Everything Is Fine - Goodnight

May 12, 2019

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.


illiniranger on May 12 @ 10:19 AM CDT

This is a good post.

Dr. Chim Richalds on May 12 @ 02:07 PM CDT

This is well-written and makes a great point about the composition of the fanbase. As someone who also believes I can hit every light, here’s to hoping the Illini pull off a Perfect Drive this year in at least one sport in spite of that result looking increasingly improbable.

McAdoo on May 12 @ 03:04 PM CDT

There's a theory that I've been working on for the last 6 weeks or so now and this post, in a way, works toward an explanation of the theory that I previously have been unable to put into words.

I think Whitman and the Athletics Department leadership knows the current situation is precarious, if the fan base slowly but surely becomes more and more cynical, then more individual fans turn into category 1 fans and it's hard to get them all the way "back". However, Whitman also knows that his OWN job is on the line if both football and basketball "fail" in 2019-2020. In essence, the old saying about an athletic director getting to fire one mistake but not two, etc.

So, the theory I have been working on is this..... What happens if the Illinois Football team goes 4-8 or 5-7 this coming season but "looks" improved from last year? I think Lovie is definitely getting fired if the team goes 3-9 or worse, and obviously a 6-6 or better record would keep things the same. However, would Whitman be willing to fire Lovie at an "improved" 4-8/5-7 when he doesn't know if he'll also have to fire Underwood after the basketball season?

If that old saying about AD's is true in this case, then if there's any doubt about the question Whitman might want to keep Lovie around because if Underwood has to be fired in March 2020 it's not just Underwood but Whitman getting the pink slip as well.

IBFan on May 12 @ 06:38 PM CDT

That part about how KScum turned IDKWTI was about as purified as a writer with an Illinois heart has ever done. Probably the most damaging event in Illini basketball history since Bruce Pearl. Hope these coaches make it because I like them both. I want to be positive but it is hard to do when it seems to rain more than it shines.
Tevian, Alan, Damonte, Samba, Kipper are happy

Groundhogday on May 12 @ 10:51 PM CDT

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.

Yes, this. Team might be okay without those last three slots filled (or filled with filler). But when you are building a program, you need to fill your slots every year. Maybe only one of those three develops into a contributor, but that is one more contributor in the pipeline.

illiniranger on May 13 @ 02:22 PM CDT

the frustrating thing is they can't even execute their strategies. There's no perfect way to build a football team, if you need to add JUCOs and transfers then so be it. But if you are counting on adding JUCOs and transfers then, well, um, you kind of need to add the JUCOs and the transfers, and not have half of them back out, can't get into school, can't get their waiver approved, etc.

CAIllini on May 13 @ 11:41 AM CDT

Yes, any of us who've been around long enough to remember that post still cringe when hearing those words; ouch.

I remain ever hopeful, but pragmatically realize there are no longer ways to rationalize our roster challenges in good faith. We can still be good this year, but it's just makes things harder to truly establish a long-term program even if that does happen....not ideal.

Ahhh the joys of being an Illini fan.

orangem on May 13 @ 12:28 PM CDT

Interesting take. I can get wait-and-see, but it's not a "fail" when we are intentionally not recruiting a 3-star guard, to leave open tantalizing playing time next year for some big talents. Now it may not work out and then we can call out the coaching staff, but an intentional strategy is not a "fail" until we see whether it works or not. As you'd probably agree that Georgi, Jones, Griffin, Samba, and Kofi are sufficient underclassmen talent at the wings and bigs, if we are looking longer-term do not see the "fail" here yet.

illiniranger on May 13 @ 01:53 PM CDT

"big time talent" doesn't worry about 3* players in front of them.

orangem on May 13 @ 02:23 PM CDT

Maybe we got part of the answer just recently, without a new guard this year we have room to offer 4/5-star Adam Miller and his 3-star teammate Marcus Watson. See today's news-gazette.

uofi08 on May 13 @ 04:04 PM CDT

Great article. But you left out the part about group 3 thinking everyone that’s not group 3 is group 1 lol.

