Jan 5, 2021

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I don't mind a slow staff rollout. In fact, I quite prefer it. When hiring head coaches, yes, move quickly because other teams are doing the same. When hiring coordinators, especially during bowl season, I'm good with taking some time to see who might become available. Or, at the very least, see who might listen to your pitch once their team's bowl game is complete.

This will sound more harsh than it is, but I kind of wish we would have done this with the offensive coordinator hire. I'm very "a head coach can hire whoever he wants", and I said this when Cubit hired Ryan and Lovie hired Miles, but if we're going to hire a coordinator quickly and pay him $750k or whatever, I prefer that it be a coordinator who has 15 offers from other P5 programs. Shoot for the moon for a few weeks and then maybe settle on your guy.

Which is what seems to be the case with the rest of the hires. As I wrote in the Area Of Concentration post last week, it seemed like Bielema's first step was the secure the run game he wanted. A coordinator was named, an offensive line coach was named, three offensive linemen declared that they were returning and one offensive lineman declared for the draft.

The next step in the rollout happened yesterday with the strength coach and "Chief Of Staff" being named. I don't mind these positions being filled before some of the assistant jobs. Especially a "Chief Of Staff" position. Some thoughts on that:

Every college program has an Ops guy. That person is the coach's right hand man. If there's a thunderstorm on its way and practice is going to have to move to the indoor facility, it's the ops guy who is coordinating that. Travel plans, ball-on-a-stick is broken, the busses taking the team to the Beef House in Covington, IN on the way to the Purdue game don't have wifi - all of that falls to the Ops guy. Tim Knox has been that guy for both Tim Beckman and Lovie Smith and yesterday's announcement of Mark Taurisani as Chief Of Staff said that Knox will remain in that ops role.

So what will the Chief Of Staff do? There's thousands of duties that will be divided between Knox and Taurisani. I'm guessing that Taurisani's duties will be more on the "program management" side. And that includes roster management.

The head coach asks a question in a meeting: "do we have enough outside linebackers to run this new scheme?". They all decide that they don't. They turn to the Chief Of Staff. He's already on it. "We brought in 23 freshmen last year so we have two open spots in that class - we can backdate two of the five early enrollees in this class and that will open up two spots to go out and grab some transfer linebackers. Also, I went through the transfer portal this morning with our recruiting staff and here are the 7 best linebackers available". That's what I mean by "roster management". Most of that stuff falls to the recruiting staff, but the guy who is the liaison between everyone and the head coach: the Chief Of Staff.

(I swear to you that I wrote the above this morning and only a few hours later, while I was at a real estate closing, NC State linebacker transfer Calvin Hart committed to Illinois. It's like I PREDICT the FUTURE. Also, now that I'm sitting down to complete this post, it's announced that Cory Patterson will return. I have a lot to write about.)

Maybe the best way to do this is to list the staff rollout in order.

Tank Wright Named Strength Coach

I know a lot of people were pulling for Lou Hernandez to return, but I usually prefer that a head coach brings in his own strength coach. That line of communication (between head coach and strength coach) is very important. I'll use Seth Coleman as my example here.

Coleman will be a third-year player next fall. He arrived very skinny but with the frame to bulk up and play defensive end. Bret Bielema will hire a defensive coordinator soon, and they will sit down and watch film of Coleman from last year. And then they will take their scheme and say "we're gonna run the 3-4, so we need a ROLB (right outside linebacker), and Coleman would be perfect, so let's actually get him to drop five pounds from where he was last year and add some speed".

Tank Wright then has his marching orders. He needs to get Coleman lean and mean. Wright gets with the nutrition staff, the strength staff, and they all develop a plan for Coleman between now and Dublin to get him at the size/speed they want.

OR, they decide Coleman makes a better strongside defensive end. They think his frame can handle 23 more lbs. So now it's time to bulk. Wright and the nutrition staff develop a plan to add 23 lbs before Dublin. He doesn't need to get lean and mean - he needs to get big.

