Trading Halt

Jan 21, 2021

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I promised myself - PROMISED MYSELF - that I would not buy any stock this time. Internally, I suspended all stock buying and selling. When Lovie was hired, his stock was trading in the single digits and then I purchased a bunch the next day at 55-something. Offloading that stock this December was quite painful, so that's it - I'm not trading anymore. Whoever the new coach will be - I don't care if it's Luke Fickell - I'm suspending all stock purchases.

But with these latest coaching and recruiting moves, I feel like I'm watching Pfizer stock soar and telling myself "I could have bought in a month ago!". I made this promise, and I, I don't know, deleted my online trading account so I couldn't buy coaching stock even if I wanted to, yet here I sit watching it climb. So many fans seem to be buying stock right now and I feel left out. BUT, I learned my lesson (did I?), and I made a promise, and I'm sticking to it.

Besides, this is my job now, so it's better that I don't, uh, have a position in the market. Much better to just observe from the outside (and maybe a little from the inside). I'll always be an optimist, and I'll always have one goal: I want to see the University of Illinois football program return to where it was on November 3rd, 1990 (#5 in the polls, playing #13 Iowa in front of a sold-out stadium). And then I want to see us win that game.

So it's not that I'm going to suddenly turn into a skeptic or something. I'm just saying that a few weeks into Lovie I was "IT'S HAPPENINNNGGGG" and a few weeks into Bielema I'm restricting myself to "really smart move there". And man, I've said that a lot lately. Let's list all the smart moves just in the last week.

Aaron Henry - DB Coach

As I said on the Slack, if he starts a church in Champaign, I'm there every Sunday. I don't care what he's preaching about, I just want to hear him preach. And given that his first offer in the business was to be Team Chaplain at NC State, he just might start that church some day.

If you listened to the podcast I recorded with Coach Bielema and skipped over the first 10 minutes to get to the good stuff, those first 10 minutes were centered around Aaron Henry and the things he said about his relationship with Coach Bielema. He's a passionate guy, which is needed in the world of college football recruiting, so I think he'll be an important hire. Every staff needs the "talker" - the Thad Ward whose energy never stops - and I think Aaron Henry will be that guy on this staff.

Can he improve the secondary? We shall see. I asked him about whether he'd be coaching the full defensive backfield or if he'd split it with DC Ryan Walters and he said Walters would coach the safeties and he'd coach the corners. Corners were maybe the most disappointing position on the 2020 Illini (we thought it would be the strongest position on the team and it.. wasn't). So he'll have a big task ahead of him to fix something that's broken.

But getting a former player (as in, Henry played for Bielema at Wisconsin) to coach for you as well is always great for selling your program. So this seems like a very smart move.

Eddie Smith - DB transfer from Alabama

I went looking for some preliminary info on Smith (was he, like, 4th string and never going to play or was he more "I'm a sophomore stuck behind a sophomore"?). Found this tweet from one of Alabama's games this fall:

Smith didn't record any statistics this season, so I think the answer to that tweet was that the backup free safety got the start. But Eddie Smith did just play in the National Title game. Jordan Proctor was ejected for targeting in the second quarter and Smith was his immediate replacement. I believe Alabama used two different safeties the rest of the game (Smith and someone else).

It's hard to get a read on Smith's situation next season at Bama (I've reached out to some Alabama people for comment which I will include in the LLUOI), but if he was in the official two-deep this season (and played when the starter went out), that gets me 85% of the way there. The safety spot became so dire at the end of the season that Kerby Joseph was moved back to safety (from wide receiver) for the last few games. So while a starter is needed, warm bodies are also welcome.

And just on the surface, "second string at Alabama as a sophomore yet looking at two sophomores and a junior in front of him so he decides to look elsewhere" is much more than a warm body. We always joke that Alabama's second string could beat Illinois, and now we'll have an Alabama second-stringer competing for a starting safety job. My guess is he wins it.

