Retracing Steps

Apr 30, 2020

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Apologies in advance - this post is really, really long. I'm re-writing the intro here since I just finished it and I need to put up a LONG WARNING. I've been typing for more than six hours at this point.

This week, I think I've tapped into something writing-wise. There's not much to write about during Covid, and I've felt the pressure to crank out more posts since I've moved here, so I'm stressed about the number of posts (internal voice: "Robert, you don't have a job anymore - why aren't you cranking out three posts per day?"). This week at least, I've quieted that voice with one thought: sure, there's not much to write about, but there's nothing stopping me from writing nearly 5,000 words on one subject, researching it and piecing it together like I would the football preview. The Brian Hightower LLUOI post took me five hours but I felt really good about all the research that went into it. This one took me longer and I feel a similar sense of accomplishment. I knew these words were in there - I just had to find a way to get them out.

The genesis of this post is found in the comments of the last post. I was responding to many of those comments and I found myself wanting to write 800 words in response. That meant I had some thoughts bottled up, so I figured I'd bring it over here into a new post.

The jumping-off point for me was a back-and-forth I was having with one commenter (uofi08). His comment is something I hear a fair bit - I think I'm giving observations on how Lovie's staff goes about recruiting but have I ever considered that I'm just out here justifying his bad recruiting with "he'll get here - he's just always late"? He finished his second comment in that thread by thinking back to how we all approached this when Lovie was hired. And that made me feel like I should probably retrace my steps through all of this. So let's do that.

First, our back-and-forth in the comments of the "Recruiting" post on Tuesday (which won't make much sense unless you go read that post first).

uofi08: Trying to justify Lovie's recruiting approach as "slow and methodical" is just not seeing the forest through the trees at this point. It's not like he's only targeting kids that are committing very late. They've been recruiting plenty of prospects that decide early, they've just literally missed on nearly all of them. A majority of Illinois high school kids commit "early" and Lovie and his staff has usually offered many of them. They just plain miss on nearly all of them. That's a recruiting failure, not a recruiting approach. This is probably the worst recruiting staff at Illinois for the last maybe 20 years. I can only personally go back to the last few years of Turner. Zook was obviously a recruiting genius. And Beckman, while not a strong recruiter, was significantly hamstrung by facilities and lack of support. Lovie has been given every possible advantage that previous staffs never received.

Robert: Why do you see it as justification? Isn't it simply observation?

I just looked for something I wrote a few years ago but now I can't find it. It was about how, once Lovie arrived, all tweets from recruits after spring visits starting saying "can't wait to be back" and things like that (where before, under Beckman, we didn't hear that phrase). I theorized that early on, Lovie doesn't even push for commitments. He wants a long evaluation period (from both sides) to see if it's a "fit".

That's not justification - I certainly wouldn't go about it that way, and our best recruiter of the last 30 years (Zook) absolutely didn't go about it that way. But that's why I think Lovie classes are slow to develop. That's my guess as to why.

uofi08: I guess I call it as justification because of the way you always describe it as his recruiting approach. I'm arguing it's not his approach, it's just what happens when you're a bad recruiter and don't change your strategy. I've never been a college football coach, but I have to imagine every commitment doesn't come out of nowhere. Coaches know if a player might commit early or drag it out. And really if they don't at least have a feel for it, they aren't cut out for the job. Lovie tends to offer plenty of instate kids that end up committing early elsewhere. Obviously he probably wants these kids, he just can't close the recruitments. He signs his class late because he's not good at recruiting and/or his staff is lacking recruiting awareness and ability. Any coach would love to have good recruits on board early. Waiting is a complete disadvantage as you're relying on late bloomers and decomits.

I remember all the excitement when Lovie was hired. I was convinced he'd bring in top 30-40 classes, especially once the new facility was announced.

I, too, remember that excitement. And I bring it up every single time I write about this because that sets the scene. We thought we would get an immediate recruiting bump and we just haven't seen it. Lovie's recruiting has been nowhere close to what we thought it could be. The week Lovie was hired I predicted his first four seasons would be something like 6-6, 3-9, 6-6, 9-3 and we saw 3-9, 2-10, 4-8, 6-6.

