The University of Illinois Fighting Illini has seen improvements in areas under their second year head coach Tim Beckman. Beckman seems to be a good fit at the program and the University seems to have given the coach every opportunity to mold his young players and the program how he sees fit. In his two years as head coach of the Fighting Illini have gone 5-16 which is far from where University officials and fans would like to see their program, not to mention the passionate coaching staff and their hungry players. The reason that it is difficult to Beckman other than his short tenure is the exciting play of his team and their competitive spirit.
The 2012 football season saw the Illini at the bottom of the Big 10 without a single victory in conference play and things seemed quite bleak as the Illini battled with a competitive spirit, not that dissimilar from the performance of Darrell Hazzell’s Purdue Boilermakers this season, but the score did not reflect the effort of the football team or its coaching staff. In 2013 the Illini won three out of four non-conference ball games and had one victory over Coach Hazzell’s Boilermakers in Big 10 play.
The biggest turnaround for the Illini in 2013 from years past, even dating into Beckman’s predecessor Ron Zook’s tenure as head coach, was the offensive output by the team. Part of that can be attributed to the success of new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit who came over from Western Michigan to take the reins of offensive coordinator, replacing Chris Beatty who moved on and found success in conference coaching Jared Abbrederis and the wide receivers at the University of Wisconsin. In 2013 the Illini began to do one of the most important things in being a competitive football team, scoring points. In 2011, under Zook the Illini averaged 18.1 points per game in the Big 10 with those numbers being highly bolstered by their first two Big 10 contests in which fans saw their team put up 38 points against Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats and 41 points against Kevin Wilson’s Indiana Hoosiers. In 2011, the Illini would not score more than 17 points in league play, as they lost the rest of their regular season games that year. In Beckman’s first season the Illini did even worse scoring only 11.75 points per Big 10 game. Finally in 2013 the Illini have boosted that number to a much more respectable 24 points per game.
While Beckman and Cubit deserve a great deal of the credit for getting the Illini offense firing on all cylinders, it would be a shame to not share the credit with the outstanding young coaching staff that has been assembled in Champaign. The Illini have very little coaching experience together but their youth and enthusiasm has more than made up for lack of experience. Wide Receiver coach Mike Bellamy has been an outstanding hire and should be very effective on the recruiting trail with his stories about his playing career playing alongside longtime NFL quarterback Jeff George. Bellamy was also an all-American in his playing days. It is youth and passion that has begun the turnaround at Illinois and should hopefully sustain the program for years to come.