Hope Fatigue

Dec 22, 2020

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First off, I rage-quit my Rutgers basketball post last night due to wifi issues. I figured that if my hotel wifi was bad, I could just hotspot my phone. But when your hotel is also in a bad cell area, that's a problem. I'm uploading videos and photos and.. it's not going well. I'll try again later today. And then I might break things.

So let's switch gears. I'll just write some words. Writing words doesn't require any wifi until you just need a tiny little signal to upload the post. This will calm me down.

Oh, one other quick story. I'm doing the Bielema press conference from my hotel room yesterday and struggling with wifi. I finally set my phone on the ledge next to the window and hotspotted to the laptop. Even did a test-Zoom with Carmen to make sure it wouldn't freeze up. It seemed to be working.

But this Zoom is going to be broadcast live on BTN. This is the most important wifi moment of my life. It has to work. I cannot go on BTN and be all "yeah coach I was just curious if y {frozen screen}". Bielema finishes his opening remarks, it's my turn to ask a question, I ask it, and literally six seconds later my screen freezes for 15 seconds and then I'm booted off the Zoom. My wife was watching live and I'm texting her asking "did it cut out? did I freeze on the screen?".

Just think about that. I ask my question between 1:14:46 and 1:15:02. Hotspot signal decides to cut out at 1:15:08. Any other hiccup in the first 15 minutes - Whitman accidentally drops the jersey and has to pick it up, Bielema pauses for 10 additional seconds when talking about his parents - and I'm on BTN with a frozen screen before disappearing with the screen going black.

ANYWAY, I answered a question on the Slack last night and I've been thinking about it today. I'll copy the question over here and we'll make this a one-question mailbag.

@Robert you mentioned prior to this coaching search of having some kind of "hope fatigue". Bielema has done a great job hitting the key points and between his press conference, the news the assistant salary pool is increasing, and just the energy he's seemed to bring to the program... still feeling that fatigue or are you ready to let the hope kill ya?

I mentioned the hope fatigue on The Field Pass last week. After three decades of "is this the guy to turn Illinois football around?"... "is this the guy to turn Illinois football around?"..."is THIS the guy to turn Illinois football around?", you get fatigued. I'm not that way with the roster - I'll always and forever think that the skinny freshman tight end will grow into a fifth-year senior All American. But with "this coach will be the guy!", man, I'm fatigued.

That doesn't mean I'm going negative, though. I'll never join the grizzle gang. They have a meeting this summer to decide who gets to go first and declare in the second quarter of the Nebraska game "I'm out on Bielema". With my fatigue comes patience.

So maybe the best way to discuss this is just to go through my overall thoughts on the hire.

First off, the tears during the press conference meant a lot to me. When he talks about having an Orange Krush towel hanging in his bedroom as a kid and he talks about what it means to his parents for him to be coaching in the state of Illinois, that hits me in the orange and blue spot. Yes, he played at Iowa and coached at Wisconsin, so it's not like this is a former player taking over the program. But still, the fact that the state means something to him means something to me.

Now, I don't share his thought that the answer to Illini football's woes is to close the state borders. I'd love to be wrong on that, but I've always held the general view that Chicago athletes will be like Chicago fans. It's a "pro-sports city" and so the college fandom is this big mix of Michigan fans and Ohio State fans and Notre Dame fans and Illinois fans. And I believe the top athletes are never going to feel the urge to head to Champaign because it's "home". They'll just continue to go to Michigan and Ohio State and Notre Dame (and a few to Illinois). We'd probably need eight wins for five consecutive seasons before we'd see any Chicagoland momentum. And even then it wouldn't be what everyone thinks it would be. ABI is real, people, and only sustained winning fixes it.

I also don't believe that capturing all of the "downstate" players is enough to make it worth being the primary focus. It's important that we sift through every single in-state player - I grew up in Highland, and when I go visit my mom and drop by WalMart, I see Iowa Hawkeyes hoodies because Highland's Sam LaPorta is the next great Iowa tight end - but it won't be enough to win the Big Ten West. We'll have to recruit nationally.

I'm realizing as I write this that I'm going to have to clarify this. The first comment below will be "nobody is saying all of the players should come from Illinois, Robert". I'm not suggesting that's what's being suggested. I'm saying this:

There's been a lot of talk over the past week about in-state recruiting. Josh Whitman realized this talk and did the smart thing having Bielema reach out to in-state coaches immediately upon being hired. There's no greater PR story after a coaching hire than the high school coach saying "I never heard from the other guy and now I hear from the new guy all the time".

