Flashback a few months, to the morning hours prior to kickoff of the Windy City Series contest between Illinois and Northwestern. As huddled masses from both fan bases tailgated in parking areas around Soldier Field, word began swirling around that interim head coach Bill Cubit had been offered a contract to lead the Fighting Illini program, and signed it.
Minutes before entering the stadium, reports confirming the news only made things that much more chilling, and depressing. My expletive-laden mumbling about it continued long after walking through the gates and witnessing yet another Cubit special, a 24-14 season-ending loss in which Mr. Offense had no answers on how to get things going when his team had the ball.
Cubit being put in charge of my Illini, and the Illini of millions of other alums and fans who bleed Orange & Blue, was not the nod to stability that an ill-informed administration believed. Instead, it was an admission, acceptance and extension of mediocrity by those calling the shots, the powers that be then saying a 1-6 stretch run was good enough, that an offense backpedaling two straight seasons with no signs of improvement under a supposed offensive guru was just fine.
Fortunately, that changed Saturday morning.
Thank you, Josh Whitman.
In his first official move on his first official day as Illinois athletics director, the former Illini tight end spiked both Cubit and his son/right-hand man/offensive coordinator Ryan before this run-down runaway train rumbled any further away from the track.
Already having traveled far too long on a path unworthy of its Big Ten status, Illini football had become an embarrassment unto itself, actually being super timid in trying to sit at the little kids’ table during times it came to recruiting and coaching hires when it always, just on principle and long-standing prestige, should have been either comfortably positioned at the big kids’ table or up for battling to be there.
This standards-lowering silliness has gone on far too long, and Cubit, while to be commended for stepping in there a week before the start of the 2015 regular season and holding the team together following Tim Beckman’s dismissal, had neither the pedigree nor success to be considered a short- or long-term solution.
A two-year contract for a major-college coach? Puh-leeze. Talk about trying to split the atom and please all sides. It was an epic fail, just as Cubit’s tenure likely would have proven to be.
Sorry, covered the guy another lifetime ago when he was the offensive coordinator at Rutgers, and his X’s and O’s strategy hasn’t evolved, or improved, one iota since then. Likeable? Sure. Looks the part? Heck, yeah. But, reality is, he’s not head-coach material for a Big Ten school … and that’s the parameter Illinois always, ALWAYS should be using when it makes decisions on anything.
Is it worthy of the Big Ten?
If not, move on … and set your sights higher.
Now, Whitman may misfire on what ultimately could be the most important hire of his tenure, whether it lasts a couple years or several decades. But the fact he is willing to move on from that lowered-standards philosophy that has been so prevalent in Champaign is a major, MAJOR change ... and a positive one at that.
By canning Cubit, Whitman signaled that he is willing to take chances, to go out on a limb, to stray away from the “safe” choices and shoot for something that can make a difference … and the reality is, that’s the only way you can make a real difference.