So with a step-back, yes, on March 7, 2016 if you say to anyone "Lovie will start 3-9, 2-10, 4-8, and his first four classes will rank 46th, 54th, 53rd, and 88th", not one person would think that's OK. Especially the "worst class is his fourth class" part. $23 million should get you more than that.

By the summer of 2017, I was already at "this doesn't look anything like we thought it would look". I covered that in another response to another comment in that Recruiting post, so I'll just do a quick cut-and-paste here:

In fact, I can tell you the point where it changed for me. I had a pretty good list of 2018 recruiting targets and then Khalan Tolson committed out of nowhere. I remember thinking that if I was going to spend that much time tracking every linebacker we were chasing and then we get a verbal from a player not even on my list, what's the point of having a list at all? Why not just go 1985 and wait to review the players once they commit to Illinois?

The week I'm referencing there (when Tolson committed) was the same week where I started writing the 2017 football preview. I've probably referred to it 30 times since. The theme of that preview was more or less "OK, so this is already nothing like we thought it would be, so.... is it still possible for this program to be rebuilt without 'NFL coach with clout in Chicago comes in and begins recruiting like crazy'?"

That led me to look up start-from-scratch rebuilds. You've seen these numbers a dozen times - and I updated them to add Mullen and Harbaugh after the season in the 2018 Signing Day post - but I looked up programs that rebuilt from scratch and looked at their recruiting class rankings. If Lovie is going to go the long rebuild route, more or less ignoring the roster he inherited, playing his first class as soon as possible, losing a lot at first due to youth and then eventually grabbing wins (and better recruiting classes) once the program is rolling, what does that look like for successful programs who have done that from an Illinois-like Not Ideal jumping-off point? Start in the desert, recruiting is rough for a while, end up winning.

Here were the recruiting class rankings of the first five classes for coaches who had pulled it off from an Illinois-like starting point:

Jerry Kill -- 57th, 59th, 67th, 57th, 63rd
David Cutcliffe -- 54th, 73rd, 63rd, 62nd, 71st
Kevin Wilson -- 55th, 57th, 42nd, 48th, 53rd
Mike Leach -- 58th, 50th, 53rd, 42nd, 56th
Mike MacIntyre -- 68th, 74th, 69th, 69th, 35th
Art Briles -- 58th, 53rd, 38th, 46th, 26th
Dan Mullen at MSU: 30th, 41st, 22nd, 24th, 36th
Jim Harbaugh at Stanford: 51st, 47th, 21st, 25th (then he left for the 49ers, so no 5th year)

I averaged those eight coaches together and came up with target recruiting class rankings for similar rebuilds.

First class: 54th
Second class: 57th
Third class: 47th
Fourth class: 46th
Fifth class: 48th

Lovie's numbers: 46th, 54th, 53rd, 88th. There's a reason for "88th" (only 13 recruits in the class), but still, you never want your fourth class to rank the lowest. That's why I set the bar for the 2021 class at 35th.

One of those rebuilds listed above ended up going nowhere (MacIntyre at Colorado, who got to 10-2 but then went 5-7, 5-7, fired), but the rest were all programs that were rebuilt (and then the recruiting came). Minnesota's recruiting breakthrough came in Kill's sixth class (ranked 46th, the class that just produced four draft picks over the weekend). Duke's breakthrough came later (the 6th, 7th, and 8th classes were ranked 61, 52, and 33). MacIntyre's big jump was his fifth class (from 69th to 35th). Briles' (gross) big jump was his fifth class (26th). Mullen and Harbaugh both won big their third season and saw an immediate recruiting jump.

All in all, those were the averages. We were only 16 months into the Lovie experiment and I had already completely changed the way I was viewing it. This was going to be the Barry Alvarez plan (obviously the most successful implementation of said plan). Get the job, recruit 20 freshmen, play them immediately, lose huge. Keep playing your own players for the most part and by year four, win big and slingshot the program forward. Since Lovie didn't get an initial recruiting class, that all moves forward to years 2-3-4-5, not years 1-2-3-4 (his first class of freshmen will be seniors in year five, not year four).