That same thing will play out for every single player. Here's the roster, here's the new scheme, here's where we see this player fitting, here's the weight we need him at. Tank, get to work.

Mark Taurisani Named Chief Of Staff

Covered above, but it should be noted that this is a new position. And that's a good thing. Tim Knox was Lovie's right hand man, and Knox will continue in that ops role, but having two guys in that spot allows for a lot more staff coordination. Roster management, staff management, practice location and timing, academic counseling - all of that stuff will probably be split between Knox and Taurisani.

And Taurisani seems fairly experienced at it. He was Bielema's ops guy at Wisconsin and Arkansas. When Bielema got fired at Arkansas, Taurisani went to Michigan to be Harbaugh's ops guy. And now that Bielema is back in college, Taurisani is leaving Michigan for Illinois.

Full disclosure: I formatted the entire paragraph above just to be able to say "leaving Michigan for Illinois".

Cory Patterson Named Running Backs Coach

This was probably the most-watched staff decision. If Patterson left for some other school, it seemed certain that Isaiah Williams would go with him. And it was also possible that Shammond Cooper, James Frenchie, or Reggie Love (or perhaps all of them) would follow as well.

Now, I think most can be expected to stay. Shammond Cooper even quote-tweeted the Patterson news with "and we back". Love will be a very important tailback in the future, Cooper a very important linebacker, Frenchie a very important receiver, and Williams, well, he is The One. So this was probably a big priority for Bret Bielema once he sat down and looked over his roster.

The test for Patterson now: his guys have all passed through Trinity Catholic. So he's the St. Louis recruiter now. Time to go to Lutheran North and CBC and Cardinal Ritter and Hazelwood Central and find some recruits.

OK, did I cover everything?

~re-reads post~

Man, this one is a mess. It's almost like I wrote half of it this morning, then a bunch of things happened, then I wrote half of it this afternoon. Disjointed, disorganized - I give it a D+.

Some Chief Of Staff I'd be.


MinnIllini on January 5, 2021 @ 09:45 PM

If the rest of the staff is a slow rollout maybe that suggests he knew exactly who he wanted as OC and got him right away.

IllinoisGD02 on January 6, 2021 @ 06:36 AM

This is my thought (hope) as well. Especially after reading Peterson's story and how his head coach came into the office and said "You better not be going to Illinois!" when he hadn't even heard that Bielema was hired yet.

MinnIllini on January 6, 2021 @ 11:53 AM

Oh man I missed that part of the story. Even more excited now!

BriCrozier on January 5, 2021 @ 11:19 PM

The hope with the quick hires for offensive coordinator, offensive line coach and I would argue even the strength coach is essentially this - Bret Bielema has been waiting a couple years to get another college head coaching job, and in that time Bielema thought about what he did right and what he did wrong during his previous jobs. As a result of that thought process, Bielema decided that offense has become more and more important to success in college football, so he first decided upon exactly what kind of offense he wanted to run and then started to go through his mental/real Rolodex to decide upon the coaches he felt could build that exact offense. Once Bielema was hired by Illinois, he then quickly hired those coaches to execute that vision without delay. This isn't to say that defense and special teams lacks importance, in fact I would argue the special teams coordinator is really important because we have some good specialists and that element could win Illinois a game or two in 2021 and/or 2022 that they normally might lose, but Bielema did not want to get "beat" by other programs hiring and/or promoting the offensive guys he really wanted.

DB50 on January 6, 2021 @ 09:13 AM

I totally agree.

thegoah on January 5, 2021 @ 11:26 PM

The ops/chief of staff stuff is some pretty inside baseball—but pretty important. Quick question about their roles:

Let’s say there was an emergency situation in which mandolin strings needed to be located, say, in the middle of Austin. Which one of them—Knox or Taurisani—would do that job?

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