Do Not Disturb

Oct 06, 2019

I watched the fourth quarter on my phone. I was headed to a cookout/bonfire this evening, so my wife drove and I watched the rest of the game (for some reason). The app wasn't working at first, and my team was losing, and I still wanted to watch, and I kept getting texts and Twitter notifications, and the game kept freezing while I really wanted to see what Matt Robinson could do, and I just reached that point where I wanted to lower the window and toss the phone out on the interstate.

So I went with the other option: Do Not Disturb. And it was Do No Disturb Always, not just Do Not Disturb Lock Screen. No texts, no Twitter notifications, no score updates, no nothing. Just me, watching a game, mourning. I watched quietly, put my phone in my pocket, and left it there for the next five hours with Do Not Disturb turned on.

Because what am I going to say? How do I respond to my son's "sorry dad"? What words can I come up with to describe what I'm seeing? I stand by my "this is the most talented Illini team since 2011", which means there's only one answer: we might be seeing the worst-coached Illini team of our lifetimes. Worse than the Paul Schudel offense in 1995/96, worse than the 2012 debacle, worse than Gary Moeller. How is this even possible?

Yards were 487 to 248? Someone explain this to me. Last year, we out-gain Minnesota 646 to 438 in a 55-31 win. We then return the same tailback, four of five offensive linemen, the tight end, all receivers but one (Sam Mays), and drop from 646 to 248? How? It's not just AJ Bush. It's not Brandon Peters getting hurt. How does the run game go from 431 yards to 91? THREE OFFENSIVE POINTS? HOW???

And we're now in game 41 under Lovie - the guy whose defense put the Rams back in the Super Bowl, which led to him getting the Bears job, which led to him getting the Bears to the Super Bowl because of his defense - and we give up 332 rushing yards? With an experienced defense that no longer has any youth excuses? How? Minnesota had 92 yards rushing last week against Purdue (and Purdue's defense is bad) and then 332 today? I don't understand how it's even possible for the numbers to look like this.

Like, these are legitimate questions. I get the #stance of "because Lovie sucks, that's how", but that doesn't help answer my questions. 55 offensive points, most of the team returns, 3 offensive points. Someone explain how it's possible to get that much worse (with only a quarterback change, and we're not talking some all-conference quarterback) in only eight games.

The defense I can understand on the "because Lovie sucks, that's how" scale. But the offensive regression I cannot understand. We got two defensive touchdowns, fell on all three fumbles we put on the turf while grabbing the one fumble Minnesota dropped, and lost by 23.

Yes, I predicted 41-17 and it was 40-17, so you can say "hey Robert isn't this what you expected?", and that's true. But had you told me of the two defensive touchdowns and every bouncing fumble skipping our way I would have changed that prediction in a heartbeat. To get all of the fortune in the game and still lose 40-17, man, that's a hard pill to swallow. I expected us to look flat and uninspired. I didn't expect 3 offensive points.

Which is why I put my phone on Do Not Disturb. I have no answers. Not for people texting me, not for people @-ing me. I pored over every inch of this team in the preview and stand by my evaluations of the players. I even stand by my prediction of 7-5. Top-50 talent, top-30 experience, 18 starters back. 90% of college coaches win at least six games with that lead-in.

10% don't.

+ On the way home from the bonfire I laughed out loud and my wife said "what?" and I said "Illinois football thing" and she said "no tell me" and I said "I put the date of next week's game in my Twitter bio three and half years ago and THIS is the lead-in to that game". I mean, I hate it, but could it be more perfect? Long before Lovie is hired I promote a long-term rebuild. I supported "play 22 freshmen" in 2017. I say all kinds of crazy things like "the next 25 games we're not going to learn anything since we're going to young but it will pay off in 2019 and 2020". I keep October 12, 2019 in my Twitter bio for more than 1,000 days. I've called my shot - this is when Illinois football will demand that the world take it seriously.

And now we're going to lose 34-0 to Michigan. Like, it could be uglier than that. This is a baseball player calling his shot and then not only striking out but injuring his back swinging at strike three. I hope you all point and laugh.

+ For his first game, I thought Matt Robinson played well. Definitely gave the offense a different dimension with his legs. If the running game could have done anything, I think we might have seen the offense open up a little bit for a few scores. But without that, Robinson was left to make plays with his arm, and while it was admirable for a "first non-garbage time game with mist in the air and a wet ball" performance, it's not a thing that can move the ball consistently in the Big Ten right now.

And the drops, my God the drops. I get that a wet ball is hard to catch (and throw), but with those gloves, these drops just cannot happen. I think we saw a lot of Donny Navarro today mostly because he never drops the ball (and he almost made a spectacular catch). Gotta catch the ball or you can't be on the field.

+ I should back away from what I said above about the players performing as I expected when I wrote the preview. There are many players on the defense who just aren't there.

LIke, I really, REALLY hyped Quan Martin, and his play just hasn't been there (which is why he lost his starting spot to a true freshman today). I saw Hobbs' name everywhere this summer, from national interviews to Big Ten Media Day, and he hasn't lived up to that. And the safety play has been way below what I expected.

On some of those, though, I don't really think it's the talent. I think you can take Adams, Brown, Joseph, and Ware and build a solid safety rotation. I think they're much more talented than, say, the 2013 safeties. But the defense is nowhere to be found, so we're back to the coaching.

I should just go to bed. It's almost midnight and I'm exhausted. I don't think I'm going to go back and proofread this one, so, sorry for the typos. But I just don't have any energy left. I cannot think about the failures of this team anymore. I feel like turning off my phone, climbing into bed, and ignoring the world for a week.

Do not disturb.


ktal on October 06 @ 12:44 AM CDT

Fans of Iowa are saying they have a great coordinator going completely to waste because HC Kirk Impossiblebuyout does things his own way, no matter how often it fails. Maybe Josh should hire that coordinator to be a HC here.

I'm astonished that Lovie has failed. Good process doesn't generate this kind of result unless something something is WAAYYYYY out of whack. Usually it's the simple matter that the process being followed, isn't actually good..

I cannot believe Lovie has failed.

But Lovie has clearly failed.

And I'm taking a break from the Illini.

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 02:08 AM CDT

Turns out Akron is crap. UConn is terrible. Eastern Michigan has regressed from last season. And Nebraska is not the team preseason prognosticators thought they might be.

6-6 was there for the taking. And we will stumble to 3 wins. With the Dec signing period and an empty class, my guess is that Josh pulls the trigger after Wisconsin rushes fur 409+ yards against our D.

Joe Edge on October 06 @ 11:33 AM CDT

Honestly ? I respect your opinion GHD, but I'm a little astonished by this one. 'Josh pulls the trigger after Wisconsin rushes (for) 409+ yards against our D' ? ? ? With the history of RG being JW's mentor / leadership model, I find it hard to believe that he'd pull the plug until after the season. Possible of course, but I'd be shocked (pleasantly so)...

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 11:42 AM CDT

Rules have changed. If the signing period was in Feb, Josh would certainly wait until the end of the season to fire Lovie. But with most recruits now signing in Dec, we have to get a new coach in place soon enough to assemble some kind of a class.

Joe Edge on October 06 @ 12:40 PM CDT

Didn't know that... Rutgers firing Ash now makes more sense. lol...

Yet, with Lovie being both HC and DC and son Miles on staff, wouldn't this present a MAJOR roadblock to that decision ? WHO would run the defense? Not that it's been very successful anyway and probably wouldn't matter, but still, you have to have SOMEONE to give the players instructions....