This is not to say "any recruiting is fine during those four years". Obviously, the better the players the better the football. I'm simply saying I changed my view from a Zookian way of looking at recruiting to a Mike Leach way of looking at recruiting. It's not easy, but rebuilds can happen because of 1) recruiting specific types of players and 2) system implementation. So this won't be "my God we're going to OWN Chicago", but it can still work in the way it's being rebuilt.

From that point forward - which is why I've referred to that 2017 season preview so often - I've based my observations of this rebuild on that concept. Are we closer to the Dan Mullen side of things or are we closer to the Mike MacIntyre side of things since that was one that just built one good team and fell apart? Because of the Ron Turner Principle - everything was focused on that 5th team, and we won the Big Ten, but nothing could be sustained after that because no thought was put towards the future - I began talking about the 2021 cliff. What if we do win big in 2020 and then just fall off a cliff? 2001-2002-2003 went 10 wins, 5 wins, 1 win. What if 2020, 2021, and 2022 look the same? (Worse yet, what if 2020 is only 7 wins?)

So I started talking about 3-5-7-9. Lovie isn't going to pull of 6-6, 3-9, 6-6, 9-3, so what's it going to look like? I figured that with all the freshmen moving past the upperclassmen in 2017, it would be something like 3 wins, 5 wins, 7 wins, 9 wins. This is from April 26, 2018 in a post about both football and basketball:

So when might we accomplish that? When will we play another game as a ranked team?

My guess is that it happens the same year: 2020. Before last (football) season I believe I proposed 3-5-7-9: three wins in 2017, five wins in 2018, seven wins in 2019, nine wins in 2020. Three became two last season (and with all of the players departing, five probably becomes four), but that's the general guideline. And if so, a 7-5 season in 2019, while probably cause for champagne to be popped, doesn't get a team ranked. So I'd say our next chance for getting ranked is the 2020 season.

For basketball, hopefully, it's the spring before that fall. Next year, the 2018/19 season, I don't see any way we come anywhere close to the polls. My current goal is to just get to .500 - follow up this 14-18 with maybe a 16-16 season. (In all honestly, right now, without a frontcourt, I'm expecting 12-20, but let's save that for another post). The goal would then be a leap in 2019/20. Junior Trent, sophomore Ayo, and (hopefully) a few freshmen big men who are ready to contribute early. Add that to all the other pieces (my guy Da'Monte providing the glue) and I do think that's a team that could make a run. If Ayo turns out to be as good as we think he is, and Trent continues on the path he started last fall, that's a really good backcourt. Hope for sophomore leaps from the other freshmen (maybe it's Tevian Jones, maybe it's Samba Kane), and the spring of 2020 we could find ourselves flirting with the polls.

OK, yes, I left that basketball paragraph in there just so you could see how cool I am.

Back to 3-5-7-9. It's now been consistently off by one - 2-4-6. Does that mean there's 8 wins coming (if there's a full 2020 season)? I certainly hope so. It needs to be or playing 22 freshmen in 2017 makes no sense.

I'm getting ahead of myself. My view of Lovie had changed from "super instant mega recruiting star" to what I originally said when Zook was fired - five full years, no questions asked. Have someone implement systems, recruit to them, and win through repetition. We had been through two seasons of trying to implement Lovie's defense, so we should be on the cusp of seeing some amount of payoff, right?

We would not. At least not under Hardy Nickerson. The 2018 was perhaps our worst defense yet. You're not implementing the Mike Leach or Jerry Kill kind of "system rebuild" if your worst defense is your third defense. By the end of the 63-0 Iowa game, I was nearly broken. How do you come back from that?

This next screencap comes from The Deuce, not from the blog. I posted something over there and wanted to save it so I could look it up in a year or two and see how the predictions went. Here's the screenshot image, and then I've included the text after that because the image is small and it's hard to read. This is from December 11, 2018, from me, posting on The Deuce. And if you're not aware, I posted on the Deuce for nearly 20 years as Orange Roughy and then just Roughy. So if you ever see people refer to me as Roughy on Twitter or here, well, that's why.

