A strong and respectable 3-1 start to the 2013 season seemed good enough to turn the dial on Tim Beckman's hot seat down considerably, but an 0-3 start to conference play has the mob regathering up their pitchforks and torches and the vultures returning to their customary perches. Never mind that those three losses come at the hands of teams currently a combined 17-5! We know Beckman is terrible and he needs to be replaced right now!
Except, as Tom has pointed out more than a few times, that's not really a feasible plan nor a good idea. As much fun as potentially paying three head coaches salaries would be next season (Ron Zook, you truly are the gift that keeps on giving), it just won't happen. But as has been said, what coach would actually want to come to a school that fires you two years after you inherited a relatively talent-deprived roster and an unfriendly schedule?
While the school is the state of Illinois' flagship university, the football program just isn't strong enough to act like a Michigan or Southern California. Only blue bloods can get away with that kind of dickish behavior. But this made me wonder what schools Illinois is actually comparable to from the five power conferences (I'm sorry, but the AAC just does not count). I figure it breaks down into four categories: schools clearly above Illinois, schools probably above Illinois, and schools at Illinois' level, and those truly in the abyss.
Clearly above: Oregon, Stanford, USC, Oregon State, UCLA.
There's really no denying all of these schools have more prestige, recent success, or combination of both.
Likely above: Washington, California, Utah.
Washington has been boring but consistent, which would be a pretty nice change of pace. Cal might belong in the next lower tier, but merely being in the state of California certainly puts them at a sizable recruiting advantage. Utah gains no recruiting advantage, but they've only had one losing season since 2002 and are doing decent enough since joining a real conference.
Same level: Arizona, Washington State.
Location gives these two schools no advantage. Arizona only has two seasons with double digit wins in school history while Washington State is further away from getting back on that truly solid ground. I wouldn't be shocked if the Cougars managed to make a bowl game this year.
There aren't many big programs demonstrably worse than Illinois, but Colorado is definitely one of them. Things might be improving in Boulder, but maybe not.
Clearly above:Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech.
If you're a major program in Texas, you're a better destination than Illinois. The Oklahoma schools have tradition and money on their side as well.
Likely above: West Virginia.
The transition to a new conference hasn't gone swimmingly, but they're still in better shape as a program.
Same level: Kansas State.
Only one coach has ever been able to achieve sustained success in Manhattan. Bill Snyder won't need to retire a second time, since he's immortal, but if he does Kansas State will likely fall back to terribleness.
Below: Iowa State, Kansas.
Paul Rhoads has done good work in Ames, but how high can the ceiling really be as the second fiddle in a state with more pigs than people? The Jayhawks are a tepid bowl of butt soup.
Clearly above: Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska, Michigan State.
Other than MSU, these are pretty high prestige gigs and honestly Sparty isn't that far removed from the pack.
Likely above: Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota.
Iowa and Minnesota don't really wow you, but they're consistent and better off than we currently are. I don't know if Northwestern manages that level of success is Pat Fitzgerald leaves, but he built something better than what currently exists in Champaign.
Same level: Indiana, Purdue.
This is what we've become. You could say Purdue belongs the next tier down, but don't lie to yourself. Illinois should be a better job than both of these schools from the worst state in the Midwest. I don't really know that it is anymore.
Clearly above: Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech.
Just because it's no longer the 90s or early 00s doesn't mean we're not still well below these four.
Likely above: Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, North Carolina State.
All four schools are located in or associated with their state's major city and have all been better bets to go bowling than us over the past decade.
Same level: Maryland, Boston College, North Carolina, Virginia.
Maryland and BC both have the ability to move up a tier, but have been slumming it pretty hard. North Carolina often gets labeled a sleeping giant, which sounds very familiar. Virginia is just weird.
Below: Wake Forest, Duke.
Duke has had two winning seasons in my lifetime and never more than nine wins in any single season. I still don't know how Jim Grobe got an 11-3 season out of Wake Forest in 2006 but it is the greatest illusion ever.
Clearly above: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M.
Just gonna move on.
Likely above: Arkansas, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee.
Former blue bloods, a rival, and a school with recent ripe recruiting classes.
Same level: Vanderbilt, Kentucky.
Vanderbilt has the academic disadvantage and Kentucky has the disadvantage of being in Lexington (an honestly wonderful city that I may have had a great time in twice).
That's five programs from the power conferences I'm 100% comfortable with saying are worse jobs than Illinois and only 11 that are more or less on the same level. Until something changes, this just isn't the kind of destination that can land a hot coach. It's time to accept that for what it is.