George McDonald - WR Coach and Assistant Head Coach

I'm not sure why this is such a big deal to me, but getting someone from that era feels important to me. George McDonald's first game as an Illini wide receiver (he went by George McDonald-Ashford back then) was the opener in 1995 when we were ranked 25th and were taking on #13 Michigan. After a 15 year run where we were in and out of the rankings (#22 preseason in 1994, #25 preseason in 1995), that loss to Michigan in the opener in '95 was the beginning of the fall. By the end of McDonald's junior year, we had lost 17 games in a row.

But then in his final home game, on Senior Day, we beat Indiana in Champaign for our first home Big Ten win in 763 days. He caught a TD just before halftime to give Illinois all the momentum heading into the locker room (and the Memorial Stadium crowd, small and quiet for two years - was actually energized as the team headed to the locker room).

That carried over to the next year and the 8-4 record (and the blowout bowl win). We don't have to rehash all of that, but I like that McDonald's career spanned what I believe to be the deepest low point in Illini history - a roster so poorly constructed that the new coach lost 19 of his first 22 games. I'm sure you thought games in 2017 (and 2005) were not competitive, and there were some really low moments, but I don't think anything felt more helpless than October 1997. We lost all four conference games that month and not one game was even close. 41-6, 31-7, 48-3, 23-6.

When George McDonald verballed to Illinois, though, the roster John Mackovic had assembled was doing quite well in Lou Tepper's third season. Illinois was ranked at two different times that season and finished the year with a 30-0 bowl win. So when McDonald (from Fort Wayne, Indiana) verballed, he was verballing to a Big Ten team in the conversation. Six bowls the previous seven seasons. The program he was actually joining, though, fell apart under the weight of a roster that had - what was that famous stat again? - 8 quarterbacks (for one spot) and 10 defensive linemen (for four spots).

So I like that there's someone on the staff who saw both the program he was verballing to (six bowls in seven years) as well as the program as it actually was (18 consecutive losses spanning the 1996, 1997, and 1998 seasons). We all know what a massive task it is to turn this thing around, so I like that there's someone on the staff who knows it firsthand. Perhaps it's best put this way:

  • The program George McDonald verballed to could tell him this: from 1988 to 1994, six bowls in seven years.
  • The program George McDonald played for (and now returns to) requires him to face this: from 1995 to 2020, seven bowls in 26 years.

Yes, there are many more encouraging things about adding McDonald to this staff. He's been an offensive coordinator before (at Syracuse). He's recruited at several Power Five programs (Stanford, Miami, Syracuse, and most recently, NC State). Having a former coordinator as your WR coach (and an experienced recruiter as your Assistant Head Coach) - smart move after smart move.

But I think the biggest thing, for me, is his knowledge of the time period when ILLINOIS FOOTBALL became illinois football. That's just the kind of guy who can maybe help pull us out of this dive.

OK, I can feel myself doing it again. If I don't stop myself, I'm five paragraphs away from "IT'S HAPPENINNNGGG". Deep breaths, Robert. Long road ahead.

(I just so, so very badly need this program to turn around, you know?)


kkflex on January 21, 2021 @ 02:16 PM

The best time to be an Illini Football fan is right after the new guy is hired. I am trying to enjoy every single minute of it. on January 24, 2021 @ 03:51 PM

Ha Ha Ha... or LOL... LMAO or whatever. It is truly fun to be optimistic and hopeful...

Indeed, what a glorious time to be a fan. When expectations are on the upswing, and optimism holds sway... Sway, over the eventual sorrow and agony of ultimately repeating the same scenario we have doggedly tried 12 other times since 1960...

Please ! Please ! Can this 13th time finally be it? Damn you Lucy, hold that ball still...

PosterNB12 on January 21, 2021 @ 02:58 PM

Robert, where did you see that Smith played in the championship game? PFF has him as getting zero snaps on defense.