I get that Rod Smith would run the offense, like he's been doing, but there's a lot to consider on the other side of the ball... And I think with the obstacles in place (Not Ideal), it wouldn't be prudent for JW to pull the plug yet... Would certainly make a statement tho.... lol.

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 04:08 PM CDT

Rod Smith would be the interim HC. Gil Byrd would be promoted to interim DC. Promote grad assistants Carson Hall and Brent Jackson (both are as qualified than Miles) into assistant roles.

I don't think Josh will have a choice. We are likely to see the team give up going forward, and things are going to get very ugly.

Joe Edge on October 06 @ 04:12 PM CDT

This: ' We are likely to see the team give up going forward, and things are going to get very ugly. ' ... is kind of my thinking also, and what I am most afraid of....

HiggsBoson on October 07 @ 05:04 PM CDT

Gil Byrd is part of the problem, not the solution. The areas he coaches have gotten much worse since he arrived.

Miles Smith shouldn't even be on campus, never mind on the staff as an assistant.

And what the heck did Lovie do to kill the offense and running game? Well, other than hiring an incompetent as OL coach.

Gary48 on October 06 @ 12:36 PM CDT

I feel Robert’s pain. We have become another Indiana on the schedule of other BIG 10 programs. We’re good for a few plays in each game, but a guaranteed W on their schedule. Illinois football should not be that! I like Lovie as a person but he has not delivered what he promised and in fact has regressed. There must a young, proven coach out there that can bring Illinois back to a relevant program again.

Joe Edge on October 06 @ 12:45 PM CDT

The illusive 'young, proven coach to bring Illinois back' .... Often sought, rarely found... has been on our minds since M.White was forced out....

Illinimac68 on October 07 @ 07:46 AM CDT

We found Mackovic, the last coach to leave on his own terms. He willed the job to Tepper and the rest is history. Like the bubonic plague is history.

mrmill on October 07 @ 04:37 PM CDT

there are plenty of them - we just never find them. Fleck and Brohm were there for the taking. The mistake we always make - is spending too much time on the homerun we always miss (sumelin 6 years ago, most likely the Cincy guy this year).

HiggsBoson on October 07 @ 04:57 PM CDT

Who's going to pay the huge buyout that Josh Whitman has got us stuck with? More likely, IMO, that Lovie is back next year regardless of record, and even possible that Whitman gives him an extension.

For what it's worth, Lovie was 89-87 in the NFL and 11-30 at Illinois for an overall losing record of 100-117 as a head coach. And I don't see that improving.

Illinimac68 on October 07 @ 06:03 PM CDT

Not that huge. And unless Lovie beats Michigan, Michigan State or Iowa and somehow gets to 6 wins there won't be an extension.

Illinimac68 on October 07 @ 05:58 PM CDT

I think it's been expected from the beginning of the year Wisconsin will have no trouble with Illinois. Since we don't play Ohio State, Wisconsin is the most formidable opponent is our schedule. Losing to Rutgers or Purdue, especially if it's a blowout, might well convince Whitman to pull the trigger before year's end.

Dr. Chim Richalds on October 06 @ 02:26 AM CDT

I love this blog and I love your dedication to the team and these players. But at a certain point, this is 3 straight coaches where you’ve preached that we couldn’t learn anything from their first 2-3 years (Beckman, Groce, Lovie), and each has turned out really poorly. I’m genuinely curious, does the way things have played out change your philosophy on that? It seems like there’s a lack of Bayesian updating. There were a lot of signs that Lovie was an awful college coach before this season, and it seems like those have been ignored in this blog. I think that’s driving a lot of why you’re crushed and other members of the fanbase saw this coming. To summarize, it’s just always struck me as odd to take the approach that you can learn zero things about a coach through 3 years of coaching, so I’d be interested to here a defense of that thesis that defends some of Lovie’s questionable decisions, rather than falling back solely on an “experience is all that matters, coaching doesn’t” thesis

Robert on October 06 @ 09:38 AM CDT

Absolutely a fair question. And my answer probably won’t be satisfying.

First off, I think you’ve misinterpreted a little bit. It’s not that “coaching doesn’t matter”. I’ve simply maintained that “get old, stay old” is the biggest piece to building a program. Chip Kelly coaching an old team is a lot different from Chip Kelly coaching a young team.

But you’re right. With Groce, Beckman, and Lovie (and Underwood) I’ve played this same “hold... hold...” game to zero results. Yet I don’t really see myself changing? After Cubit was extended, I said that we had screwed the next coach until 2020. And I still believe that. It was simply shortened by a year by not allowing Cubit to coach a second season. It’s hard for me to jump over the fence and grab a pitchfork when I’ve gone on the record with such statements. I meant what I said and I said what I meant.

My biggest regret is the injury excuse for Groce in 2015/16. Two years of underwhelming, a third year where he was coaching for his job, and then I called the whole thing off because of the Black/Abrams/Thorne injuries and said that no coach could survive those injuries. I wish I could go back on that one and get a do-over.

But with Beckman (in November 2014 I said he needed to win two of his final three games to bowl and keep his job, he did, I voted to keep), Underwood (I’m ok with 12-21 last year given the roster and schedule but 2019/20 needs to be a 10-seed), and Lovie (“what if it’s BETTER that an Illini coach finally didn’t bowl in Year Three”), I certainly stayed with the long leash. And I don’t see how, given the current state of our programs (bowl-less since 2014, Tourney-less since 2013), I’d do anything different the next time? It’s just how I see rebuilds.

If it helps, I’m taking a big hit for it. People have grown tired of my act. Subscriptions have fallen every single year (well, 2017 to 2018 they remained at the exact same number) as I’ve been on this “hold... hold...” journey. So the free market has spoken: I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 10:35 AM CDT

It should be “Get Talented, Stay Talented” or “Be imaginative, Stay imaginative”. The same untalented (or lowly rated recruits) doing the same basic football is never going to “click” into anything. This team just lost last year 63-0 to Iowa at home. Why would keeping the same players in the same schemes amount to anything change worthy 8 months later?

You clearly don’t know what you are talking about when you keep with this “experience > everything” attitude. Lovie’s first team, which had 30+ seniors, went 3-9 and was just as inept as this current one. And if another coach were coaching them I doubt they’d have been much better. That alone should have told you “older doesn’t always equal better”.

Illinois has mostly low rated, low upside recruits playing basic unimaginative football which gives them no schematic advantage to overcome their talent deficits. This was true the first year of Lovie. It’s the same his fourth year.

My solution to Illinois football is to make Clemson OC Jeff Scott an offer her can’t refuse. He’s been with Dabo from the beginning in building their program. 8 years as Recruiting coordinator and now OC. We need a coach that is going to go get better players than we got, and a coach that plays modern football.

Robert on October 06 @ 11:35 AM CDT

As I've always said, if people feel cheated out of their $24 by paying for my words, I'll always offer refunds. Just email me at robert at illiniboard dot com and I'll send you your money back.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 12:44 PM CDT

Whatever people want to pay you for your thoughts, more power to you.

Like Chim was asking, I just wonder what it will take for you to change your mindset that “same schemes, older players = winning”. Because you wrote above you will continue to believe in that mindset despite it not working with Lovie, and for Beckman your arguments were similar and that team never materialized into something good despite being very experienced, . It went from a young bad team, to old mediocre team. Yes, improvement, but nothing program building or sustaining.

