T.J. Neal (above) is 1 of 8 players who have opted to transfer from Illinois as Bill Cubit (right) looks to begin his first season as non-interim head coach.
It was bound to blow up.
From the moment former University of Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic took to Twitter last spring and started making accusations about then-Fighting Illini head football coach Tim Beckman’s supposed mistreatment of players, anyone with some sort of attachment to the Orange and Blue had to figure dark days were on the horizon for a program not exactly sunning itself in the first place.
Beckman got canned before the season.
Athletic Director Mike Thomas got canned during it.
The Illini regressed under interim coach Bill Cubit throughout it.
The university’s administration then rewarded him with the full-time gig and an extension prior to the season finale against Northwestern.
Since then, Cubit has lost, among others, his best recruiter, Alex Golesh, to a lesser program (Iowa State), two high-profile commits to the upcoming class and no less than eight players to transfer, including two-year starting linebacker T.J. Neal and quality sophomore wideout Marchie Murdock. Oh, well, at least he was able to give his son/offensive coordinator, Ryan, who orchestrated the nation’s 96th-best unit, a 400-percent raise.
From dysfunctional to disastrous, there it is in a nutshell.
Respectability, we hardly knew ye …
Not for nothing, but the reality is, for all his flaws and dopey malapropos, Beckman had the Illini pointed in the right direction – on the field and off. They’d made small, but clear strides between the lines, improving from 2 to 4 to 6 wins in his three seasons, and copious ones in the classroom, where his student-athletes set records every year.
Whatever happened, whatever really happened, no one actually knows because the university did an in-house investigation with results that were never shared publicly, yet Beckman was dismissed a week before the start of the 2015 season. Casting further confusion on this rather black comedy is the fact that the NCAA, ever attempting to be the strong-armed police of intercollegiate athletics, hasn’t even contact Cvijanovic about, well, anything.
Can’t blame the kid for coming forward if he felt there was a problem and he was mishandled by the coach and the team’s medical staff through injuries. But, even now, five months after Beckman was let go, there is no concrete evidence that he ever deserved to be let go, and, frankly, the same could be said for Thomas, whose fantastic fund-raising talents are evident with glaring improvements to Memorial Stadium and the State Farm Center right across the street.
OK, so you can question his coaching hires with Beckman and men’s basketball coach John Groce. But not Cubit.
That’s on the save-face administrators who dumped both Thomas and Beckman.
Why they chose to hand over the keys to Cubit, even just for a two-year trial run, is a mystery. He’s an offensive-minded coach whose offense has taken dramatic steps back each of the past two seasons, even with his type of quarterback in Wes Lunt at the helm. After taking over for Beckman, yeah, sure, his folksy, we’re-in-this-together charm worked for a few weeks with the troops ... until the reality of a 1-6 stretch drive crashed down on them.
Prospects have noticed. Students have noticed. Alumni have noticed. Fans have noticed.
Until those in charge do, though, and actually do something about it, dark days are here, my friends. For awhile.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
BY THE NUMBERS
Recognized for his offensive Xs and Os prowess, Bill Cubit was hired by Tim Beckman in 2013 to run the Illinois offense. He turned the 122nd-ranked unit of 2012 into a respectable one his first season as Illini OC. But since then, its has been all downhill.
Illinois national ranking for total offense in 2013
Illinois national ranking for total offense in 2014
Illinois national ranking for total offense in 2015
Illinois points per game in 2013 | 62nd in nation
Illinois points per game in 2014 | 86th in nation
Illinois points per game in 2015 | 102nd in nation