Saturday, December 10, 2011

Marking the Beginning of the Thomas Era

Friday afternoon, new Illinois AD Mike Thomas introduced his first major hire, and gave Illini Nation a glimpse of the direction he plans to take our athletics. In my opinion, the selection of Tim Beckman is the first test for Thomas.

Coach Tim Beckman has to have 46 years of coaching experience, as his dad was a football coach. He has a strong list of mentors, including the new Ohio State football coach, and most importantly, he engineered a dramatic program turnaround for the Toledo Rockets in just three years. Beckman describes himself as intense and competitive, but also says he values a family atmosphere and trust. Those priorities sound like a continuation of the current Illini program claims, as many players cite the family atmosphere as the reason they chose to play in Champaign.

Beckman appears to be a good choice to lead the Illini. Much like Michigan's Brady Hoke, he is an up-and-coming coach who has proven successful in a lesser FBS conference. The Rockets, like the Illini, are headed to their second bowl in as many years. The question for Beckman to answer is can he reproduce that success against traditional powerhouse opponents like Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska? But to be honest, a program like Illinois, where expectations are more manageable than, say Penn State, is a good spot for Beckman to prove himself.

So, at this point, it looks like Mike Thomas is off to a solid start. Of course, it will take a few years and a few other hires to see what Thomas will build. In the lesser sports, he's got really strong programs. Illini volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, golf and wrestling have all been very strong programs in recent years. If those coaches stay put and those programs continue to do well, and hires like Beckman prove successful, life as Illini fans will be fun.

Oh, and be sure to cheer on the Illini volleyball team tonight as they take on Florida for the chance to be in the Final Four. Go Illini!

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