I clearly see you want Illinois to be Wisconsin. But teams like Wisconsin, Iowa, and even Northwestern are far more than “upperclassmen in same schemes”.

Wisconsin has an identity. They churn out NFL lineman and NFL running backs. They have high level talent. You have to recruit that talent and develop it. It’s not as simple as putting Jrs in those spots and being good. Wisconsin usually gets their freshman backs going early in their system. Iowa plays basic pro style football but they also develop their players, have excellent oline/dline and have NFL talent. NW rarely has NFL talent but they somehow put together competitive teams thru grinding possession style close to the vest football. And Thorson/Simean QB advantage since you can see the step back they took this year without a good QB).

Illinois doesn’t have an identity under Lovie Smith and didn’t under Beckman. Our D line has been weak for a long time (and you thought they’d be one of the best in years. What were you seeing to believe that?). Or what were you ignoring (like 63-0, last year’s Maryland, Penn State games?). Our QBs/passing attack isn’t good (and would be hard to build anyway given the wind in Memorial Stadium). We don’t have an identity. The teams we want to be like all do, but it’s far more than just experience

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 04:12 PM CDT

Robert is correct that the only way to dig out of the current hole is hire a good coach and give the TIME to succeed. Unfortunately, that also means giving poor coaches time to fail. I really don't see any way around this problem.

Canary in the coal mine for Lovie was that the guy hanging his hat on D had worse defenses every year at Illinois. The bit of hope last season came from a revived, modestly competent offense.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 05:28 PM CDT

I think a coach should be evaluated every season. I’ve never believed in 5 years no questions asked. 3-9 in 2016 was a failure. No excuses to be that bad. 2017 was going to be bad and was. 2018 should have been a season of substantial improvement. It wasn’t. A proactive AD would have fired Lovie after the Iowa game last year. You can look at on field performance and recruiting to see that nothing was being built.

Illinois problem hasn’t been firing good coaches too early. It’s been retaining bad coaches too long. Turner should have been fired after 2003’s 1-11. Zook should have been fired after 2009’s 3-9. Beckman could have honestly been fired at any point in his tenure and it wouldn’t have been too early. Lovie should have been fired after 63-0. Last year’s attendance would have been enough of a reason in prior eras before the B1G network $$$$ propped up all sunken ships.

It comes down to accountability and expectations. I don’t think Whitman has any. I think he sees progress as building new buildings. Or raising donations. His entire spiel of “we started out so far behind other schools when I started that we can’t begin to keep score until we’ve caught up”. That attitude has lead to the malaise in the football program. Whitman has to know there are other schools with far worse facilities than Illinois, that manage to be far more successful. Whitman’s attitude has lead to the mediocre complacency. He came in talking a big game “we will win”, and now it’s “join the fight”?

I’m at the point where I hope he doesn’t make the next hire. Let Whitman be in charge of fundraising. He’s apparently good at that. Let another guy that has vast connections to the best available coaches and can sell the job (because an AD has to be a great salesman when recruiting coaches) get a shot at turning this thing around.

mwb27 on October 06 @ 10:36 PM CDT

Dr Luke, Do you read anything? You have totally misclassified everything Robert has said over the last 3 years about Lovie. If you disagreed that much, why are you still reading?

You have clearly been waiting for something to happen and proclaim to be the genius. You are definitely the hindsight is 20/20 guy on this board. Let everyone else go out on a limb making predictions and doing actual assessments of the program while you wait to come in and save the day with your ‘expert’ analysis.

Come in with some opinions fine, but to claim you’ve seen this coming all along, and with all the other coaches? Please, give me a break.

Dr Luke on October 07 @ 04:55 PM CDT

Illinois was predicted to finish last in the Big 10 West by every media person. O/U Vegas wins were set at 3.5 or 4.

Everyone but Robert (and Craig) saw lot of this coming.

mwb27 on October 06 @ 10:36 PM CDT

Dr Luke, Do you read anything? You have totally misclassified everything Robert has said over the last 3 years about Lovie. If you disagreed that much, why are you still reading?

You have clearly been waiting for something to happen and proclaim to be the genius. You are definitely the hindsight is 20/20 guy on this board. Let everyone else go out on a limb making predictions and doing actual assessments of the program while you wait to come in and save the day with your ‘expert’ analysis.

Come in with some opinions fine, but to claim you’ve seen this coming all along, and with all the other coaches? Please, give me a break.

Robert on October 06 @ 05:17 PM CDT

I don't think I've ever said that it's "just experience". To me, it's the biggest piece, but of course talent + coaching is part of the equation. I also don't believe I said this year's D-line would be one of the best in years, but I'm willing to eat those words if you can link me to them. I believe my stance was that the DT rotation was good/possibly great but the DE's scared me.

I don't expect people to read everything I've written, but if you're saying I've ignored 63-0, you haven't read anything I've written in the offseason. I brought it up so much that Bear started pointing it out in the comments every time I did it.

If you want an official stance, it's this: I believe we need to hire the right coach and give him time. Rutgers hired Greg Schiano, he went 2-9, 1-11, 5-7, 4-7 his first four years, they kept at it, and he then went 7-5, 11-2, 8-5, 8-5, 9-4. This is not a statement that Lovie can get there if he's given more time - he clearly hasn't hit multiple marks.

Turner and Zook built a team but not a program - since then I've been focused on finding a program (with all the Wisconsin or Iowa identity you mentioned above). I thought we had it in Lovie (run the ball, play defense), which is what makes yesterday so stunning. It's game 41, we can't run the ball, and we can't play defense.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 05:46 PM CDT

Given that we can’t stop the run, do you still believe that the DT rotation are good/great? Or that it will be good/great in 2020? I don’t see any NFL talent there. There’s not a Corey Liguria or Whitney Mercilus in that line rotation. I don’t even think there’s Rob Bain/Smoot/Clements level talent there. They may be older but this is the same group that got ran over by Maryland, Penn State, Iowa last year. At some point, what a team actually does on the field should start to influence your view of what they will be like in the future. This is where your “the next 25 games don’t matter” is false. Every game that is played you can assess progress both team wise and individually. When you are getting 60 balled as Sophs, chances are highly likely if nothing else changes the same group will be bad as seniors.

And yes I know you mentioned 63-0. That’s why I’m surprised you still predicted 7-5 this year. You ignored on field evidence in favor of some math equation in your head of “experience + same systems = winning”. And you cited how 90% of coaches it ends up that way (at least in making a bowl).. But you know, that 90% of coaches making bowls probably never looked as bad as Lovie did in his first 3 seasons collectively. He’s 4-25 in conference for a reason.

Robert on October 06 @ 05:57 PM CDT

Question - do we know each other? You seem to know a lot about me. Just a regular reader who has never commented before? Or do we "know" each other? My spidey senses are tingling.

To your point, I simply go to practice, look at every position group up close, evaluate where they stand vs. former rosters, and make my prediction based on all of the things you've mentioned so far. I'll go to my grave believing that this is a bowl roster (if it's a fourth-year roster). If it's coached to 3-9, we're talking a 99th-percentile bad coaching job, in my opinion.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 07:48 PM CDT

I felt compelled to sign up and respond to your posts when you seemingly double down on your experience argument and surprise of how bad this team still is. To me, it’s just not logical.

When you lose as badly as we did last year to Iowa, Maryland, and Penn State (defensively), and have major QB questions incoming to this season, I just don’t understand how you can ignore all of that and blindly believe the team should be good.

