Thursday, January 04, 2007

Just Who Is This Brumby Guy Anyway?

To most, he’s Brumby. That’s his alias on the IlliniBoard-the Internet sports message board he created that focuses on Illini sports. His full name is John Brumbaugh and many would argue he’s done more for Illini fans than just about anyone, including most of our recent football coaches.

But just who is John Brumbaugh? In this special edition of Illinitalk, we present-60 Minutes style-the story behind the man who is quickly becoming a legend in Illini sports circles. Read on as Brumby shares just how the IlliniBoard was born, his thoughts on the Chief as well as Bruce Weber’s recruiting and Ron Zook’s coaching (Note: this interview took place before Illinois' recent two-game losing streak).

Illinitalk: What's your background and affiliation with the University of Illinois? When did you graduate and what was your degree in? Do you have a "day job?" Where do you live?

Brumby: I graduated from the University of Illinois with a BS Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2001. My day job is a web development consultant based out of Chicago, but my job offers me the ability to travel to some of the most beautiful cities in the country, places like Milwaukee, WI, and Savannah, TN.

Illinitalk: When did you start IlliniBoard and where did you get the idea to do so?

Brumby: The first day that IlliniBoard was opened up to the masses was on July 31, 2000. The idea was really nothing spectacular. I was thinking about starting an Illini basketball site because I wanted to learn more on how to actually program a website, so I had a small one that I just messed around with to learn, and then I thought it would be smart to register a domain name for it. I went through the process of finding a domain name, and I tried to first register, but I discovered that it was already registered. I went to the site, and saw that Dave O’Neill had already had the site up and running, and there was a small message board attached to it, so I started to post on that more and more.

Basically from there, IlliniHOOPS failed to exist for Dave’s reasons, and I was already in the process of writing the IlliniBoard, so on July 31, 2000, IlliniBoard was unveiled to the masses as a sort of continuation from IlliniHOOPS. Without the support of Dave O’Neill and Mike Pegram (you probably know him better as Peegs), who initially hosted the message boards through his Sports Midwest site, the IlliniBoard would never have existed.

As far as where the idea came from, there really wasn’t any large epiphany. I wanted to learn more about running web sites and developing since I was thinking of doing that as a career instead of your traditional ECE job. I just wanted to get the experience to see if I actually would enjoy doing this as a career.

From there, the site just continued to gain steam as more and more people were coming to the Internet to follow their favorite sports teams.

Illinitalk: Recently you just split from the Scout network. Tell us a little about that relationship: What led you to "merge" and why did you split off recently?

Brumby: In both instances, the decision to join and to split from Scout were very personal in nature. A little over three years ago when I signed the contract, I was in a personal state of flux with my career, and the best way for me to handle that and still be able to run the IlliniBoard was to ensure that I had someone else that would be able to help me. Scout provided the ability to have that second person helping me in running the site as they already had Kedric Prince running their Illinois site.

At this point in my life, my career is in a much more stable place. I am where I want to be in terms of living (at the time of the initial move to Scout, I was still living in Kansas City), but the IlliniBoard was not quite where I wanted it to be in terms of my vision for the site. I thought the focus on the message boards and in content had gone too much towards in the minutiae of recruiting, and not focusing more on the on-court action.

I have never liked to follow recruiting, but I have even more disdain for it now than I did three years ago. In fact, I am to the point where I don’t really care about what is happening, nor do I follow it until someone commits to Illinois. Then, I will care about their name, and what position they play, and how I think they will fit in with the Illini teams. I thought it was unfair to people that were subscribers to the IlliniBoard that one of the main people who ran the site had a disdain for the piece of information they are looking for the most. So it would not be fair to them for me to continue to run a site that had a key focus on recruiting when I ignore all aspects of it.

Now that I am where I want to be with my career and in my personal life, and with my initial contract running out, I thought it would be a good time to bring the IlliniBoard back under my sole control.

There was nothing that Scout could have done to keep me, and there was nothing they did to run me away. In fact, I still have a great working relationship with many of the people in Scout, and I still consider Kedric Prince a friend. It was just time to make the split because I didn’t think I was holding up my end of the bargain for fans who were visiting the site, and now I think they will have two great Illini sites to visit, all be it with each covering the Illini in a little different manner.