Just please realize that in nearly every situation like that, the high school coach saying those words will next have a Division I recruit in 2031. This is not a shot at anyone. It's just math. There's what - 750 high school football teams in Illinois? And maybe 15 true Power Five recruits every year? (I say "true" meaning "will contribute in college" - I know some guy ranked 31st went to Purdue or whatever but he's probably not going to contribute.) So with the math working out like that, Illinois isn't Texas or Florida (or even Ohio).

I'm not saying ignore the state. I understand sales. Call on 750 hospitals and you might make 3 sales but those 3 sales are very important. I totally understand that the effort must be put in, even if a coach isn't going to have another Division I recruit until well after Bret Bielema retires.

I just want to make sure people realize that high school coaches don't make the decisions. They can maybe encourage a player to visit a school, and that helps, but we sometimes act like getting in good with the high school coach guarantees his players will come to Illinois. That's absolutely not true. These are kids making their own decisions with their parents, sometimes with the coach not even involved. If they go somewhere else, I see the percentages this way:

We didn't get close with his high school coach: 13% of the problem
We suck, and we've sucked for 30 years: 87% of the problem

Obviously it's not that simple. There are lots of things that make coaches "good recruiters" and "bad recruiters". I'm just pointing to all of the "recruit Illinois!" talk going on right now and telling you that's only part of it. And a much smaller part of it than everyone seems to think.

OK, let's put that behind us because that's not the point of all of this. The point is the case before the judge: Bret Bielema v. The State Of Robert's Coaching Fatigue.

Let's go back to the tears. That's what I'll remember from this press conference - Bret Bielema getting choked up. I remember Bill Self being "jacked" and I remember Tim Beckman mentioning lasagna and I remember Brad Underwood talking about how his secretary at Western Illinois had him write down his dream job and he wrote "Illinois". For Bret Bielema, I'll remember that this state means a lot to him. An Orange Krush towel in his bedroom as a kid is a big deal to me.

He said the words "full circle" during the presser, and that means a lot as well. I can buy in to that narrative. Initial success at Wisconsin at the age of 36 and thinking he owns the world. A bachelor in his 30's going to multiple Rose Bowls - grab the boys we're heading to Vegas. Then a bold leap to the SEC thinking he can take on an even bigger challenge - a division with Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Texas A&M. A humbling firing after going 29-34. A few years in the NFL under the tutelage of Bill Belichick as his "so I went to Nepal and sat with a monk for several years" moment while also having two baby girls and realizing the lasting joys in life. And now, back to his home state, lessons learned, humility earned, taking over the program he dreamed of joining as a child.

I can absolutely buy in to that. And if you're wondering why I'm not all over Twitter live-streaming that buy-in, well, it's hope fatigue. I've bought in so many times. I made an absolute fool of myself the day after Lovie's introductory press conference, predicting top-25 recruiting classes. I added October 12, 2019 to my Twitter bio and predicted Illinois' return to the upper tier of the college football world.

So maybe this is my humbling moment. Maybe I'm in the Belichick phase. Maybe I'm sitting with a guru, realizing my mistakes, re-organizing my thoughts. Maybe my full circle moment happens in a few years when I turn 50.

For now, though, I'm staying mostly quiet. I do like where this is going, and I thought he nailed the press conference (we're not talking about lasagna today), and the tears meant a lot to me. I want someone to care about Illinois football the way I care about Illinois football.

Effusiveness escapes me, though. It's the hope fatigue.


Brave Illini on December 22, 2020 @ 11:50 AM

Maybe not lasagna, but he did reference pork in talking about the hog farm on which he grew up. The Illinois Pork Producers should be pleased.

212Daniel on December 22, 2020 @ 01:55 PM

Do we still have Pork Producers' Day for a home game? If not, maybe Bielema can bring it back, along with a nice check from them, of course.

NC_OrangeKrush on December 22, 2020 @ 01:36 PM

A coach that can appreciate the agriculture commercials all over the tv... From a family that lived it... A huge part of the fan base, ticket holders, and supporters. It can strike a cord IF the Ws come with it... And we have a low bar.. So I think he can do it..

I wish him well.

DB50 on December 22, 2020 @ 03:32 PM

As Red said to Andy Defrense, "Hope is a dangerous thing, it can drive a man insane". Well call me crazy, but after over a half century of being a die hard Illini fan living 22 miles from Iowa City, my hope has never been higher! I really believe Coach Bielema can turn this team into a consistent winner, he checks all the important boxes.

Sweetchuck13 on December 22, 2020 @ 04:29 PM

I want someone to care about Illinois football the way I care about Illinois football.

Amen. Bielema is off to a good start and I didn't expect the emotion. I wasn't thrilled with the hire at first, but then again I was thrilled with Lovie and we all saw how that turned out. Maybe just some simple college football competence is exactly what we need. And I think Bielema is exactly that.