I don’t see this year as a 99% bad coaching job. I see it as a just another normal Lovie Smith year. Do you honestly believe this year (2019) should have been better than 2016? How could believe that? The 2016 team had just as much experience, coming off a better season, and had Wes Lunt at QB. But when that team went 3-9, I didn’t see you saying that was an epic bad coaching job. To me, 2016 was a far more underachievement than this year. This year is just a continuation of what we saw last year.

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 10:26 PM CDT

hmmmm I think everyone agrees that this season is 99% bad coaching. Problem is that it was harder to be more sure last year given the talent/experience deficit. Many good coaches struggle massively their first few years.

I was more pessimistic heading into this season for a few reasons unrelated to previous performance:

  • Hiring Miles was inexcusable. Particularly when the D clearly needed an infusion of fresh ideas. And now you have very inexperienced guys coaching DL, CB and LB.
  • Hiring McClain was questionable.
  • Struggle to land a running QB in the transfer market. I'm a big believer in OC's needing a QB who fits their system. Didn't see that with Peters.

That said, I really couldn't be sure Lovie's team wasn't ready to make the leap. This is about when inexperienced guys become experienced guys and programs can take a leap.

Joe Edge on October 06 @ 12:21 PM CDT

This: 'We need a coach that is going to go get better players than we got, and a coach that plays modern football.'...

Is this a conundrum or more of an incongruous situation? Every losing FB team needs this, and for Illinois it's been mostly impossible to find ever since 1967... We've (mostly) hired coaches who produce 1 or 2 winning seasons in their tenure, and then we fire them and move on only to find the next failure for our cause.

I don't know what it will take to produce a winning football culture at my alma mater - it's NOT my field... What I do know, is that what we've been doing these last 25-30 years hasn't worked... Does JW or ANYONE think it's time to maybe do something DIFFERENT ? ? ?

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 04:33 PM CDT

Does JW or ANYONE think it's time to maybe do something DIFFERENT ? ? ?

Yep. That sounds trite, but hiring Mike White was doing something completely different. No one in the big ten was throwing the ball that way in 1980, no one was recruiting jucos, etc... We couldn't win doing what everyone else did, so we did something completely different. What would be completely different at this point?

On the other hand, the Lovie hire was outside the box. So maybe this time around we hire someone who has a proven ability to coach college football players. Acknowledge that even with the best recruiting, we will not be able to land elite talent consistently. Get someone who has a proven ability to teach and motivate college players. Maybe we should have hired Dino Babers or Fleck, two guys with Illinois ties who were on the table when the interim AD punted on hiring a new coach?

Maybe you go with Jeff Monken who is both completely different and a successful college football coach. But I'm not sure Jeff would want the Illinois football job.

HiggsBoson on October 07 @ 05:01 PM CDT

I have no doubt that Cubit would have gotten six wins and a minor bowl game with that team. Lovie in his arrogance blew the team up like he was going to get better draft choices for losing. Now he's got his own guys and he's still right at 3-9.

Dr. Chim Richalds on October 07 @ 12:01 AM CDT

Responding to this post, but also to a lot of the back and forth below. First, to clarify my original post since it may have come through harsher than I intended, I understand you're getting a lot of criticism right now, and I want to be clear that I just genuinely am curious about the answers because of how much I respect your work (and how much I agree with most of your opinions). This is my favorite site on the internet, and it breaks my heart to hear that subscriptions have continued to decline, especially if you're taking that as an indication that people don't think your product is valuable or think you know what you're talking about. I can't speak for anyone else, but my Occam's Razor guess is that it almost entirely has to do with the team's lack of success or hope. I graduated in 2013, and almost every friend I have from school has completely checked out on Illini sports. Most people really don't enjoy putting time and effort into following teams that never win (the rest of us are a rare breed, and I couldn't pick a better person than you to be our leader).

To the points in your response, here are the things I don't understand and would be interested to hear more about:

I take your point that you understand coaching matters, I was just trying to be concise in the first post and probably oversimplified. It's more that I think that your approach of waiting a few years to evaluate the coach (because of the size of the starting hole, their schemes/recruits/etc.) leads to a theory that we shouldn't evaluate anything until we see that 4th season or so (or when they have upperclassmen, etc. if it's a full rebuild). My view would be that this ignores a lot of relevant information (in-game strategy, hiring decisions, depth chart decisions, explanations of all of the others in press conferences). I think most fans have found a lot of those other things pretty concerning during Lovie's tenure, and you've lightly pointed some out at times as well, so it seems like something you're aware of but think is so ancillary to football success that it didn't factor into your season prediction. Curious why that is.

Overall, I'm less asking about your desire to retain Lovie after last season, and more about the rationale behind the 7-5 prediction this year. A long enough leash to see where things go and give him a chance for his approach to work with his guys makes sense, but that's different than thinking the most likely outcome for this team was a 7-5 year, which is an indication that you thought given all available evidence that his approach was going according to plan. The same goes for the level to which you've been "crushed" by the results this year. If you were saying before the season "hey, this looks pretty iffy, but it's worth seeing this thing out because rebuilds should get X number of years", that would be a different story.

The evidence you cite most often in response to the above is the data on coaches' wins by season. Using only that data ignores a fair amount of context behind win totals, though. I don't expect you or anyone to know the context behind all the other schools' situations each year, but even just comparing to Illini rebuilds, the other ones looked better on most metrics (S&P+ ratings, scoring margin, etc.). You wrote a lot about 63-0 and the other big losses last year, but it seemed reading the season prediction that that didn't really factor into it the final assessment the night before the season.

All of this is really mostly asking whether you think any valuable information can be learned about coaches during the rebuild process (before evaluating them on wins/bowl games), and if the past few experiences in football and basketball would change your line of thinking on that question?

CraigG on October 07 @ 11:36 AM CDT

*It's more that I think that your approach of waiting a few years to evaluate the coach (because of the size of the starting hole, their schemes/recruits/etc.) leads to a theory that we shouldn't evaluate anything until we see that 4th season or so (or when they have upperclassmen, etc. if it's a full rebuild).

There are two ways of looking at this. If the rebuild is a total teardown, then the first two years are bad indicators. I look at coaching in a few lenses, the first is that the coach’s job is to identify, develop and deploy talent for the games they coach. In the first two seasons, a coach spends a large amount of time adapting the schemes they want to run to the personnel they have (Fit schemes to personnel, not personnel to schemes). So, a lot of the odd things you will see on the field is a band aid or placeholder to identify and bring in the right talent, develop it to use in the scheme. There are certain facets of the coaching during the game that are good indicators (clock management for example), but depth charts, playcalls, etc. can be very deceiving early. Most fans were ready to murder Barry Odom in year 1 at Mizzou. He made some changes that are paying dividends now, but if what was seen on the field had been the only factor in deciding Odom’s fate, he would have been canned.

Overall, I'm less asking about your desire to retain Lovie after last season, and more about the rationale behind the 7-5 prediction this year. A long enough leash to see where things go and give him a chance for his approach to work with his guys makes sense, but that's different than thinking the most likely outcome for this team was a 7-5 year, which is an indication that you thought given all available evidence that his approach was going according to plan. The same goes for the level to which you've been "crushed" by the results this year. If you were saying before the season "hey, this looks pretty iffy, but it's worth seeing this thing out because rebuilds should get X number of years", that would be a different story.