Illinitalk: What are your future plans for the IlliniBoard?

Brumby: The future plans for the IlliniBoard are still in a state of flux right now. I don’t know where exactly the site is going to be headed in the future, but I know it will be in a direction that I think it should go. Will I be right? No one knows right now, but that is a chance I took. I have a few different ideas that I am throwing around in my head for what direction the site can go, but nothing is set in stone.

I think I am going to get back to using the IlliniBoard as a place for me to hone my skills as a web developer, and get back to having fun following Illinois sports. Following Illinois over the last two years has become more of a job than something I have fun doing, and that is never what I want Illinois sports to become for me. I have a day job, and if Illini athletics ever became a job to me, I would lose my one great releases.

The IlliniBoard itself has changed as I have changed, and it will continue to evolve throughout the years. Hopefully I will be able to keep it close to the vision that I have for how a web site should be run.

In terms of the content of the site, the only real thing that I control is what articles I am able to post on the front page. I don’t know which direction that will head in, but I think now I will let my cynical personality come out a little more when I am writing, and use more dry humor as I discuss the Fighting Illini sports teams. I did that a few times in some articles recently (before the split from Scout), and I there were some people that really liked them, and some people that really hated them. I had the most fun writing those articles, so items like that is probably where I will spend the most time.

In terms of honing my skills as a web developer, expect me to use the IlliniBoard to figure out how to do some things that I may not be able to use at work right away, but I want to learn what how to do them in case I need to for my “real job.” I am not quite sure what exactly these new ideas will be, but I have thought a lot about social news, and how to make the Daily News Links into a combination of what they are today with all the great links that posters provide on the fan forums every day.

Illinitalk: Internet message boards that focus on college athletics seem to be the hottest on the Web. What kind of affect have they had on college sports? Specifically, what impact do you think the IlliniBoard has had on Illinois athletics?

Brumby: When it comes to what effect Internet message boards have on college sports, I think people claim they have more effect than they actually do. Internet message boards are this decade’s version of sports talk radio, something that has been created to give the fans a way to voice their pleasure or displeasure in a public setting. The same things people were saying at their local bars or just while watching the games, they are now posting on the Internet.

Of course, no one involved in athletics actually likes the voice of the fan; it is just something they have to put up with to make sports a profitable enterprise. The traditional media (print and now radio) is also not happy about Internet message boards because they are taking away their influence as the sole source for sports information, thus they try to play Internet message boards as the bad guy when actually all they are doing is enhancing their coverage by broadening the audience who reads or listens to their opinions and then comments on it.

In terms of direct relationship with IlliniBoard and Illinois athletics, I think it has had an overall positive impact. I mean, when you look back at how many Illini fans congregate on the message boards, and how many of those fans have been able to get to Illinois games on the road thanks to people posting on the message boards, the impact is positive. I think people keep saying things are negative, but with the bad that everyone sees, also comes a lot of good people ignore.

I have had people e-mail me telling me that the IlliniBoard has reinvigorated their passion in Illinois sports. But, I have also had people e-mail me telling me that the IlliniBoard is why they hate Illinois fans, so it goes both ways, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Illinitalk: How much time do you spend working on the IlliniBoard each week? Do you make money off of it?

Brumby: Honestly, more than I would like to admit. If I am sitting around at home, I am probably doing something related to the IlliniBoard, be it either reading the message board, writing some dopey article, or developing.

Yes, I have made money off the IlliniBoard while it was with the Scout network thanks to the way they handled the premium subscription model, but my primary source of income is my day job.

Illinitalk: In addition to message boards, sports blogs have become hot on the Web lately as well. What impact do you think they've had in the sports world?

Brumby: Blogs are much like message boards and sports talk radio in that they give the fan another way to get their voice heard. Unless the blog is something like Deadspin (run by Illinois graduate Will Leitch), I don’t think it has any real impact on anything more than any other way fans can discuss things.

