What's the next step for Fighting Illini football?
So we've won back to back bowl games for the first time in school history. And we've produced the most first round NFL draft picks out of any school in the Big Ten over the past five years? You could almost be forgiven for thinking that Illinois has finally made that leap into the upper-middle class of the conference. Almost.
We need Tim Beckman to be our Hayden Fry.
Before taking over at Iowa, Fry coached at North Texas (then known as North Texas State). Fry had inherited a program that had experienced success in its recent history, but had fallen on some very hard times. After a bit of rebuilding, the team became a minor powerhouse going 9-3 over Fry's final two years as coach. Is this starting to sound familiar?
If you don't know your conference history, Fry then took over at Iowa in 1979. The Hawkeyes were a middling football program, and that's putting it nicely. They hadn't recorded a winning season since 1961 and hadn't been to a bowl game since 1958. Yes, this was a different bowl era but those are still ugly numbers. Fry came in and set about changing the team's image and attitude. He had the confusingly named Tigerhawk logo created (Fry disciple Bill Snyder would go on to do the same a decade later, creating the Powercat logo at Kansas State). He worked on building team unity, pride, and accountability. People, if the similarities aren't starting to bludgeon you over the head, then there isn't anything I can do to make them.
Tim Beckman seems to be following the exact same plan that Hayden Fry and Bill Snyder used to turn the Hawkeyes and Wildcats into conference mainstays instead of laughingstocks. Am I saying that Coach Beckman is definitely going to lead us to the level of success those two legendary coaches pulled off at their respective schools? Of course not. I can't see the future and don't tend to make such grand and bold claims.
But Beckman has a much less tough row to hoe than either of those two men did. Illinois has had recent success. The cupboard, while not overflowing with talent, is more adequately stocked than empty. You don't jump straight from the bottom to the top. First you have to reach that middle ground. I believe we're currently somewhere in between those levels, but far closer to the middle than the bottom. Is Beckman the man to usher us into a brave new era of Illini football, the likes of which we've never seen? I don't know, but so far he's following a damn fine blueprint.
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