Watch a practice with Robert sometime, and it would be pretty easy to answer this. Robert comps everything. So, although I didn’t see camp this year, I’ll assume he sat in camp and comped last year’s personnel with this year’s personnel and decided that athletically Illinois looked much better. The schemes are pretty vanilla in the camp portions open to the press/public, but one would assume that Illinois would make a schematic change to fix last year’s issues. Illinois did make a change, using the SAM LB much more frequently vs. a year ago. The changes simply have not worked. Robert’s 7-5 was on the belief that the talent for the system was id’d, developed, and the scheme was going to right so many wrongs. It has not happened. I went for Illinois to go 5-7 this year, and I’m in the same crushed mindset right now.

Dr. Chim Richalds on October 07 @ 12:19 PM CDT

Thanks for the thoughtful response Craig. I don't know nearly as much as you guys about schemes and systems, so won't pretend to be able to comment on how that system change specifically has failed, but I'm interested to hear why you and Robert would have had that much faith in that scheme change resulting in such a significant jump. Nickerson was the coordinator previously, but Lovie is still a defensive head coach who I think we can assume was heavily involved in designing and implementing the defense the first three years. If he wanted to make that change after year one or year two I'm sure he could have. We also made highly questionable staff hires, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. It just looks to me (from farther away than you and Robert, I acknowledge) like a tremendous amount of faith in a scheme change as the cure-all answer to our defense getting 60-balled multiple times last year and our defensive staff deeply lacking in experience.

Based on Robert's comments and deep concerns during the spring, I was surprised by the 7-5 prediction and level of "crushed"-ness currently. It just doesn't seem so wildly out of left field that this team could go something like 3-9 and continue to not be competitive in several games, given what we had seen in Lovie's first three years. I'm guessing the response to that is mostly that the Peters addition provided a fair amount of hope (and has been underwhelming for everyone's expectations so far), and that the defensive scheme changes plus experience would be enough to be respectable there, but it seems worth considering whether some relevant data was given less weight than it may have deserved.

Dr Luke on October 07 @ 04:54 PM CDT

Craig, I’m sure you know that the Vegas oddsmakers set the O/U on Illinois wins at 3.5 or 4 this year. The Big 10 media unanimously picked Illinois to finish last in the Big 10 west.

I’m wondering what you believed would be vastly different from last season since you say you are crushed by the results. These were some of the losses last year:

Purdue: 46-7 Penn State: 63-24 Iowa: 63-0 Maryland: 63-33

Bringing back the same defense that gave those numbers up, and you were optimistic? Why?

You referenced Robert thinking the team looked better in camp compared to last years team . But there’s a rather large step to make to go from last year’s results to 7-5. IMO, to honestly believe 7-5 would happen you have to completely ignore on field 2018 results. And for people that obsess over football like you and Robert do, I’m not sure how you could.

Robert was definitely the outlier in the sports media predicting 7-5. I think most of the rest of them looked at last year’s results, saw the same team coming back, and thought they’d be bad again. That’s the easiest conventional argument.

CraigG on October 07 @ 09:13 PM CDT

I have three reasons for belief things would improve. The first was simply personnel. Illinois was bringing back an experienced group versed in the defense. Experienced DCs utilize that knowledge to add layers and depth to the scheme. Don Brown at Michigan is a freaking master of it. Lovie - well, I'm crushed. Second, Lovie made a scheme change this year. Illinois was getting into the mold of Iowa, and actually had the athlete necessary to play that overhang LB in Eifler. Lovie has abandoned the change (a stronger C3 scheme) back to a vanilla C2, and doesn't seem to want to revert. I'm crushed. I rarely use the sport media to gauge how I think teams will do. The media consensus this year was Purdue and Nebraska were going to be in it all the way for the West, but really looking at the underbelly of both would have laid waste to those beliefs. Five games was doable, seven requires everything to go right. Robert was feeling his oats and went seven. I went 5. The 3 non-cons were there, Rutgers is on the schedule, and Minnesota, Purdue, and Nebraska are there to be had. Illinois had to pull all of them off to win, but it wasn't impossible. SP+ from Bill Connelly had Illinois at 5.5 wins or so for the season. The third reason was that the advanced stats would have said Illinois was a borderline bowl team. One thing that Connelly stresses is that the strongest indicator and correlation for an improving defense are the stats of the defensive backfield. Tackles, passes defended, etc. returning are the surest indicator of the future success of a defense. The Illini defense was pretty awful last year, but the back four depth was as ideal as you could make it, plus we were adding Beason. And the correlation was just not there. Crushed again. I was probably the least enthusiastic Illini fan on the hiring of Lovie. If you go back and look to what I told Robert in August of Year 1, I said that Lovie's schemes required perfect execution of a very basic scheme. The key was to make the other team make more mistakes. Minnesota's defense is the 3-4 model of this, Iowa's the 4-3 model. Neither are complicated, but both make out-talent or out-execute them. In year 4, Illinois should be there. They are nowhere close. It is easy to see now that the optimism was unfounded, but it was in 1999 as well and then things clicked. And my fandom is so broken that I have to go back to 1999 to find something amazing happen for Illinois that no one should have seen coming.

Dr. Chim Richalds on October 07 @ 10:50 PM CDT

Thanks for the detailed explanation of your thought process - it's much appreciated!

Dr Luke on October 07 @ 11:27 PM CDT

Appreciate your explanation. Certainly 5 wins was not an unreasonable prediction given the schedule. I am still surprised by how crushed you are about no defensive improvement. Like you wrote, we play very basic and need guts to our-talent the opponent or play perfect mistake free football. That’s too high of ambition for our guys. We don’t have Urlacher, Briggs, Brown on that defense. IMO, this scheme with marginal talent will never work in the Big 10. And our talent on defense, tho experienced, is still minimal talented. I don’t see any NFL picks on that side of the ball.

The offense I can understand being disappointed in. The o line and Corbin should be able to run the ball better than they do.

1999 was essentially the emergence of 1 special QB in Kurt Kittner. Nobody in 1998 thought he had the upside that he developed into. Kittner, and 4 NFL WRs (Lewis, Lloyd, Moorehead, Young) covered lot of ills.

That team and era (99-01) def maxed out their potential moreso than perhaps any Illini team

thumpasaurus on October 08 @ 11:38 AM CDT

Well, I can't speak for Craig, but I think that in light of Lovie staking his job and his reputation on the defense by naming himself defensive coordinator, it was fair to expect that he would overhaul the defense to maximize its effectiveness in 2019 with the talent we have available.

Unfortunately, Lovie either had nothing or refused to stick with changes he tried to make in the offseason, going back to what was comfortable in the heat of the moment regardless of its effectiveness.

DB50 on October 06 @ 03:21 AM CDT

Next week we will be attending our annual game, I’ve been doing this since 2007, when we upset Ped U. I’ looking forward to the Michigan game about as much as a root canal!

ATOillini on October 06 @ 06:49 AM CDT

There is no sugar coating what is so obviously a really bad product on the field. The start of the second half was just perfect. MN goes 75 yards in 4 plays. We have a penalty on the ensuing kickoff return. We then have a feeble 3 an out. Game over.

To stare at that ridiculous beard and the stoic expression on the sideline as we continue to be dominated on both sides of the ball is maddening.

Many moons ago on this blog we had “19 Point Plan” and “Joe John”. Unfortunately nothing has substantively changed since.

