Top 5 to Replace ‘Timmy’
Former Rutgers head coach
He was enough of a teacher, used-car salesman and egomaniac to turn the worst program in Division I into a top-10 team at one point and a consistent bowl entrant. You think Illinois is a tough place to win. It would be the Taj Mahal of college football compared to what Schiano stepped into at New Jersey’s flagship university back in 2000. His time in Tampa was a waste; this is a guy born to coach in college.
Alabama offensive coordinator
Like him or not, he’d bring instant name recognition to a program sorely in need of it. Kiffin seems to have burned bridges wherever he’s been, including head coaching stops with the Oakland Raiders and at Tennessee and Southern Cal. But he wins (35-21 in college) and he’s an old-school innovative mind in that he uses what is at his disposal and uses it well. He’s also a top-notch recruiter.
Youngstown State head coach
Some may wonder if he is of sound mind, but the guy was quite successful already in the Big Ten, carving out a 67-27 record at Nebraska … and it would be nice to see someone at the controls terribly invested in wanting to stick it to a divisional foe that typically will stand in the way of a conference title-game spot.
Ohio State defensive coordinator
He has no head-coaching experience, but he’s been dynamite in running the defenses in Columbus and previously at Arkansas and Wisconsin. Bonus, snatching him from Ohio State would be quite a coup and, at least temporarily, sting the Buckeyes.
Oregon offensive coordinator
The fact he runs arguably the most vaunted attack in college football should be enough to sell anyone. But he’s also the youngest guy on our all-40s list here, checking in at 40. Not to mention the fact he was a tremendous player in college, which can make a difference in who you recruit and how they respond.
Illinois interim head coach
Ironically enough, he served as Schiano’s offensive coordinator at Rutgers before moving on to Western Michigan and eventually becoming head coach. He previously was a head coach at Division III Widener as well. Simply put, he’s been a positive influence ever since arriving in Champaign, sparking an offense that had been lifeless for years. He’s not young, as he’ll turn 62 in October, but he has some spryness to his game and, frankly, he seems to like it at Illinois. Believe it or not, there is value in that.
Enough with the academic standards being too tough. Enough with the facilities lagging too far behind. Enough with the feigned “woe are we” indifference. Enough with the defeatist attitude.
Most of all, enough with the suggestions of bringing in yet another MAC coach to redeem a foundering football program.
Illinois, you are better than that. Better than all of that.
As a faithful alum who isn’t obnoxious enough, or shortsighted enough, to believe things relating to the Fighting Illini on the gridiron only have merit if they’ve occurred during my lifetime, as if what happened before then doesn’t matter, and nor do the people who remember, it is with every fiber of my being that I say, stop the excuses. Stop the inferior-school thinking. Just, really, stop the insanity.
With all respect justly due to the men who run the shows in the Mid-American Conference, Illinois has no business schlepping around the campus of some directional school in Michigan in search of its next leader. They may be fine coaches deserving of an opportunity, but if I hear the names of P.J. Fleck or Dino Babers as “ideal” or “perfect” for the gig in Champaign, Ill., I am going to lose it.
Even if one of them turns out to be the next Brian Kelly or Butch Jones, Illinois has to have more respect for itself than to serve as a stepping-stone to another job. It is one thing to be mediocre but continue striving for something more. It is quite another to be mediocre and continually place oneself in the position of remaining that way.
As members of the Big Ten, the Illini should be bound and gagged anytime they even insinuate delving into the murky waters below, well below, the power-5 schools for a head coach. The conference has a level of decorum, of, well, feeling superior … that, frankly, the Illini would do well to start following.
You want to get better, you look up, not down. That means the NFL, or better, more successful programs at the FBS level.
Considering the Illini’s struggles for several decades, it’s not like options are lacking there … but they shouldn’t include a lesser program, and, sorry, Western Michigan and Ball State are just that. So was Toledo, where Illinois AD Mike Thomas unearthed the just-fired Tim Beckman.
Heck, the MAC isn’t even the best among the non-power-5 conferences. It’d rank, at best, third behind the American Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference.
Like, seriously, how low do you want to go?
Perception and reality often struggle to meet at the same juncture, and, often, they get confused. Normally, for instance, you’d see a Big Ten school, that’s any Big Ten school, and deem it superior to, say, an AAC squad. But anyone who tried to pitch that two years ago when Cincinnati was set to visit Illinois would have been laughed at.
What happened? The Bearcats, fresh off two straight conference crowns, got run out of Memorial Stadium, falling 45-17. They went on to win 9 games and reach a bowl. Illinois finished 4-8.
The point is, even in a wretched state, the Illini were, and are, a better operation than a non-power-5 one. They just are.
Other silliness, like the difficult academic standards? Puh-leeze. Northwestern, the Midwest’s version of an Ivy League school, doesn’t moan as loud about such things as Illinois and its fans do.
Yes, compared to other, more high-profile and more successful Big Ten football programs, the Illini do not stack up in facilities. Still, they do play in a 60,000-seat stadium on a campus that takes a back seat to few, if any, others, and they’re a part of arguably the best conference in all of college sports.
It’s time, once and for all, they started acting like it.
Man up, step up, think big and fork over the cash for a coach worthy of a Big Ten gig, and wanting to make Illinois his long-time domain.
Which, by the way, would eliminate 62-year-old Jim Tressel. C’mon, Illini fans, get real.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
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