You really hit the nail on the head, and I too remember,“Everything is fine. Goodnight.” If I had to rate myself, I’d honestly be a 1 1/2. I was gonna say 2 but at some point there’s a such thing as too much patience. A good rebuild in football needs to show something by season 3. A good basketball rebuild needs to show something by season 2. I feel better about basketball than football but both are definitely behind we’re you'd like to see them. Underwood has missed on enough fall recruits that it’s obviously not his plan to scramble in the spring.

The Lovie thing bothers me more. There’s so much that’s not not working there. Defensive guy with awful defense. Tear it all down to play all freshman but they aren’t all “good” freshman. Turn over the majority of his staff in 3 years. No plan at QB. No plan at WR. No plan on defense. And really the recruiting is better but far from good. And the part nobody ever talks about is the contract. The year he was hired was a relatively busy coaching carousel. Of all the changes, I think only Georgia, and maybe Miami, paid their new coaches higher salaries than Lovie. That mean he got a contract on par with Virginia Tech, and higher than Virginia, Syracuse, Missouri, Maryland, South Carolina, USC, and I’m sure I’m missing some. With that needs to come some responsibility and some expectations. We could have given Cubit a 5 year deal and seen better results. Hell, we could’ve pulled Zook back, paid him less, and we’d see more progress and better recruiting. Nothing adds up to giving Lovie any more time. This is a 6 win or bust season.

AHSIllini32 on May 13 @ 10:12 PM CDT

Your first paragraph - that goes both ways because people in group 1 think anyone not in group 1 is in group 3.

There’s a lot of talent on both sides of Kirby right now, more so than any year in recent memory. Each program also has holes that could torpedo their respective seasons (qb for football, wing position for basketball).

There’s also potential answers to those holes (One? Tommy Stevens? Tevian Jones? Alan Griffin?).

We’ll know so much more in 8-10 months for both sports.

illiniranger on May 14 @ 07:56 AM CDT

Better talent on both sides of Kirby that will surely have a losing conference record in football and maybe a touch above .500 in conference basketball.

There are a couple great talents. There is a lot of roster filler. That’s exactly what is frustrating about the group 3s. You can’t be honest about what’s there. You specifically are the same guy that’s been crowing about talent and turnarounds here for the last 6-7 years, and we haven’t been close. And anyone who is objective about it knows that.

Are we getting better? Yeah a little bit. Might even make a bowl game. But we will still get blown out a few times, we’ll end up recruiting in the bottom 3-4 of the league, we’ll still have a losing record in conference play. It’s the absolute barest minimum progress, and we’re vastky overpaying for it.

AHSIllini32 on May 14 @ 10:26 AM CDT

Here's the thing, it's all subjective in terms of what you're discussing when you say "roster filler" and "a couple great talents". You're the same guy who's here bitching and complaining at every turn so if you want to throw stuff like that around I'd be more than happy too.

I've never once guaranteed any sort of turnaround would happen. This is exactly what I'm talking about with you Group of 1's. If it's not a dire post like yours then it's clear someone is a head-in-the-sand-Group-3'er.

I disagree with you about your prognostication for both sports in terms of both recruiting and what our record will be, specifically in basketball. I don't think we're definitely going to make a bowl game or the tournament but I think there's at least a reasonable path to both, especially basketball.

You call that "being a 3" because it differs with your opinion.

uofi08 on May 14 @ 10:55 AM CDT

this is why Robert is right about the group 3s. Anyone that is any bit critical, or god-forbid throws out facts about our teams, is immediately shot down. I think us 1s are the most realistic. I don’t remember any of the 3s being around for Beckman, and he proved to be a lot more competent a coach than Lovie has so far. The talent argument is ridiculous. Lovie has 3 classes, 10, 12, and 13 in the B1G. That’s “filler” with a couple good recruits sprinkled in. The class size argument is also crap. If you’re gonna go by average rank, do the same for every teams’ top 12 players and then compare. (Hint: you won’t like what you see).

