Tim Beckman's first trip to the Big Ten Media Days did not go very well. He came off as an overly excited rube far out of his element. He had to spend the majority of his initial press conference defending his recruiting of offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki away from the freshly sanctioned Penn State Nittany Lions. It wasn't a great way to introduce himself to the Big Ten and the media (and fans) remembered it. Right or wrong, it set the tone for his first year in Champaign.
His second attempt at it didn't go much better. He was coming off a 2-10 season that saw multiple sideline mishaps, dissension in the ranks, and zero conference wins. After one year, his seat was already feeling hotter and he was given little benefit of the doubt.
Tim Beckman came into this morning's press conference after a long bowl game-less winter and a 4-8 season record with only one conference win. But something was noticeably different about his speech this time. He finally seemed comfortable and confident at the podium.
Go watch the video that Jim posted of it earlier. Other than starting a little shaky while talking about the recent death of former Illini lineman Shawn Afryl (and if you're honestly going to critique him for that, you have some deeper issues you need to work out with yourself), he hardly pauses or stumbles for the right words. His "uhs" and "ums" are fewer and farther between than in the past. He came off as a true leader and respectable speaker.
There were some snickers and jabs taken at his statement that you can't replace Nathan Scheelhaase, mostly pointing to the 6-18 record over the past two seasons. I'm not sure what people wanted him to say here though. Did the team win a lot of games over the past two seasons? Nope. Is that somehow all on Scheelhaase? Not even close. I viewed it as a very nice gesture from a grateful coach towards a four year starter and former face of the football program. You know, something classy that would draw applause and plaudits if a different coach had done it.
And for the complaints about there not being a very big media crowd around Beckman during his presser, all I can say is who cares? It's downright silly to compare the amount of media types surrounding Beckman to those around Brady Hoke. Illinois football is not Michigan football. It just isn't. Until we have a decade or so of absolute brilliance and dominance in our recent history, we aren't going to get that sort of attention. We haven't earned it yet.
I'm not going to claim that Beckman's seemingly newfound media savvy and calmness will guarantee a better season. It doesn't. But it does help to shake the tired narrative that he's some hyper bumpkin who fell off the back of a turnip truck. He'll come off as too earnest at times and might just trip over his own feet again at some point this fall. But the program is trending upwards and he's at least started to look like he might be the guy to get the Fighting Illini back into the middle tier of the Big Ten.