Note: this is merely a hypothetical situation. The entire piece is for entertainment: it is not to be taken seriously, though we'd appreciate your thoughts in the comments.
It is January 2015. The Illini have just finished up their 2014 season with a final record of 5-7. Along the way, there were two B1G wins against Purdue and Minnesota, a close loss to a ranked Iowa, and a blowout loss at Northwestern. Also during that time, Wes Lunt proved himself one of the top passers in the B1G, the defense returned to average, and Beckman is on his way to assembling a solid recruiting class for February.
It it right around what Illinois fans were hoping to see from the team, with the exception of a bowl appearance. Beckman is being predictable. Some hope has returned to the fanbase, but not the type of hope that draws 60,000 every Saturday. The Illini have become high school me -- not all that cool, but nice -- like 2013 Pittsburgh or Captain America.
During this offseason, Beckman's long term plan hits a huge potential speed-bump. One of the best offensive/defensive coordinators in the land has made it public knowledge that he wants to become the next great head coach, and he wants it to happen at Illinois (bear with me here).
What do you want to happen in that situation? I'm not asking what will happen, or if it will happen. I just want to know where your heart lies when something like that comes into play.
Bruce Feldman of Foxsports.com released a Top 10 list of the best upcoming coaches in the nation. The list is filled with guys who radiate coaching potential, but for the sake of this argument, we'll use the top of Feldmen's list as the case against our current coach. Guys like Oregon's OC Scott Frost and his flashy, trendy offense, Ohio State's OC Tom Herman with smarts and leadership, or (unlisted) Michigan State's DC Pat Narduzzi and his blitz-happy schemes. All of them seem to have bright futures. Would you put any of those not-yet-great-but-probably-great-someday coaches above Tim Beckman? Would you fire-for-hire?
I know it's not that easy. Athletic Director Mike Thomas cannot simply dump Beckman on a dime and hand-pick his next head coach, but, again, let's just assume for the sake of this argument that Thomas could swap Beckman for one of these guys at the drop of a hat.
Personally, it's a tricky situation. Beckman has made improvements, ones that have the program slowly climbing, but is he really the guy that gives the Illini the best chance at a Rose Bowl or even a B1G West Championship? Should fans remain loyal to the man that got them this far? Is the other side's grass green, yellow, or gone?
This has been rolling around in my head for the last week. What holds me up is what happens three or four years in the future. We don't know what Beckman could do with a fully stacked team. He's never had one, and it would take years, and several lucky breaks, in order for him to obtain it anytime soon. And, as we've seen with James Franklin at Penn State, a new coach can rejuvenate a school before he ever talks X's and O's.
Hype can also come from big wins during winning seasons, and there is a good chance 2015 could hold all the right pieces. Lunt will be passing to a more established WR group, Josh Ferguson may still be around to phase through defenses, and our defense might potentially be above average. It could be a very good year. But where does the program go if that doesn't happen? Down the 2012 hole again? (NOOOOO!!)
Beckman's recent Media Day speech filled me with confidence and pride. The words sounded wonderful to my ears, but pleasing the ears of die-hard bloggers doesn't actually do much for the record books; it's the scoreboard that determines Beckman's future, and so far that doesn't help his argument very much. One win in conference play in two years severely cripples most pro-Beckman plea.
I do like Beckman. He got off to a bad start in 2012, but his persona is making a steady comeback with each passing year. He needs to reel-in better recruiting classes (and it looks like it might happen this year), and he does more than just strive to be better on the field -- he's raised the GPA of the football team to 2.96. It's what I want the coach of my team to be doing.
In this scenario, Beckman has done a nice job in the short run. It seems like he will continue to rebuild the program. But the allure of a fresh face, even after Beckman's improvement, would be enticing as well. I'm torn, but it's not about me. What would you, the reader, do in Mike Thomas's place? Consistency or potential?
As for me, I'm undecided.