I mean without Deadspin, who would know that Kyle Orton is a sloppy drunk who likes Jack Daniels and Iowa City coeds, and who would know the immortal phrase, “You’re with me Leather”? These are the important things that impact my daily life, and I hope they impact the daily life of everyone else, too. A world without Carl Monday is not a world I want to live in.

Though if you want to say that they have an impact, the one place they do have an impact is removing that extra layer of security that newspapers and large sports talk radio stations have about spreading rumors that could be potentially harmful to the people involved. Despite my liking to read the crazy rumors about what is happening around the country with sports players, I don’t think removing that extra layer of security is a good thing for the athletes and coaches. Just look at what happened to the personal lives of both Jerome Bettis and Nick Anderson when the traditional media jumped on false accusations against them. Now, you have bloggers all over the world posting rumors about people because they can, and while most of them are benign, there can be that one that will tarnish someone’s reputation for the rest of their lives.

Illinitalk: What do you think about the future of sports blogs? Specifically regarding Illinois sports, what would you like to see from blogs like Illinitalk?

Brumby: The future of sports blogs is whatever the contributors want to make it. Some blogs can become valuable sources of information, and other blogs just become more noise that people have to filter through.

What would I like to see from blogs? Personally, I like finding different viewpoints that are interesting and provide me with a different way to follow the sports teams that I love. The “blogs” I read all the time are Desipio (Cubs / Bears), Goat Riders of the Apocalypse (Cubs), and then general places like Kissing Suzy Kolber and Mark Cuban’s blog, not to forget Deadspin either. They provide me with a different viewpoint on what I saw on the court, or what the news of the day is, and that is what I look for from blogs, something that I would not have thought of myself.

So from an Illinois blog, I would like for the person to look at a different aspect of Illinois and become a commentator on it, or provide a new and interesting way to look at what we see on the court every day.

Illinitalk: Let's turn to your thoughts on the current state of play regarding Illini sports:

Weber and Zook seem to have opposite problems with their teams. For football, Zook is proving to be a fantastic recruiter but questions remain about his coaching whereas for basketball, Weber is proving to be a fantastic coach but questions remain about his recruiting. Do you think these are legitimate concerns at this point in their coaching tenures or are they overblown for now?

Brumby: First, let’s look at Weber’s basketball team. Yes, he has had a lot of high profile recruiting misses each year he has been in Champaign, and the talent level of the team has seen a drop from where it was in 2001 – 2004 to now.

Is recruiting a concern? Yes, definitely.

When will it become a concern on the court and in the won / loss record? It already has.

The only way to know for sure how much an impact the recruiting misses will have on the Illini is how successful they are on the court. A great coach can coach up talent only so far.

Bruce Weber walked into an unenviable situation at Illinois, but he is paid a lot of money to deal with it. He came to Illinois at a time where expectations were sky high, and he has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations since the day he took his job with the results on the court. These on-court results have made the Illini fans want to keep the level of winning to that National Championship-caliber level, and right now the recruiting is not at that level.

We just finished the best six-year stretch in Illinois basketball history, but one thing has eluded Illinois fans: a National Championship. Until a coach wins one at Illinois, there will still be people who want and need more, and right now the only thing holding Bruce Weber back from leading Illinois to a National Championship is his ability to land the top recruits.

When it comes to Zook, I definitely have some questions about the overall performance of his coaching staff in regards to on-the-field decisions. Zook and his staff came to Champaign and installed the spread offense on a team that did not have the right personnel, but they are filling the roster with those players now in recruiting.

I still think there will be plays every game that have all of us questioning what Ron Zook or Mike Locksley or Vince Okruch were thinking, but the talent level they are bringing in should be able to overcome many of their tactical mistakes. In football, talent can win you a lot of games, but coaching becomes an issue when teams are evenly matched (see Illinois’ losses to Ohio and Indiana this year).

Yes, the concern with Zook is his coaching ability, but even with that concern, there is no reason why Illinois cannot win seven to eight games every season and end up in a bowl game. Once that happens, then we can start to be concerned that Illinois is just missing out on BCS games instead of not even making the Motor City Bowl.

Illinitalk: Where do you see the basketball team headed this year in terms of the conference and (hopefully) in the tournament? How good do you think they can be as they get back to full strength?