Here's the text. I was responding to someone saying that I was "sad roughy" and it made them sad. I said I wasn't sad and that these were my current stances towards Illini football in a post 63-0 world:

1. The die is cast. Whether we win or lose these next two years is already set. We'll hire a defensive coordinator (likely someone who knows the Lovie scheme) but it's not going to matter much because they'll likely try to keep the scheme and playcalling as vanilla as it's been the last few years. Lovie's success/failure is now basically locked in and recruiting/coordinating won't really help or hurt. There's just one question left: Can he get all of theses sophomores and freshmen to be a good football team the next two years?

2. Recruiting, to me, seems to be set as well. It's going to be bad-to-awful for the next 12 months, I think. 63-0 simply destroyed the last of the "we can still sell playing time and hope" and now it's results or GTFO. So my default from now until our sixth win next season is that most every player will say no. I think it gets historically ugly. We have one more rabbit to possibly pull (Cooper - we hired his HS coach) and then I don't think there are any more rabbits. How deep of a hole that digs, TBD, but as has been the case for about 18 months now, building a winning team isn't my concern; what happens after that winning team graduates is my concern, and I'm covering my eyes because I'm so worried about another Turner or Zook "program goes up, program comes back down".

3. I'm hoping they hit the transfer market hard. Now is the time to go after that. First three years, develop the high schoolers and ignore jucos/5th-years. Years 4 and 5: work the transfer market like crazy. Win and then sell those wins to the next batch of recruits and maybe you can hang on (plugging those 2021 holes with transfers).

4. I'm still sticking to winning 17 of the next 26 games. Playing that many freshmen that many snaps has to pay off. I refuse to live in a world where the coaching is so inept that "20 players with 25 starts" doesn't pay off. Experience wins football games. It just has to.

Many in that thread took issue with point 3 after point 2. Meaning, if you want to survive 2021, you need 2019 and 2020 high school recruits you can develop into breakout players in 2021, not 2020 fifth-year transfers who will need to be replaced by 2021 fifth-year transfers. My point then (and it remains the same now). High school recruiting is likely lost, but transfers might listen, so lean that direction. I made the example of Chris Ash at Rutgers going with 11 transfers his first season. What good does that do? Build a base of high school players, then supplement with upperclassman transfers in years 4-5. That's how I'd do it, anyway, especially in a post 63-0 world where I still have an athletic director behind me.

As for my prediction of winning 17 of the next 26 games? I should give some background there. After losing to Purdue in 2018, bringing an end to my "25 games we won't learn anything but starting with the Purdue game in 2018 we'll start to learn", we went on the road and lost to Wisconsin. After that, the schedule got easier. We would close 2018 with Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, & Northwestern and none of those teams were ranked. Then 2019 starts with Akron, UConn, and Eastern Michigan. So I made a bold prediction: the corner would be turned, and we would win 18 of the next 31 games. That would include bowl games in 2019 and 2020, so it would be something like 2-3 and then 7-6 and then 9-4. Or 3-2, 8-5, and 7-6.

Or 1-4, 6-7... and it would now have to be 11-2. I'll be honest, I REALLY wanted to win that bowl game to keep this thing alive. 9-3 plus a bowl win still seemed at least plausible for next season. But 11 wins (which would be the most... ever?) is ridiculous.

I will say that I felt pretty good about this when we were 6-4 last year. After we lost four of five to close 2018 I now needed 17 wins in 26 games (as you see above in that post). Then we roll off 6 of 10 to start 2019 and we only need to win 11 of the next 16. Felt absolutely doable and I was going to have my best called shot ever. Then we lost three straight and now I need 11 of the next 13. Oof.

Let's go back to that Deuce post and look at something else. I said that recruiting was dead "until our sixth win" (in 2019). It mostly was, so is it now alive?

Here's the players added since that sixth win:

Juco DT Anthony Shipton
Juco LB Lavar Gardner
QB Deuce Spann
DT Tre'Von Riggins
DE Cooper Davis
DE/DT Jerzahn (Johnny) Newton
DB Tahveon Nicholson
Wisconsin transfer Christian Bell
New Mexico State transfer Desmond Dan
Wofford transfer Blake Jeresaty
Miami transfer Brian Hightower
QB Samari Collier (2021)

Is recruiting "alive" since that sixth win? I'd say no. If I take that list and put it into "these players will really help" and "these players are longshots", here's where I land:

Will really help: Spann, Riggins, Davis, Newton, Jeresaty, Hightower
Longshots: Shipton, Gardner, Nicholson, Bell, Dan, Collier

To call it "alive" I think you'd need one or two names from the second list that would clearly be on the first list. Eight above, four below. Maybe Collier has a great season and sees his ranking go up, maybe Bell really was buried at Wisconsin and shows big value, but I don't think I can go with "alive".

