It's Not Easy Being Beckman

Bradley Leeb-US PRESSWIRE

Coaches aren't supposed to be on the hot seat in their first season at a school, yet that's exactly where Tim Beckman finds himself after a 2-5 start.

Ron Zook got 7 years even though five of those seasons included 3 wins or less.

Ron Turner got 8 years even though four of his seasons included 3 wins or less.

Tim Beckman?

Tim Beckman's gotten 7 games. That's it. Yet he's already feeling the heat.

The kind of heat that is causing the Chicago Tribune -- not just the local Champaign-Urbana papers -- to interview athletic director Mike Thomas and actually ask him if there's a possibility that Beckman would be fired after only one season.

Pages of message board threads are dedicated to the debate about whether Beckman and second-year athletic director Mike Thomas should be pushed out of Champaign. One source close to the program called the Beckman hire "an absolute disaster," and another said he was "in way over his head." A Champaign newspaper reporter made his own "disaster" designation on a radio show.

Some words of advice for those quick-trigger observers: Don't get your hopes up.

In an interview with the Tribune on Friday, Thomas said Beckman "absolutely" needs to be given more than one year to build the program and gave a definitive answer when asked if the hire was a mistake.

"No. I'm very confident in Coach Beckman and his staff," Thomas said. "... I've been in these situations before. There are a lot of successful coaches who went through some tough times early on."

I can't help but think that the moment Illinois loses a basketball game people will want John Groce to go with them -- hell, some probably already do.

Is this what we've become as a fan base?

Don't get me wrong, this 2012 football season has been painful to watch, and I certainly understand the skepticism about Beckman. I haven't seen all that much to make me optimistic about the future, either.

All that being said, you cannot make a final judgement after only seven games, no matter how badly you want to. Particularly when your athletic department is already paying over $7 million in buyouts to Ron Zook, Bruce Weber and Jolette Law. Or when you just signed Beckman to a 5-year $9 million deal.

Hell, I've always been of the opinion that you can't truly judge a head coach until his third season when he's stocked the roster full of his own recruits, and when it comes to recruiting, Beckman's proving to be pretty good.

At the moment the Illini's 2013 football class is considered the third-best in the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State and Michigan. Nationally the class is ranked 26th. This is not bad. Not bad at all.

Also, while coaches will tell you that you can't use injuries as an excuse, let's make one thing painfully clear: injuries are an excuse. Sometimes they're very good ones at that.

How many games have the Illini played where Nathan Scheelhaase was 100%? How many games has our entire starting defense been on the field and healthy? Injuries happen and when they do, they can cripple a football team. So to pin all the blame for this start on Beckman seems rather foolish to me.

Especially when you consider what this team lost. Some people will tell you that having four players drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL shows you the insane amount of talent that was in this program. And it does. Of course, it also shows you that four of the best players from a team that only went 7-6 last season are no longer on the team.

That hurts your overall depth, and as is painfully obvious, this Illinois team does not have a lot of depth at the moment.

Combine that with the coaching staff turnover, and frankly, this season shouldn't be all that surprising. And while the play of this team on the field has been below what I expected, it's not like the Illini are getting beaten by bad teams. They're just being beaten badly by good teams.

The teams that have beaten Illinois this year are a combined 27-9. Of those 5 teams, all except Penn State have been ranked at some point, and Penn State probably should be ranked right now.

So let's all just calm down a bit. Things are bad right now, I know, but that doesn't mean they're going to stay that way forever.

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