" (actually I think it might have been "IndyOldSkool"). He didn't announce himself as Eric Gordon's father - he just happened to know every single thing about Gordon's recruitment. Where he'd be, when he'd be there - everything.
Gordon had been committed to Illinois for six months when Kelvin Sampson was hired by Indiana. Illini fans were a little nervous at first, especially on IlliniBoard, but IndyOldSkool was there to confirm that there was nothing to worry about. Eric Gordon visited Indiana in September? "He just wanted to go to an IU football game".
One infamous night, IndyOldSkool had his son sign up for an IlliniBoard account. Illini fans on the IB were freaking out over some Gordon/Indiana news, and so Eric Gordon himself signed up for a username and responded with "everything is fine - goodnight". IndyOldSkool immediately followed that with "that was EJ" to confirm that it was actually him.
Everything was not fine. Slowly but surely, Kelvin Sampson flipped Eric Gordon from Illinois to Indiana. Sampson got the Gordons to visit for Midnight Madness, Eric announced he was flipping, and IndyOldSkool was never heard from on the IB again. There he was, for months, assuring us (including some guy using the name "OrangeRoughy" who would later start a blog called A Lion Eye) that everything was fine. Everything was not fine.
Optimist me was, obviously, devastated. We all knew what was happening - the Illini basketball we knew was fading from view - but we didn't want to admit it. At least I didn't want to admit it. A few months after Gordon flipped, Jereme Richmond committed to Illinois as a freshman in high school. The following October, we had that big week where Brandon Paul, DJ Richardson, and Joe Bertrand all committed.
And I could be heard at the time "everything is fine goodnight"-ing all over the place. "Weber didn't have recruiting figured out, and that's why we fell from the Final Four to 16-19 three years later, but now he has recruiting figured out and we're on our way back." Except we didn't find our way back. And here we are, more than 10 years later, with the seventh-longest NCAA Tournament drought of the six major conferences, still trying to find our way back.
When you combine that with football (third-longest bowl drought), this fanbase is in rough shape. How could we not be? It's a three-horse race for "worst major conference football/basketball school in the 2010's" with Oregon State and Rutgers and given that both of them were solid in football until 2013/2014, I think we might win. I mean, Oregon State basketball was in the Tournament in 2016. We haven't been since 2013.
To me, this wasteland has divided the fanbase into three factions. Exaggerated, they are:
1. Scorched Earth. Everything is awful, good morning. Until we win - and we might never win again - I will remain skeptical of everything.
2. Patience Of Job. If Lovie and Underwood don't work out, the next coaches are going to need NINE FULL YEARS to climb out of the hole.
3. Fluff. Um, uh, look over here! Marquez Beason is the best athlete to ever pick Illinois. Can you imagine GIORGI AND AYO AS SOPHOMORES?
Number 1 I get. Number 2, it me. Number 3 bugs me more and more every day. Even as a reformed Everything Is Fine Goodnight-er.
Why does #3 bug me? I've written about it before. It's fanfic. The author won't come out with the next book in the series - or perhaps more accurately, it's going to take longer than 2-3 years for the author to produce the next book because of the, uh, hole that the author inherited - and so the fans fill in with a book of their own. Please like and subscribe.
My optimism won't allow me to ever be a 1. My worry won't allow me to be a 3 (I went down to the west balcony to pace last year because Illinois only led Minnesota 45-17 in the third quarter and WHAT IF SOMETHING GOES WRONG) so my motto is basically "until it happens, nothing has happened", which means I'm a 2. Everything might be fine, not sure yet, will let you know, good day.
And as I sit in that holding pattern, honestly, 3 bugs me more than 1. I have serious issues with how basketball recruiting is going right now, and when I write about it, I usually get some pushback. No, it doesn't mean we're doomed, 1's, but it also doesn't mean everything is fine goodnight, 3's. Yes, we can hopefully make a push next year and with a Tournament bid, recruiting improves. But as Tyler pointed out yesterday, we handed out three official visits this spring and went 0-for-3. As I wrote on Friday, right now we have 10 players for next year. If you still have three open scholarships on Mother's Day, something went wrong.
All of this doesn't mean much beyond what has already been declared: next season is everything. Football and basketball both make large leaps forward or we're headed for that nine-year rebuild the 2's have been talking about. I've been patient, pointing to all the freshman across both rosters and typing the words "youngest team in the Big Ten" so many times they're burned into my keyboard. But now is the time to make a move. This next school year is everything.
And I guess this is me asking the 3's to stop with the fanfic and just let it play out. Good morning - everything is not fine. This has been the spring of "we'll just add a transfer", only to see the transfers back out, and now there are multiple scholarships not being used. However you got there, that's a fail.
If it does happen? If we suddenly bowl + tourney? I'll urge patience again. One year does not a rebuild make. We need programs, not Really Nice Teams. I won't rest until we have two programs. If it doesn't happen? Lord have mercy.
Gotta go. Gonna be late to Mother's Day breakfast. I don't know what my wife is so worried about - catch every light and it only takes 22 minutes to drive there.