Which brings us right back to the point where I was when I wrote the "Recruiting" post on Tuesday. And, generally, everything I've been writing over the last nine months. If you read my season preview back in August I made one statement - it's SO EASY TO GO TO A BOWL WHY CAN'T WE DO IT?? (If you've read this far, I guess you plan to keep reading, so I'll just cut and paste the intro from that season preview.)

It's so, so easy.

I mean, it's ridiculously easy.

Winning six games as a Power Five conference member (and going to a bowl) is so incredibly easy. I honestly can't think of anything easier in the coaching profession. With so many bowl games and three games that can be scheduled against tiny schools, it is so, so easy to go to a bowl.

How easy? Well, I took four-plus hours to do a little research. Yes, that was me, in the corner of the Starbucks, with six sheets of paper spread across the table, tabulating the wins and losses of each and every Power Five coach since 2006.

Why 2006? I wanted to look at every single coach hired at a Power Five program over a 10-year period. And if I started it 10 years ago, I'd have a bunch of coaches hired in the last few years who are just starting their rebuild.

So I needed the ending point to finish right before Lovie was hired. That would be the 2015 season, so going back 10 years from there, I started with 2006. From 2006 to 2015, counting every single coach hired at every single program, how many went to a bowl? Here's the results.

There were 97 coaches hired at Power Five programs (that's the 64 major conference teams plus Notre Dame). This is every coach hired as a permanent head coach (no interims included). This includes coaches who lasted one season (Lane Kiffin at Tennessee). This includes many coaches who were eventually fired. Of those 97 coaches, how many of them eventually went to a bowl?

89 of the 97 coaches hired between 2006 and 2015 won at least six games once. This includes coaches who were laughed out of town like Derek Dooley at Tennessee or Al Golden at Miami. It includes coaches remembered as absolute failures like Frank Spaziani at Boston College and Mike London at Virginia. Mike Sherman at Texas A&M. Kyle Flood at Rutgers. Randy Edsall at Maryland. Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville. Dan Hawkins at Colorado. Tim Beckman at Illinois. All bowl coaches.

After that 27,000 word season preview I landed at one spot: I think we're going to a bowl in 2019 and, in a sense, it's not that big of a deal because nearly every Power Five coach clears that bar, so the real key will be getting even better in 2020. The last time we went to a bowl game and then got better the next season: 1989 and 1999. "Finally made a bowl" can't be the peak.

OK, so now we're basically caught up to current. We need to go to a better bowl this year than we did last year and Lovie needs to land his best recruiting class. As I said in the other post, the bar is set at 8-4/top-35 class. It might be difficult to figure out if it's a top-35 class because you just know eight of them will be transfers, but that's the kind of class we need to land.

I think I've caught all the way up to current. Wait - I didn't cover the first part of that comment from all the way at the top. That comment again:

uofi08: I guess I call it as justification because of the way you always describe it as his recruiting approach. I'm arguing it's not his approach, it's just what happens when you're a bad recruiter and don't change your strategy. I've never been a college football coach, but I have to imagine every commitment doesn't come out of nowhere. Coaches know if a player might commit early or drag it out. And really if they don't at least have a feel for it, they aren't cut out for the job. Lovie tends to offer plenty of instate kids that end up committing early elsewhere. Obviously he probably wants these kids, he just can't close the recruitments. He signs his class late because he's not good at recruiting and/or his staff is lacking recruiting awareness and ability. Any coach would love to have good recruits on board early. Waiting is a complete disadvantage as you're relying on late bloomers and decomits.