No bowl, no tourney on October 06 @ 08:35 AM CDT

I keep thinking - two weeks to prepare. They had two weeks to prepare. That makes this drubbing that much worse. That fog cloud of apathy keeps moving into Illini "Fanville"... It might have close to 100% coverage at some point.

IBFan on October 06 @ 10:35 AM CDT

Lots of reasons subscription totals could be down but not sure your thinking is the culprit. I would guess apathy toward the product you are talking about is. So I have been super supportive of Lovie era, the rebuild, the “hold” but after the 5 games this year, even “Mrs. Lovie” as I’ve been called, is starting to pack bags. I agree about the two weeks off, the regression on offense, everything. I’ve painfully rewatched all this years games again, and by again some of them for the 3,4,5 time. The silver linings are small, the wtf are just too many. Their are so many basics these players aren’t doing and what is scary so are the coaches. The blown drives by horrible play calling, trick play debacle instead of just getting first down, 7 step drop pass play instead of 3 or 5 when obvious blitz is coming, screen anyone(?), time mismanaged, sitting on the ball, no corner blitz, safety blitz, etc etc. A travesty on what they’ve done to the running game. Coaches always need to prove how smart they are, Rod meet 2-3 and one of the most pathetic plans/efforts by an Illini offense I can remember.

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 04:13 PM CDT

Yep. From what I can see from the outside, it would seem subscriptions are down across the board for Illini fan sites.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 11:03 AM CDT

Since I can’t edit my other post I will post another one here. I don’t understand how you believe Bill Cubit coaching 1 season in 2015 (and actually proving to be a way better coach than Beckman or Lovie at least in his one season) can be the reason Illinois football should be expected to be terrible till 2019-2020?

How does that make any sense at all? First, we wouldn’t be any worse off had Cubit been coaching these last 4 seasons, the bar is that low. Second, since he was replaced anyway, we only had 1 recruiting class where it severely hampered the new coach. And even that class produced 2 of our best players in Kramer and Corbin.

If PJ Fleck were coaching here (and he could have been had easily), I seriously doubt he’d be blaming Cubit for why the program stinks 3-4 years later. One dud of a recruiting class should never set back a program 4+ years. It’s illogical. This program’s success or failure is completely on the current staff. It ain’t Zook, Beckman, Cubit’s fault we are terrible in 2019. It’s not the administration’s fault either. They invested $$$$$ in this program. Plenty of $$$$$ to expect to win.

The full blame is on Josh Whitman for making a bad hire. Worst ROI in Power 5 history.

Robert on October 06 @ 11:31 AM CDT

I don’t understand how you believe Bill Cubit coaching 1 season in 2015 (and actually proving to be a way better coach than Beckman or Lovie at least in his one season) can be the reason Illinois football should be expected to be terrible till 2019-2020?

That's not what I'm saying. I said (and pretty much every Illini fan said) we were screwed until 2020 when Cubit was extended the morning of the Northwestern game in 2015. I'm not talking about him getting the interim job for 2015. I'm talking about him getting an extension to do it all again in 2016. It effectively punted a recruiting class (Corbin was not part of that class, by the way) and dug the hole deeper.

I don't think anyone disagreed with this on Not Ideal day. There were two options at that time - let the interim AD make the hire (Michigan hired Harbaugh with an interim AD; Baylor hired Rhule with an interim AD), or punt until an AD was in place. We punted. That meant that the 2016 class AND the 2017 class would be recruited by the interim coach. Instead of a patched-together first class for the new coach in 2016, it would be a patched-together first class for the new coach in 2017. His first full class wouldn't be until 2018, which meant that we were (given the condition of the program post-scandal) screwed until 2020.

Whitman fired Cubit and hired Lovie, which meant that the 2017 class wasn't another punt, so I amended to "screwed until 2019". It's now 2019, and we're not winning.

If PJ Fleck were coaching here (and he could have been had easily), I seriously doubt he’d be blaming Cubit for why the program stinks 3-4 years later. One dud of a recruiting class should never set back a program 4+ years.

It's not just "one dud of a recruiting class". It's the condition of the program. Fleck took over a program that had been to five consecutive bowls before he arrived. Illinois has been above-.500 in the Big Ten twice in the last 18 years. You cannot say that Fleck and Lovie took over programs at the exact same spot. PJ Fleck absolutely would have pointed to the lost Cubit class as a reason this rebuild was taking longer than normal.

That said, given what we've seen in Minnesota, Fleck absolutely would have had this program humming by 2019. There were excuses for Lovie up until now; there aren't anymore.

Dr Luke on October 06 @ 12:19 PM CDT

But by your own arguments for keeping Beckman after 2014, you had to believe Lovie was entering a situation that wasn’t as dire as what you now claim it to have been. In Bill Cubit’s interim season, Illinois went 5-7 and was 68 on S&P. They were ranked higher than teams like Kansas State and even 10-3 Northwestern. They returned 30+ seniors the following season off that team.

That’s an ideal situation for a coach to step in, win immediately (if we are to believe your arguments about experience being an X factor) and then recruit off that initial winning season. When Lovie went 3-9 with that group, that should have told you this thing was dead before it even got a chance to get off the ground since you knew 2017 would be terrible given the youth.

I think with Bill Cubit, the thought was to let him coach 2016 and see if he can put together a winner since he was familiar with those players. I think he did a good job in 2015. If he did well in 2016, you extend him and recruiting would be fine (at least Illinois level fine which is never great to begin with). Or maybe he does good and you still fire him because there are more candidates to choose from in Dec 2016 than there was in Feb 2016. Getting the right long-term coach is far more important than 1 or 2 recruiting classes.

The Bill Cubit thing is a scapegoat. Every coach can use up to 25 scholarships each year (and some years sign up to 28) to restock a team, So even if you had 2 dud classes, it should still take the next coach a minimum of 3 years to win. Winning by the 3rd year should be a requirement regardless of any situation a coach inherits.

Look what Rhule is doing at Baylor. Fleck went 1-11 first year at Western Michigan. Didn’t take him 4 more years to turn things.

Robert on October 06 @ 05:48 PM CDT

They returned 30+ seniors the following season off that team.

21, not 30+. Bain, Barton, Brennan, Cazley, Clements, Davis, Frain, Hardee, A. Johnson, Lunt, Mosely, Nickerson, Phillips, President, Reisner, Schmidt, Smoot, Spencer, Svetina, Taylor, White. Plus three walkon seniors (Berg, Grant, Martin).

I get your point, and I'm trying to respond, but I need to rebut exaggerations like that.

That’s an ideal situation for a coach to step in, win immediately (if we are to believe your arguments about experience being an X factor) and then recruit off that initial winning season. When Lovie went 3-9 with that group, that should have told you this thing was dead before it even got a chance to get off the ground since you knew 2017 would be terrible given the youth.

This is probably true. There were people trying to tell me this, and I wouldn't listen. My postscript on that season was similar to Purdue fans after this season: we're down to our third string QB, and that's why we went 3-9 (even though there are other alarms going off). Looks like I hummed my way through our alarms.

The Bill Cubit thing is a scapegoat. Every coach can use up to 25 scholarships each year (and some years sign up to 28) to restock a team, So even if you had 2 dud classes, it should still take the next coach a minimum of 3 years to win. Winning by the 3rd year should be a requirement regardless of any situation a coach inherits.