Robert on January 21, 2021 @ 03:24 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Alabama safety Jordan Battle was ejected for targeting in the second quarter of the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T against Ohio State on Monday night.

Battle was flagged during Alabama's 52-24 victory after leading with the crown of his helmet and hitting Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert in the face mask area. The call was confirmed on video review.

Battle started 12 games this season. Eddie Smith replaced him in the game.

ESPN link

PosterNB12 on January 21, 2021 @ 03:38 PM

Not to create a Deuce Spann-like controversy, but per the snap count it was Hellams who came in and not Smith.

PosterNB12 on January 21, 2021 @ 04:13 PM

Also, I watched some of the second half highlights and didn’t see him in the secondary.

Robert on January 21, 2021 @ 05:19 PM

See, now I need to find the Bama blogger who would be all over the story.

BigRedIllini on January 21, 2021 @ 06:20 PM

According to the Alabama team site Eddie Smith participated in 3 games but didn't record any statistics.

illinizeeman on January 21, 2021 @ 03:38 PM

We know

Brave Illini on January 21, 2021 @ 04:14 PM

Great analogy. We now trade crypto currency so why not emoto currency? The new thing.

tgb on January 21, 2021 @ 05:53 PM

Robert, you are a gem. I, like you want the program to be tough as nails, as we were always proud of the effort. From the 64 Rose Bowl when I was 8, to the present, I want teams to worry about playing the beloved. To not be circled on the calendar as a sure win for the opposing team will bring pride to the program. I will always read your post, because your heart is in it.

Douglascountyillinifan on January 22, 2021 @ 09:12 AM

Couldn't agree more. Robert, it is my fervent wish that 5 years from now we'll be coming off a new year's day bowl win, getting ready to welcome another top 20 recruiting class to Champaign, and we can all look back at this post and smile. We deserve something like that. You more than most.

BigRedIllini on January 21, 2021 @ 06:18 PM

Looking at the Alabama website it looks like Eddie Smith participated in 3 games, but didn't record any stats.

DB50 on January 21, 2021 @ 06:40 PM

Still room for you on the bandwagon!

tnovak on January 22, 2021 @ 09:37 AM

Although I understand Robert’s reluctance to fully embrace this football turnaround, we need him to get on board immediately. There are so many positives here. Don’t be afraid. Yes, we’ve all been tortured and burned many times. Our Illini love has not been reciprocated. But this time, it’s going to be different. Here’s why:

BIG TEN games are won in the trenches – especially true with a Bret Bielema coached team. Our OL and DL lines are going to be the strength of the team. The OL returns SO MUCH experience – and time spent playing together is a key element when it comes to offensive line play. Jeresaty replaces Green. Pearl and Slaughter got some nice experience last year – so we’ve got some competent backups. And, most of all, we’ve got Bart Miller ready to whip these guys into a frenzy!

The DL has got to be the deepest we’ve had in years! We’ve got a nice blend of seniors and young talent. I can’t wait to see what Coleman and Newton can do this next year. Rod Perry is a beast. Our second team line of Randolph-Avery-Gay-Woods would make a decent first team – so we’ve got a lot of depth here.

We are going to run the ball well. C. Brown and Epstein are very solid. Love showed a lot of promise. Pleased with the Hayden pickup.

We’ve got some playmakers at tight end. And if someone points out to I. Williams that DeVonta Smith won the Heisman at WR, maybe we have a playmaker at wide receiver.

There is enough talent in the QB room to solve this issue. Tony Petersen has one job – get this right. I’m confident that he will develop the right guy for his offensive vision.

Kicker – Punter – Longsnapper are first class. No worries here.

This coaching staff just kept getting better and better (I think if Petersen had been announced later – after some of the other home runs – that Robert would have been less worried). This is a LEGIT P5 staff. Plenty of experience. Nice blend of younger guys (although the young guys have already paid their dues – not like Lovie’s young guys). Finishing this staff with McDonald and Kane was mind-blowing. The impact that this staff is going to have on the returning players – both from a skill and a motivational aspect – is going to be tremendous.