Illiniiniowa on December 22, 2020 @ 07:55 PM

I feel like I'm the only person who isn't hopeful. He had nearly identical conference record at Arkansas as Lovie did here. I think he saw his last best chance for a fat payday and grabbed it. I'm sorry, but I just am not buying him as being sincere and humble. I hope I'm wrong. I was certainly wrong about Lovie. I think Whitman just made another enormous mistake and we're heading down the path of peaking out at 6-7 or 7-6 and doing this all over again.

Illinir1 on December 22, 2020 @ 08:22 PM

I graduated from Illinois in 1981. 1981 was the first year I had season football tickets. The 80's belonged to the Illini. I developed a deep attachment to Illinois football. Then came the 90's, 00's and 10's. Next year will be my 40th year as an Illini football season ticket holder. I care. But I too have developed fatigue. I was against the BB hire based on his Arkansas SEC record. But I've seen/heard several BB interviews and now believe we have a Head Coach who will really care about Illinois football. And hopefully, in a few years, there will be many, many more fans who care about Illinois football.

Brave Illini on December 23, 2020 @ 09:11 AM

The Arkansas record during Coach's tenure there against SEC opponents is a relevant subject. But it deserves a deeper analysis that just wins-losses, even the scores of the games. As Whitman said, as part of his evaluation of our football program under Lovie he deemed it important to consider not just what games we won or lost, but how we won or lost, which includes competitiveness. So how did Bielema achieve SEC wins and suffer SEC losses? What can be attributed to opponent strength, roster, injuries, schemes, turnovers, weather, blind luck? I don't know how deep a dive Whitman did into this. Robert posted on Twitter the relative rankings of Arkansas' conference opponents compared to Illinois' conference opponents during the years Bielema was Arkansas' head coach. That is good information, but a more complete analysis would be interesting. But a deeper dive also could be quite difficult and time-consuming just based on publicly available data. I don't know if anyone has asked Coach Bielema for any insight into his record at Arkansas, especially his conference record, that could add to the simple win-loss record.

Sweetchuck13 on December 23, 2020 @ 09:19 AM

These are good questions, and maybe Robert can tee them up for some spring analysis or even summer after basketball is over.

We all know the SEC West was loaded - did he beat the teams he was supposed to and struggle against the top teams? Was he inconsistent - winning some upsets but also losing bad losses? Did he beat the spread even if he lost (meaning performed better than expected)?

I'm concerned about his Arkansas tenure, but perhaps it's not as bad as it appears on its face, and hopefully he's learned from it. We'll see.

Norcal Illini on December 23, 2020 @ 09:59 AM

BB said he grew up an Illini fan but went to college in Iowa. Has he said why he chose Iowa other than being closer to home than C-U?

ditkanate on December 23, 2020 @ 10:32 AM

Wasn't he a walk-on at Iowa initially? Maybe Illinois didn't show any interest and he had to go wherever he could? Would definitely be interesting to hear how that played out.

Robert on December 23, 2020 @ 12:41 PM

On the Being Bret Bielema web series his dad explains this. Said he was looking for any opportunity in the Big Ten and Iowa finally came through with a walkon spot.

And yes, those are “spots”. Contrary to popular belief, players don’t just enroll in school and then try out for the football team. Sometimes players do “walk on” that way, but for the most part there are 3 tiers:

  1. 85 scholarship players
  2. 20 PWO spots to bring you up to the camp 105.
  3. Any “campus” walkons.

edgyinchina@yahoo.com on December 23, 2020 @ 02:11 PM

Robert: You do a lot of explaining of your explanations... LMAO

Second: I would have replied to your 'fatigue question' like this... I'm fatigued because in 1967 Jim Valek said nearly these same words, Bob Blackman who followed also uttered nearly the same phrases, as did Gary Moeller, and actually Mike White. Mackovic was more muted, but he did try to instill continued confidence, as did Tepper. All this followed by Turner, Zook, Beckman, and Cubit all saying the things that are meant to instill a certain degree of 'Hope'... Lovie did chime in a little also... Soooo .... After 12 coaches in the last 60 years saying and repeating the SAME mantra over and over and over. - HOW could anyone NOT get at least a little 'Hope Fatigue' ? ? ?

Obviously the questioner is young and full of energy and HOPE... And THAT is good, and it's needed, but even the young should realize that it's possible for those of us who have followed this over these last 60 years to get 'worn down' a little in the process....

Finally, I'm going to pick on you a little Robert. Don't introduce a term without first defining it (ABI ? ? ? ) for those of us not 'educated' enough in ECIT&A... LMAO + + ...

MuckFichigan92 on December 23, 2020 @ 06:21 PM

ABI, Anyone But Illinois

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