I guess I can't answer this any other way than to say "that's what I've observed". I don't think I can go through a similar "here's what I said on this date, and then this happened, and then here's what I said on this date" because this is more "feel". I don't cover recruiting - I don't contact recruits, I don't "I'm hearing he's close to committing", I only rate recruits after they've verballed - but I do observe recruiting. I attend spring and summer football practices when recruits are visiting. I talk to coaches and recruiting staff. And I've done this across three coaching staffs - Zook, then Beckman, then Lovie (plus Cubit, I guess).

If we just focus on the spring (because that's the issue at hand - is it a slow approach or does Lovie just suck at landing players he's offered early?), I can tell you with 100% certainty that a Lovie recruiting spring feels totally different from a Beckman or Zook recruiting spring. Zook and Beckman were heavy into junior days (what are those?) and really pushed for early verbals (Beckman more than Zook). They didn't seem to ever do the whole "we'd love to get you here at camp in June so we can evaluate you some more" to any recruits besides the fringe ones. They weren't PJ Fleck "put you in a room with an hourglass and tell you that you have one hour to commit" high pressure (Zook was more than Beckman, but Zook didn't reach Fleck levels), but they were certainly more high pressure than Lovie.

The recruit that sticks out as an example was Gabe Megginson. I'd be willing to bet that Lovie would have lost Megginson while Beckman landed him. There was a big push to land Megginson in March and April before assistants from other schools could get out there to visit him in late April and May. I'm not sure Lovie would have pushed like that. I think he would have been all "let's get to know each other a little better - come back and visit soon" so that they could evaluate more film, maybe go see him at a regional camp, maybe visit his HS a couple times to do some background work, maybe get him to a lineman camp in June. I could be wrong on that - this staff took Isaiah Williams and Marquez Beason very early, so the obviously will push for the 4-star kids, and even guys like Julian Pearl committed around this time of year (flipped from NIU) - but in general, I just can't see Lovie pushing like Beckman did. My feel on all of this is that Lovie wants to get the eval right (and loses players in the process, but is OK with those losses because there's more fish in the sea).

That might be the wrong approach. We might look back and see this class ranked 61st and say "he lost too many players back in March and April". And I'm not saying "Lovie is SOOOO good with his evals" either. I'm simply saying that this is my observation. It's why I don't expect many March or April verbals, even when the class is going to be 25.

I guess I was kind of hoping it would be different this year - it's OK when you're going to have a class of 13, but a class of 25 is a different story, and we were selling a bowl - but this is fairly expected I think. Which is why I'm just sitting here waiting for the names to come in (and somewhat unaware of our targets besides the big names). Covering Lovie's recruiting is very boring.

Speaking of which, I just checked Twitter and saw a Rod Smith Ric Flair gif. Maybe I'll have something to write tomorrow?

I'll try not to make it 5,000 words.


IBFan on April 30, 2020 @ 09:25 PM

Awesome work and much appreciated. Don’t feel pressured, I know you will anyway, to push stuff out in a hurry or before you are ready. Selfishly I’ll take 5000 words everyday.

So as part of this same thought process I went ahead and looked at classes in the BigTen compared to Illinois’. 2020 with transfers is getting more competitive if you look at quality of players coming in. Yes I know it isn’t great and not where it could be. As I brought up before the 2019 class with transfers was a very good class. I believe for example if you look at Wisconsin’s you can argue that our class with Transfers was better. Other people that aren’t as biased as me tear that thought apart. I just don’t see this huge recruiting hole, yes it could be better and it’s different, but the team talent level is higher.

thumpasaurus on May 1, 2020 @ 09:38 AM

feels like a punch in the gut to get the ric flair gif to announce a PWO commit the day travion ford chooses mizzou.

lovie's stubborn refusal to fundamentally change this approach to recruiting will ultimately be his undoing, because you just can't do this.

and the infuriating thing is, when his staff has deviated from this long evaluation practice, the results have been tremendous (williams, beason).

it's like watching brandon peters consistently pass up running for 15 yards and a first down. like, i get that it's not where you're comfortable, but that's what's available and they're giving you the whole side of the field, so you're gonna have to run eventually.

getting beaten the same way repeatedly is just demoralizing to watch. what really gets me is that i thought lovie was going to put a lot of emphasis on stocking the lines with quality depth year after year after year. maybe he has emphasized that, but hasn't followed through. we have some good pieces, but the only place we've consistently recruited OL from has been "our own DT depth chart." i was hoping the early returns on 2017 recruiting meant we'd finally be that team that comes out with redshirt juniors and seniors all up and down each line every year, and by that i mean those players have been AT ILLINOIS for 3-4 years.

that's...not how the future depth chart is playing out.