Bret Bielema was not my first choice as Head Coach. I can already see and admit that I was completely wrong. He’s got a track record of winning in the Big Ten – he knows how to do it. But, most impressively, he’s doing all the right things – and right from the start. Reaching out to the Illinois HS coaches, reaching out to the alumni, giving Robert the first exclusive interview! He’s got some charisma and is saying all the right things. He’s checking all the important boxes.

Recruiting is going to improve rapidly. This staff is going to get after it – in fact, they already have shown that. Locking in those returning players was huge (Kramer, Lowe, Perry, Adams, etc.) The re-recruitment of Owen Carney showed that these coaches know what they need to do and they know how to do it. The transfer market is going to be crazy and Coach B and the staff are going to use that to shore up a few weak areas we have (see Eddie Smith). And the feedback from high school recruits has already been VERY positive. It’s just a matter of time – clearly Bielema knows how this works and he’s already reaching out in ways that Lovie never did.

It’s all here for you Robert. Yes, your heart has been broken too many times. It’s been painful and you don’t want to get hurt again. You don’t want to be wrong again. But Lovie was a fantasy – a wishful dream. This is real. Embrace it now!!!

Dr. Chim Richalds on January 22, 2021 @ 10:03 AM

Honest question, not taking a shot: Did the Lovie experience change your view on the importance of assistant coaches? It feels a bit odd to have been all in on the Lovie experiment working (at least for 2020) when he: a) named himself defensive coordinator, b) hired his unqualified son as a position coach, and c) hired an entire defensive staff with almost no P5 coaching experience, and then turn around and talk about the importance of these great hires Bielema is making

IlliniBobLoblaw on January 22, 2021 @ 10:58 AM

(he went by George McDonald-Ashford back then)

I'm glad Robert said this, because even though I graduated in the late 90's, I simply could not recall a "George McDonald".

Now that I understand who he is, and that he has P5 coordinator experience, and that he was a teammate of Josh Whitman (am I wrong?), I'm kind of surprised there wasn't any chatter during the HC search. Perhaps he would've been considered as a long shot, but that didn't stop the chatter about anyone else. Did we all forget who this guy was because of the name change?

Gary48 on January 24, 2021 @ 09:50 AM

Robert, it is OK to be hopeful. To my eyes, Coach Bielema has made one positive move after another. He has Lovie’s professional aura with about ten times Lovie’s energy. This is a great time to be an Illini football fan

ktal on January 24, 2021 @ 01:40 PM

That Michigan game in '95 was my first game as an Illini. It's kinda surprising that I'm still a fan after all that has happened since...I had no awareness of any prior winning traditions. But maybe this time our persistent support will be rewarded.

Fingers crossed.

Illinir1 on January 24, 2021 @ 07:08 PM

Robert, I get your fatigue and reluctance of buying in to yet another new Illinois Football Head Coach. I was the same way when Bret Bielema was announced, mostly on the basis of his performance at Arkansas. But I've sinced jumped in the pool and can tell you that the water is warm.....come on in!

Mike White was the Head Coach during my first year as a season ticket holder. Bret Bielema will be Illinois' eighth Head Coach hire since I've had season tickets. I was optimistic with the announcement of most of those hires. That definitely was not the case when Lovie was announced (couldn't stand his lack of display of enthusiasm or emotion as the Bears Head Coach). But this one feels different for a multitude of reasons that have been posted by many. I don't know how high Bret Bielema will take us, but he can only go up from where we just came (Lovie's .298 winning percentage (17W - 40L) is the 3rd lowest of Illinois coaches all time (only Valek and Moeller were lower)). I'm betting Coach Bielema will make us proud to care about Illinois Football again.

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