I could not disagree more. If Cubit was retained and pulled in another class like 2016 in 2017, having two "dud" classes in a row would have been a massive, massive handicap. Especially when you're coming from our starting point. One lost class can be overcome (Minnesota did it, Baylor did it, but they were coming off five and seven consecutive bowls, respectively), but two is a serious hamstring, in my opinion. It's why we were all freaking out when Cubit was extended (perhaps you weren't, but I think most Illini fans were).

Brave Illini on October 07 @ 08:58 AM CDT


As another loyal Illini alum, fan and reader of your writings, I offer a few items. First, I think many people (including me, and maybe you to an extent) have had their observations and opinions about the football team affected by - (1) Josh Whitman appears to be a smart, innovative, energetic AD to whom we have given a lot of credence; and (2) Lovie Smith took the Bears to the Super Bowl and had a lot of positive head coaching experience, and seemed like a person who could turn our football program around. Both of these factors have certainly caused my glasses to have been rose-colored. I personally thank the two docs who have commented on your post here. While their statements and questions may tend to sting a bit, and maybe include a bit of 20-20 hindsight, they do offer insight that I think is accurate, though sobering. I welcome these kinds of comments, and hope you do as well. The immense frustration and disappointment felt by Illinois fans causes us all to want to know and suggest the reasons for the failures we are enduring. But we don't know for sure, because we are not privy to all the factors that affect the team and its performance. I don't begrudge Josh Whitman for hiring Lovie Smith. I trust he will assess the situation accurately and in the right way, and make the right decisions at the right time. That's his job, and I have confidence he will perform it well going forward. Bottom line, many lessons learned here. And please keep up your blogging, as it is the best around.

HiggsBoson on October 07 @ 05:20 PM CDT

A good coach would have adapted to the players he inherited while recruiting his own guys. Lovie did not do that, and has been mired in the same well below mediocrity ever since. He is not a good head coach by any standard. I credit Vic Fangio with the Super Bowl more than Lovie.

Joe Edge on October 06 @ 11:55 AM CDT

I'm not sure it's the 'Worst ROI in Power 5 history', but it's certainly 'Not Ideal'... While I admit, I didn't even know who Lovie was before JW hired him (I don't follow PRO sports of ANY kind), I wondered at the story line, which was that JW looked to RG and and R.Turner (the AD and HC during his time as a student athlete) and that's how he came to hire Lovie.

My question is: WHY did JW seek advice from an AD & HC who had 'losing records' at Illinois, and NOT talk with head coaches who had WINNING records - NOT just winning seasons - winning records ....

Finally Robert, I also think it might be the product you're blogging about, and not your writing or your obvious passion for the subject... Sometimes it is best to shut your phone off, and just detox for while.

mmyers74 on October 06 @ 11:40 AM CDT

So much has been said, above... that I don't think I need to give specifics to my further assessment. I will reference only the 2 minute, first half situation(s) as all you need to look at to see how badly this team is coached.
Week 3, in dire need of points... don't even try. (at midfield with over 1 minute remaining). Week 4, up... and in dire need of points for space... don't even try (at midfield with over 1 minute remaining) Week 5 (6) - Try... succeed to a degree while calling ZERO timeouts... and then CALLING ONE ONCE YOU'VE FAILED ON 3RD DOWN, KNOWING YOU HAVE TO KICK, with :17 SECONDS ON THE CLOCK, saving time for, what? THE OTHER TEAM?!

Look no further.

Lovie Smith might be a worse game schemer than Ron Zook who was the worst game schemer I knew. He might also be worse in front of a microphone/group. And he's BY FAR the worst clock manager. I'd gamble to say the worst in the sport? Wow. I believe that.

And Rod Smith is attempting to prove he's a genius, or smart, by outsmarting the basic logic of the game. (and costing us multiple wins in the process).

Ironically, this team SHOULD be 4-1 . They should have beaten EMU... and once they'd gotten the early breaks vs. Nebraska, SHOULD have beaten Nebraska.

We were never in the Minnesota game.

Lovie and Rod have, because of almost EXCLUSIVELY THEMSELVES, taken 2 wins off the board. That's hard to believe... but true.

3rd and 3, with our run game, on the 30? Run. and then run again. 85%+ chance of first down. (hell, 58% chance on the 3rd down play). But Rod has to show how smart he is. Just HAS to pass. In the rain, with wet gloves (which, btw, actually makes it HARDER to catch than with simply wet hands, if you've ever worn a football glove and a wet ball or glove. It's like baby oil.)

Basic football has us at 4-1. Our coaches have actually coached us DOWN. That is hard to admit.

But it's true.

Groundhogday on October 06 @ 11:50 AM CDT

I get that folks are starting to thing Rod Smith isn’t a genius after all. My response to that is pretty simple: Rod Smith needs a running QB. That is essential to his success. Adapting to offense to Peters’ skills was a mistake. But we were desperate because Williams isn’t ready and none of the other QBs are any good.

As a secondary factor, there might be a reason McClain was unemployed for so long.

kgwasmyfavorite on October 06 @ 11:51 AM CDT

Robert, your subscriptions are down because you still allow people to get your product for free. If you took away the 6 free stories, more people would pay $2/month to join. You offer a unique product that comes from a fan's perspective. Guys like JW intentionally avoid being seen as a fan. This is why people relate to you and like your writing.

If you hand out candy for free, you can't complain when people aren't willing to pay for it.

Robert on October 06 @ 05:20 PM CDT

Please let me be clear - I'm not complaining. I'm saying that, for those who see me as a guy whose words are not worth reading, there's a lot of recent data to back that up.

IlliniBobLoblaw on October 07 @ 11:44 AM CDT

First post, just subscribed for 1 year today. The site design may be a factor in the decline - it wasn't super obvious how to subscribe and there's not a strong incentive to do so. I (finally) subscribed because I find Robert's analyses to be valuable and I appreciate all the work that goes into this.

I'm not giving up on a bowl this season. In a .500 season, you lose one or two you shouldn't, and maybe win one you shouldn't. I mean, .500 isn't actually very good, so it's not going to look good much of the time. I suppose these debates are part of the fun, but we'll know a lot more after the next four games.

ahamm445 on October 06 @ 01:46 PM CDT

The defense has kept us in the last 3 games. They’ve made plays. The offense has left them on the field way too long.

illinisludge on October 06 @ 08:07 PM CDT

Ok. Who’s on the short list? Fickell? The Clemson guy? Or whom can we realistically attract? And I think Rod should ditch the no huddle just to keep our D off the field. Just bleed some clock. It won’t win games but might keep the D healthy for rest of the season. Robert, keep up the good work!

mwb27 on October 06 @ 10:48 PM CDT

Robert keep going. You’re insight is second to none, especially when it’s not your full time gig. I have been with you this whole time on football and basketball, but man, the coaching has been horrendous this year.

I just can’t go through this rebuild thing again. We gotta get a coach and make sure the talent we have will stay. We have good enough players, I gotta believe we do. Why can’t we just be 6-6, 7-5 with the occasional 9-3, 10-2. Please please please.

IBFan on October 06 @ 11:18 PM CDT

Robert must have heard JW announcement forthcoming? If true, sad day, had hoped so much for a program builder coach.

Eagle on October 06 @ 11:19 PM CDT

We’re still with you Robert, except for a couple you should just ignore. Now that we know conclusively what our fate is, I’m going to focus on seeing any progress toward next year and I’ll enjoy the intrigue of the coaching search. Onward and upward!

uilaw71 on October 07 @ 06:51 AM CDT

Ditto Eagle’s response, and add that fixing the log-in process might help.