Robert on May 1, 2020 @ 10:23 AM

feels like a punch in the gut to get the ric flair gif to announce a PWO commit the day travion ford chooses mizzou.

Is that what happened? I thought the gif was "announcing" the Jones transfer from Mississippi State.

UofIL6 on May 1, 2020 @ 01:12 PM

Yep, I think it was for the transfer. Regardless, an awful lot of flexing for that commit...doesn't sound like there was much competition. But, I'm sure half of it was to divert attention from the beating they're taking in STL and in-state (and, frankly, everywhere else)

Nashvegas Illini on May 1, 2020 @ 10:34 AM

Long read Robert but I love this. As an Illini fan I need to know why it works (for other people) as much as why it doesn't work for us.

But the over arching questions still have not been answered. The first question: Can Lovie bring in enough talent to win?

My answer is yes because 2020 is the most talented Illini team since..... 2007?

I can see the 2020 team with NFL Draft picks at QB, WR, TE, LT, RT, G, Slot corner, and just maybe one of the linebackers on the current roster.

Second question: Can Lovie coach college football? My answer: That's a strong maybe.

Lovie's style of coaching defense most resemble Iowa under Ferentz and MSU under Dantonio. Both relay heavily on zone schemes that require smart players. They need NFL talent at specific positions in particular Corner to bring out the best in their schemes. This is not a like for like comparison but the bigger issue is that neither of those guys ever won the Big Ten with their styles.

Last question. Has Lovie learned enough about college football to put it together. My answer is I think so.

Let's say a traditional Illini recruit has a 35% success rate. Success rate determined by being a player to would start or at least be a rotation player for any other power 5 team. Then should Lovie sign the same players that would have always come to Illinois? Like Megginson. I loved the kid. His recruiting numbers were great and he had all the measurables. More than that the kid loved being an Illini. But I was really surprised that no one went after he when he left. There was plenty of film on the kid. I believe he started some Big Ten games as a freshman, if I remember correctly.

Last point and sorry for the long comment after the long article but I believe Lovie is recruiting the way he is because he doesn't believe in the level of recruit that he has access to. So he's taking transfers and working other avenues to get better players. Having said that there are a few kids every year that are close to home that we are missing out on but traditionally these are kids that have never come to Illinois. So the winning has to be more consistent to convert more of those guys. All this is why I believe in Lovie's approach based on where we are now. Will it win us the Big Ten, probably not but if he can get us north of 8 wins then just maybe we can convert more of those kids that usually tell us no.

uofi08 on May 1, 2020 @ 10:54 AM

Wow! I think this is a significant point in my Illini fandom! Thanks for engaging in the back and forth.

Another good article. In all honesty, I think we agree on more than we disagree. I think I’m just in that section of the fanbase that is sick of the excuses and justifications and just plain wants tangible results. Lovie has had enough time to build and has yet to show significant growth and improvement. Strip the Lovie Smith name and bravado away and we’re looking at a Beckman-esque coaching tenure. No stability, no foundation, no indication of a successful future.

Nashvegas Illini on May 1, 2020 @ 11:06 AM

I think you're right. But Lovie's not Beckman and we expect a lot more. But is that realistic? I starting to think it isn't. But I don't know why. Why is Missouri's recruiting class so much better then ours at this point. They're the worst team in the SEC with a new coach from App State. Is it booster money? Is it an amazing recruiter on the staff? I live in Tennessee and have the same question on why is VOLs class so good right now. How about Minn? I like Lovie wouldn't take half the kids Fleck has but there's probably 3-5 that Lovie would love to have.

