Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Welcome, Tim Beckman

Dear Coach Beckman,
Welcome to the University of Illinois! We look forward to what you will bring to Illini football. I'm sure you've done your research, and you have a pretty good idea of what you are getting into, but here are a few notes to keep in mind as you move to Champaign-Urbana and get to know your new university and conference.

You are moving to a college town in the middle of the prairie. It's flat, often windy, hot and muggy in the summer, and cold and icy in the winter. But we deal with it, and you will, too. Remember, variety is the spice of life. ;)

Memorial Stadium is a source of pride, and we think it is beautiful. It was renovated a few years ago, so that you have a boisterous student section in the north end zone, provided your team is competitive. Otherwise they will take off after the Marching Illini halftime show. (That's what we did the season I was a student watching an 0-11 season.) The stadium is across the street from another Illini treasure - Assembly Hall. But just on the other side of that, you will find the South Farms. Ag is an important industry in Illinois, and that is reflected at our premier land grand university (see: The Morrow Plots and the underground undergrad library). So when the wind blows from the south, and you catch the scent of the South Farms as you practice, make sure your players realize that's part of what makes their school unique.

It will take your family a couple hours to get to a major urban area for high-end shopping, culture and professional sports, but when you go, you have your choice of Chicago, St. Louis and Indy. We like to have players from the first two areas, as we consider them local, and we would love to play an extra game in the third area at the end of the regular season.

Speaking of Chicago, a healthy portion of your student body is from that general area. Ties to Chicago are strong, and the Bears borrowed their team colors from the Illini. Please respect that. You also need to pay just enough attention to baseball to know that the Cubs/Cards rivalry is a big deal in downstate Illinois, even though one team just won another World Series and the other team hasn't for a few years (100+, if you want to be technical).

We are the Fighting Illini. We have a wonderful tradition at football games - the Three-in-One. We used to have the Chief dance officially there, but since the NCAA and people with too much free time on their hands had a fit, the Chief dance now happens unofficially. But those of the alumni who care passionately about our athletics love the Chief. Be sure to research that tradition and be able to talk to us about that intelligently. That will make you a more popular guest speaker at fundraisers.

Your alumni base is strong. We love our team, but we also love to have something to be excited about, and that's been inconsistent from the football program lately. We like to wear that obnoxious orange color that really stands out. It should now be your favorite color. And your family should learn to love it, too. We will go to bowl games and spend our money. We are partial to Pasadena, though we don't get to go very often. Get us into contention for New Year's Day in SoCal or Florida on a regular basis, and we will be very supportive.

About our team...they looked really good at the beginning of the year. But in the past few years, they've been caught by the pull of a season's momentum. A big win propels them forward, but a tough loss gets into their heads and triggers a downward spiral that seemingly can't be stopped (see: seasons following the Rose Bowl appearance, 2011 Ohio State game). As head coach, you are responsible for breaking this trend.

And for recruiting. We've enjoyed getting some impressive talent from other parts of the country. You have your work cut out for you, convincing 17- and 18-year-old boys that they want to grow into men at the University of Illinois (see: above - it is in the middle of nowhere). But it can be done, as there are a handful of Illini in the NFL. This will be critical to your success.

You have a defensive background. Have you seen what Vic has done with our defense in recent years? We're pretty good on that side of the ball. Please don't let the boys slip backward there. Now on the offensive side, that's another story. We've been inconsistent. We have lots of firepower, but sometimes we've been anemic. Since that's not your strength, please be sure to bring in someone who can build an offense that can score. In the Big Ten.

Yes, welcome to the Big Ten, as well. We do know how to count. We are well aware that we have 12 teams, but we Midwesterners are the traditional type that aren't crazy about major change, so we will keep the name Big Ten. It's been an adjustment to accept our divisions and we find the names "Leaders" and "Legends" a bit cheesy.

You've spent time in the SEC, the Big XII and the Big Ten in the past, so you are aware of the different styles of play. We have oodles of proud tradition in the Big Ten, and from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln to Happy Valley in State College, there are lots of tough places to play. But it's been a tumultuous few years in Big Ten football. Lots of losses at Michigan, although Brady Hoke has them back on track. Scandal of epic proportions. Ohio State was a big deal until Penn State made that look almost silly. Please be aware that we really don't want any of those kinds of stories coming out of our football program. Ever. Please follow the rules (even though many of them are cumbersome and ridiculous).

Of course you will be reviewing plenty of tape to get to know your conference opponents. You now will be coaching against one of your former bosses, as Urban Meyer takes over at Ohio State. As Nebraska gets to know the rest of us, they will probably be even tougher to play. Wisconsin breeds O-linemen like nobody's business. Michigan State may be rebuilding a bit as this class graduates, but they've built a strong program, as has Iowa. Northwestern is always a wildcard, and Pat Fitzgerald is doing impressive things with his team. And even the teams that have been weaker in recent years, like Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota, are showing great improvement. You did impressive things at Toledo, and we would like to see you do similar things at Illinois, but the level of competition is a bit different than the MAC -- and the Illini have struggled against MAC teams the past couple years.

And one final note. Your boss is new to us, too. Under our previous AD, we had a reputation for giving coaches time to get their programs in place. We've been patient. We don't know yet if your boss has the same philosophy, and you will be a big part of helping us learn that about him.

Obviously you know you've taken on a big job. And it can be a great job. It's a delight to be part of Illini Nation. We really want to see you succeed. We want cheers of I-L-L I-N-I to resonate from Memorial Stadium. We want to wear our orange with pride. We want to cheer for our team both on and off the field. We want to take vacations over New Year's. We want to embrace you and your family wholeheartedly.

And we will. Just keep in mind that winning, especially a few years down the road, will help.

Again, welcome to the University of Illinois. I hope this helps you get to know us a bit better.
Alma Mater

P.S. Go Illini!

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