Robert on October 07 @ 11:52 AM CDT

Changes coming on that. Some time around January 1.

Groundhogday on October 07 @ 06:52 AM CDT

Okay, buried in an earlier post but let me go full throat in support of Jeff Monken.

  • Illinois native with deep family connection to IL high school coaching.
  • Proven college football coach, multiple programs
  • Flexbone system would give Illinois an identity and schematic advantage
  • at 52 there is still plenty in the tank, but also not likely a quick departure if successful.

Forbes on Jeff Monken analytics

Millikin University article

Groundhogday on October 07 @ 06:53 AM CDT

One more point - We probably have the talent on the current roster to be successful immediately with the Flexbone.

illiniranger on October 07 @ 11:04 AM CDT

I don’t think we have any fullbacks. Would have to move Bonner there, not sure who else could play there.

Groundhogday on October 07 @ 07:36 PM CDT

The flexbone full back is really just a bigger RB - not a traditional blocking FB. The current Army FB is 240 lbs (came out of high school 5-11 200 lbs), but his back up is 215.

Bonner and Fedanzo could both play that position with Love potentially growing into it. Grab a bigger RB on the transfer market for depth.

Joe Edge on October 07 @ 03:05 PM CDT

Just a question - because I'm not dialed in as well as some (and I'm old)... However, I'm trying to think about the bigger picture....

  • Are there any NFL teams that use this offensive scheme ?
  • If you're a 4/5 HS football player are you more likely to choose a school that uses a NFL style, to enhance your chances to possibly help your future income stream or you don't care, because you're just going to become an announcer/analyst anyway ?
  • Even if you're only a 3* kid, do you NOT think it's important to learn (NFL type) skills that could help your chances of making it to the big show?
  • US Military Academy kids DON't move on to the NFL... They move on to the 'Sand-Box' (Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.) where they learn much 'tougher skills' in order to survive... Point is they aren't concerned about which 'FB scheme' they play while at the academy, so schemes don't matter. Learning to be a team player is what matters. (Retired US Army Officer here)
  • When Jeff Monken departed the other stops he's made, did that school hire a coach that continued that system because it was so successful ?
  • One last point, and I don't want to seem disrespectful, but.... In my experience the 'discipline' at the USMA is altogether more pronounced than at a normal NCAA football school. The 'football talent' is obviously NOT as high, but the discipline is on another level... IMHO.

  • BTW - Millikin University has an outstanding School of Music . . . At least they did a long time ago.... Julliard - West !

Groundhogday on October 07 @ 07:41 PM CDT

Yes, the knock on the flexbone is that it doesn't prepare guys for the NFL. But keep in mind that has also been the knock on dual threat QBs until the NFL evolved over the past couple of years. That didn't stop college teams from recruiting guys into spread offenses.

RB still have to run, OL still have to block, defenders still have to defend. The toughest thing is to recruit WR and QB for this system, but there are a lot of positionless athletes who can be recruited to fill these positions and running QBs who really want to play QB in college.

I would agree the the academies are a different world. But Monken was also successful at Southern Georgia. I think it translates.

CraigG on October 07 @ 09:22 PM CDT

When Jeff Monken departed the other stops he's made, did that school hire a coach that continued that system because it was so successful ? Monken was only head coach at Georgia Southern. They replaced him with Willie Fritz replaced Monken at GA Southern. Fritz ,who is not a triple option guy, actually stayed with the triple for his two years there since it was so successful under Monken.

Sweetchuck13 on October 07 @ 10:54 AM CDT

This stinks so much to be facing yet another starting-over point for Illini football. Generally, Robert, I've agreed with your patient approach. It will take time to properly rebuild this program like we've all been waiting to see. The one tweak I might suggest to your model of what a rebuild should look like is that ideally by year 2, and definitely by year 3, you can pull off a shocking upset or at the very least, put a big "scare" into a top-25 team.

I think of Zook's mantra of "lose big, lose small, win small, win big" and it's a little silly - but there is some truth that by year 2 the new identity and culture (and talent) should start to take shape so that at least for one game, it all comes together to show how the program will eventually look, week in and week out. Obviously with Zook it was that 2006 tOSU game that gave a lot of us hope going into 2007.

I've been on board with Lovie until now, but in hindsight it's pretty alarming that our biggest win is perhaps Michigan St. in 2016 or Minnesota last year (not that big of an upset at the time, just a good performance). What is Lovie's closest game against a top-25 opponent? I can't even think of a good "scare" against a good team unless you count this year's Nebraska game? We hung with Penn State last year for part of the game, but the way it ended doesn't count as a "scare".

Whoever the new coach is, I'm still willing to be patient - just give us some signs, even a single game, that shows we're on the right track. Thanks for writing, and I know you're probably taking this even harder than all of us. Someday it'll happen.

skibdaddy on October 07 @ 03:23 PM CDT

Illinois helped put football on the map in the beginning, but it is soooo clear that we don't belong here anymore. We need to be pioneers of the new era of sport, like we were with Red Grange for football we can start something significant again.

I hate to say it, and I love Robert's writing, but this is just a futile venture at this point.

It's time to forget football and put those resources in the next big thing. I think if we were to scrap our football program and instead make E-Gaming the focus, we would be pioneers again.

All kids do these days is watch others play games... why not embrace this and make the U of I the program to go to for some new sport?

Joe Edge on October 07 @ 05:52 PM CDT

Futbol ! ! ! lmao

ppbob on October 08 @ 12:11 PM CDT

You knew what a disaster Lovie would be after he assembled his first staff. There was no way that staff could be expected to build a championship competitive team, and Lovie knew it. He just made it a VERY profitable "home week" for a lot of his out of work NFL buddies. Urban Meyer was recently asked in the B1G network, "What do you need to build a P5 CFB program?". he was able to answer in just three words, "Recruiting and momentum".

About 90% of the competent P5 CFB coaches would've given the same answer.

So what did Lovie do? he hired perhaps the least recruiting talented staff in B1G history. Few had ANY recruiting contacts or recent successful recruiting experience. If Lovie didn't know this would be a recruiting disaster, he never should've been hired. Lovie isn't stupid or lazy. It's just that his goals weren't to build excellence. He just wanted to make a fortune as easily as possible and make a bundle for his old cronies.

What about momentum? ITs been said that you only have one chance to make a first impression, and Lovie's was a lousy one. He inherited a team with 30 seniors that just came off a 5-7 season, and was a few plays from being bowl eligible. They had a "surprise" first year coach, and they came out of a scandalous and chaotic year. All they needed was good coaching and stability to make it to a bowl. Lovie continued the chaos by playing modestly talented freshman who we now know mostly aren't B1G caliber. He hired a poor OC and a DC who'd never coached P5, or any college, defense before. NO chance on getting "momentum" from that strategy.

It's clear now that Lovie and the fans had very different goals for the program. Lovie's was to get rich for retirement, help a bunch of unemployed NFL cronies and give his son an undeserved shot at this level, and if that failed to produce a winning program, no big deal.

I honestly believed JW thought Lovie had the capacity to build a winning program (I believe he did as well), but he wasn't willing to hire qualified people who might disagree with his approach to the job.

Because JW didn't find that out before hiring Lovie (who NO ONE else wanted, NFL or college-for a reason), he needs to go as well. We can no longer afford "on the job training" if we ever expect to be competitive.

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