Brumby: This is the worst Illinois basketball team since 1999, but that goes right now to say just how good Illinois has been since then. This team is an NCAA Tournament team due to its coaching and talent on the inside, but the guard play is just not there. Back at full strength, this team should end up finishing third in the Big Ten Conference behind Ohio State and Wisconsin, and should probably make an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament before bowing out.

Illinitalk: Do you think the football team can make it to .500 or better next season and go to a bowl?

Brumby: Yes, but the schedule-makers did not make it an easy path for the Illini. The games against Missouri and at Syracuse are not looking too good for padding a win total in the non-conference season.

Is a bowl game out of the question next year? No, the talent level on the team is enough that Illinois should be playing in some sort of bowl game in December. I also think the experience of the additional practice from a bowl game is necessary for this young team. Is spending your Christmas in Detroit anyone’s idea of a good time? No, but the game is just the dessert, as the real benefit to a bowl game is the practice it allows a team to have between the final regular season game and the bowl.

Illinitalk: Who is the best team in college basketball right now in your opinion? Who do you see as the title contenders?

Brumby: The best team in college basketball right now is UCLA. They have proven the most on the court, and Ben Howland is probably the most underrated coach in college basketball. All that guy does is win basketball games. When everyone was focused on the Roy Williams / Bill Self / Bruce Weber coaching change in 2003, they all seemed to ignore that UCLA just hired Howland away from Pittsburgh in what was the start of the renaissance for the UCLA basketball program (Jamie Dixon stepped right in and continued building upon the foundation Howland left at Pittsburgh).

The other contenders for the National Title this year in college basketball are the obvious names: Florida, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio State, and Pittsburgh. Some of the sleeper candidates that could make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament are young and athletic teams like Georgia Tech (the Final Four is in Atlanta this year) and Texas. To make this a round list of eight teams that can win the National Championship, let me throw in Arizona.

Illinitalk: What are your thoughts on the issues surrounding Chief Illiniwek?

Brumby: I think the whole Chief Illiniwek debate has created a black cloud over the university itself, and brings down the school as a whole. I know many people love Chief Illiniwek, and I know many people hate him, but I think the issue should be around the betterment of the University.

I love the university more than I do the Chief, and if improving the University of Illinois means removing the Chief, then I am all for it. I think the University of Illinois’ Board of Trustees backed themselves into a corner that now has them either having to vote to keep or remove the Chief in a manner that will make one side extremely unhappy. The solution to this “debate” could have been a win-win situation many years ago instead of burying its head in the sand to the issue by having years and years of exploratory meetings on the impacts of the Chief.

The bottom line now with the situation is its time for the Chief to be retired, Illinois to move on past this whole debate, clearing away one of the biggest black clouds surrounding the Champaign campus right now.

And without the Chief, that means Illinois can bring in the one true and right mascot to lead us into the future, Illie!

Illinitalk: Who is your favorite Illini basketball player of all-time? Football?

Brumby: My favorite Illini basketball player of all-time is Frank Williams. I don’t really have a favorite football player of all-time outside of Walter Payton.

Illinitalk: What is your favorite Illini sports memory?

Brumby: It’s cliché, but beating Arizona in the Elite Eight game in Chicago, and then all of the fun that was had later that night after the game just drinking in a bar hanging out with my friends.

Illinitalk: What is your favorite non-Illini related hobby?

Brumby: Watching sports in general. I don’t care who is on, and what teams are playing, but I am always watching sports, preferably basketball.

Illinitalk: Do you think the Bears will win the Super Bowl?

Brumby: No, I think right now they have the best chance in the NFC to get to the Super Bowl, but I don’t think there is a team as good as the San Diego Chargers. Now, luckily for everyone involved, the Chargers are coached by Marty Schottenheimer, and his teams have a reputation for choking in the playoffs more than any other. If the Chargers didn’t have the Marty factor going against them, I would have them as a sure-fire-lock to win the Super Bowl, but since they do, well, who knows who is going to win.

My cynical nature just doesn’t allow me to say the Bears will be the team to win because, well, they are the Bears.

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