During Texas A&M’s victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, Gus Johnson yelled “This Texas A&M offense knows how to keep you off balance.” The only thing that is off balance with the Illini football program is Tim Beckman when he meets a referee on the sideline. While the Texas A&M program is on the rise to national prominence, the Illini football program has become the laughing stock of the Big 10. This makes Illini Nation think “what could have happened if Mike Thomas had hired Kevin Sumlin to lead the Illini?”
This past spring, Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas identified Houston coach Kevin Sumlin as the guy to lead the Illini program. Sumlin’s resume was quite impressive. He led the Oklahoma offense to greatness as their offensive coordinator before taking over the job at Houston. While at Houston, he was able to turn Case Keenum into an elite quarterback in his system. There couldn’t be a better fit to turn a struggling, but talented, Illinois program into a Big 10 title contending team.
There was one problem; Texas A&M also wanted Sumlin. A&M came in with a much better offer and Sumlin chose A&M over Illinois. Thomas didn’t know what to do, so he turned the keys over to Toledo coach Tim Beckman.
To say Beckman has been a disaster is an understatement. He completed his first season at Illinois going 2-10 (0-8 in the big 10). Beckman’s Illini squad finished 111th in the nation in passing, 99th in rushing, and 95th in points against. Beckman came in as a defensive coach, but the Illini defense digressed under his control. Each and every week, the Illini were embarrassed in the Big 10. There were even whispers after his first season that Beckman would be launched, but Thomas has dismissed those.
Meanwhile, Sumlin was named SEC coach of the year leading his squad to a 10-2 (6-2 in the SEC) record. His team finished 14th in passing, 13th in rushing, and 28th in points against. Sumlin came with an offensive background and was able to turn the Texas A&M offense into one of the most explosive teams in the SEC. His innovative spread offense has turned into something that’s very hard to stop in the hard hitting SEC. Led by his freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M defeated top ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
It’s not that the current Illini program doesn’t have talent; the coaches don’t know what to do with it. Beckman inherited a talented, but underachieving team. They were led by blue chip quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. Scheelhaase started his career in 2010 with great promise (17td/8int with 5td’s rushing), but regressed significantly in 2012 finishing with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions with 4 touchdowns coming on the ground. Beckman was so confused on what to do on offense, he implemented the two coordinator offensive system. In this system, he had a coordinator responsible for first and second downs and one for third downs. If you’ve heard of a system like this, you’re the first. Scheelhaase has the talent to be a great Big 10 quarterback, but he needs coaching. One can only imagine the type of player he would have been if Sumin could have coached him.
Not only has Illinois struggled on the field this year, they also have struggled mightily in recruiting. According to ESPN, Illinois currently has the 40th ranked class coming in next year while Texas A&M has the 7th. If Both Kevin Sumlin and Tim Beckman come into your living room to recruit you, there is no doubt which coach you would want to play for, unless you prefer Beckman’s wife’s lasagna. (During Beckman’s introductory press conference, he praised his wife’s lasagna repeatedly, saying he invites players and coaches over every Thursday to enjoy it)
Mike Thomas realizes he made a major mistake in the hiring of Beckman, but you can’t fire a coach after one season. Beckman is bound to have another miserable year in 2013, and will likely be launched. Thomas got the basketball coach right in John Groce, but he failed miserably in his first football hire. He will have one more shot to get this right, or he will be looking for a new job. You have to sit back and wonder, what would have happened if Thomas had landed Sumlin……we will never know.