I can only speak for myself, but I think us 1s have only become this way after being 2s for too long and not seeing any legitimate signs of progress. What’s the ultimate goal with Lovie? You don’t pay a coach 5 mil a year (Lovies contract for 20 and 21) to hopefully get to 6 or 7 wins in year 5. Hell Beckman did it in 3 and Cubit almost did it in 1. If Whitman had made a no-name hire or even just extended Cubit to a normal contract, people would be calling for that coach’s head. But since it’s a big name like Lovie and he completely gutted the roster, the 3s think we’re totally fine.

illiniranger on May 14 @ 03:54 PM CDT

i don't even know that i'd say i'm a number 1. but if you just state the facts, they are dire. here are some relevant facts about Lovie Smith's tenure:

average recruiting ranking in the conference = 11.6 overall record: 9-27 (.250) conference record: 4-23 Of 27 losses 18(!) have been by 21 points or more S&P+ rankings per season: 94, 96, 97 average ranking = 95.667. (Somehow we've actually gotten worse each year according to the advanced metrics.) Lovie Smith's salary paid per win is north of $1mm dollars, the highest number for any coach in the country that has been somewhere at least three years (Chad Morris at Arkansas is actually the highest, but he only has one season in at Arkansas.)

OK, i get it, Lovie Smith inherited a program in rough shape. So did Matt Campbell the same year in Ames Iowa. So did Jeff Brohm, PJ Fleck, and Matt Ruhl the next year at Purdue, Minnesota, and Baylor respectively. Those coaches have coached a combined 9 seasons and have been to 6 bowl games. So by comparison to coach's in similar spots Lovie is struggling.

I'm not trying to be negative. The facts are negative. There is a bright spot here and there (a couple decent recruits, a couple decent transfers, a couple decent recruiting finds) but in total the facts look very, very bad for Lovie Smith. That's not an opinion. That's just the data.

When you read all that data, what are you supposed to conclude?

uofi08 on May 15 @ 07:56 AM CDT

Awesome post. I didn’t mean to lump you, and me for that matter, into group 1. Just did it for argument sake with the 3s. As you listed, all the facts show us exactly where Lovie has our program. That’s in a horrible place, and it’s undeniable.

Based on comments here and other places, I’d describe the 3 groups for football as:

1: Lovie has done little if anything to improve this program. He’s showing no progress on the field, and not enough in recruiting, team building, or staff stability. This is year 4 for a highly paid coach. He’s gone if he doesn’t reach 6 wins.

2: Lovie hasn’t been as good as hoped but might have us on a decent track and we really don’t want to deal with change. 5 wins and he probably stays.

3: Lovie has built a foundation. All the young guys will continue to improve. Our recruiting is great. We’re not gonna find a coach as good as Lovie. We’ll be even worse without him. He should stay if his recruiting stays like this, even after only 4 wins.

illiniranger on May 16 @ 07:39 AM CDT

This is pretty accurate. 6 Ws isn’t a must do. We could win 5 and have terrible luck or a rash of injuries against us that prevented the 6th win. I think there are some mitigating circumstances. but no more 21+ point losses. One such loss, OK sometimes they get away from you. but 2,3,4 such losses? He’s gotta go if that happens.

LosAngellini on May 13 @ 11:17 PM CDT

Such a great framework. Agree on on the recruiting fails, and am now feeling sour after the Holyfield miss. So mark me down as a 1. If Underwood doesn’t make the tourney (reminder he lost 21 games with this roster minus Kofi) then Fire him, and hire someone like Penny who can use being new as momentum to reboot a program.

HailToTheOrange on May 14 @ 03:34 PM CDT

Can we add a 4th category?

The "I care enough to read fan blogs and follow MBB and FB pretty religiously, but when they stumble (even if they stumble often) I won't let it ruin my day/week/etc. and/or let it incense me to the point of composing outraged posts on said fan sites" category?

Perhaps it might be called the Zen Illini or Orange and Bluddhists

This would probably be the most transient category (and one I can't claim to occupy consistently, even during a single game).

Still, the Illini are nothing if not a facility to get over my attachments to outcomes ;-).

IlliNYC on May 14 @ 04:02 PM CDT


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