I don't get it either but if not Lovie than who can recruit to Illinois?

uofi08 on May 1, 2020 @ 11:34 AM

That’s kinda the disconnect though right? I bet 99% of fans expect more from Lovie than we did from Beckman. But Lovie has yet to give us more and it’s been 4 years. We expected more rightfully so. Better salary, better support, top 10-20 facility. Everything is in place except for the coaching performance both on the field and in recruiting. I know nothing about mizzou’s new staff but when you’re brand new you can sell hope. Also don’t discount negative recruiting. Hard not to stress Illinois’ lack of success when recruiting against them. Also, I think a lot of high school players and coaches can see right through the bowl season for what the Illini actually are. Last year was a 4-5 win team that got to 6. It wasn’t a season that points to 8-9 wins next year and a bright future. Also high school players and coaches pay attention to who teams are recruiting and landing. Lovie has no momentum in recruiting outside of the STL guys that have connections to C Pat.

UofIL6 on May 1, 2020 @ 01:18 PM

While on the surface it's surprising, it really isn't when you look at what recruits seem to gravitate too. Energy and social media presence is big. Heck, even when we had a little momentum, Littyville was a thing. That's all gone away. Young coaches who convey energy (Fleck, Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman, and even the Mizzou coach) are the ones having recruiting success. Lovie moves slow on the trail (if at all), has no social media personality (arguably none in person either), and doesn't put in the effort others do. Mizzou and Drinkwitz hosted 3 jr days in 2020. Ford, Macon, etc, Lovett, Lewis, etc. were on their campus at least one, if not multiple times in 2020. Lovie hosted as many jr days as any poster here did.....0

W.I.N.T. on May 1, 2020 @ 01:35 PM

Some of this is really tough to read knowing the O/U is 5 wins for the year and we're being projected for last in the division. I feel like there's an anvil hanging over your head as I read this.

On the other hand, with the current state of the world even a disappointing football season doesn't seem so bad right now.

ppbob on May 2, 2020 @ 12:37 AM

It's interesting to note that each facet of the program wasn't chosen as belief in that system and succeeding what you are trying to accomplish, but as a desperate move after failing a more traditional approach.

The initial approach most HCs use to succeed is to hire Coordinators who've been successful at the highest level of CFB and let them do their thing. Love couldn't get those type of coordinators so he hired a guy form Louisville who didn't have any other options and a former NFL buddy who pretty much knew nothing about CFB and had to leave when he realized he just couldn't do this.

He really needed great recruiters on his staff, but for some reason they didn't want to work with him so he hired a bunch of guys who's resume's were paper thin....and they wound up failing.

It appears that one of Lovie's biggest deficiencies is evaluating talent in staff and players. That's where his lack of recent CFB experience and that of his staff really hurts. Identifying and getting in early on recruits is a big deal, yet Lovie and his staff just aren't very good at finding those "diamonds in the rough". Everybody knows about the 4 and 5*s when they're seniors, but good coaches see that potential when they're freshman and sophs and develop relationships. They take chances based on experience with players with similar attributes. Lovie doesn't have that experience, so he waits too long and the recruiting ship has sailed for those players.

Chukwuwumba on May 3, 2020 @ 01:58 PM

I have this recruiting question for high school vs transfers. High school: don’t push, wait til on campus, camps, senior tape. Transfers. In the portal, sprint to contact, sometimes a visit, commit within 1-2 weeks. If backup, not much additional college tape. TransferU. You would think it would be slow or fast for both. Does Lovie not want high school players? More mature players? Wants higher ranked players, can get some out of high school but not a lot?

Robert on May 3, 2020 @ 02:23 PM

My guess would be timing. Transfers can sign financial aid papers the day they commit, so each transfer could technically be days from signing elsewhere. High school players cannot sign until December. Right or wrong, my view is that the staff thinks they can flip some players before signing day if they verbal elsewhere. Perhaps recently buoyed by flipping Cooper Davis, Jerzahn Newton, and Tre'Vonn Riggins in December.

Chukwuwumba on May 4, 2020 @ 09:11 AM

Timing part makes sense. Commit can sign right away, done deal. With verbal have to wait months before signed, possibly. Still not sure about the other stuff. Want the recruits to visit, get to know them...but not important for transfers. So it’s not about this? It’s about delaying the timing to get closer to signing?

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