Illinois has officially been looking for a new football coach since August 28th. It initially seemed like we were going to have quite the head start on the field when it came to picking who would be the next man the fanbase pins its collective hopes and dreams on.
And then 10 other coaches were fired or retired. We're legitimately looking at an offseason that may feature more turnover than any one I can remember before it. Illinois has to compete with nine other programs to land their new head coach. And all of that happened before Illinois finally decided to boot out the Athletic Director too. Minnesota was in a very similar boat. Their AD was sacked for being pervy and Jerry Kill's health finally gave out. The powers that be saw the potential issues this cycle of the coaching carousel could bring and decided to just sit this one out and promote their interim coach to an official one and extend him.
I'm hoping Illinois proves to be a little less risk averse than that because while he's a nice guy and all, Bill Cubit isn't the answer.
Illinois' offense is bad. Like, catastrophically bad. Before today's awful showing against Ohio State, the S&P ratings had Illinois ranked 94th in the country in offense. That's worse than Florida Atlantic and UMass. The only offenses in the Big Ten that are worse than that are Maryland (96th), Purdue (102nd), and Northwestern (107th). Yeah, the team has been without star receiver Mike Dudek the entire season and was missing Josh Ferguson at running back for multiple games but holy shit that number is bad. And what's worse is that it's been trending down since Bill Cubit took over. His first season in Champaign the offense ranked 37th. No complaints there. 37th is just outside the top 25%. That number dropped off to 60th last year. Still not awful, but officially mediocre. And now we're sitting in the 90s (and likely to drop to the 100s after the day).
The main rallying cry behind extending Bill Cubit seems to be based on stability. "The program needs stability. We don't have an Athletic Director or even a Chancellor so we need some kind of stability in the program." Stability is a nice thing. People crave it. But here's the thing: stability is useless if what's stable isn't actually good. The offense is getting worse every year. This is happening despite the players getting more experienced. This is happening despite their being very little turnover on the coaching staff. This is happening despite the fact that interim HC Bill Cubit is supposed to be an offensive-minded coach.
Illinois' last two head coaches had the magical ability to have their teams be downright awful at the thing they made their bones on. Ron Zook was a great special teams coach at Florida and in the pros but his teams at Illinois were dreadful at kickoffs, returns, and punting. Tim Beckman got the job at Toledo based on his time as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and the highest any of his defenses managed to finish in Champaign was 72nd. Bill Cubit is currently completing the trifecta.
And before you bring up how the players are 100% behind him and support him fully, that's great. I do love it. I do want a united locker room. But look at the schedule and tell me what impressive win we have this season to back it up. Our best win is either squeaking past Middle Tennessee by 2 at home or upending the first 6 loss Nebraska team since 2007 in the final minute of another home game. We have one good win over the past two seasons. One.
People also seem to be forgetting that stability in college football is a myth. The only "stable" programs are the ones with Hall of Fame coaches or ones that gave their current coach too large a contract to move out from under. There's a certain hilarious irony about not wanting to go after a new coach because the new AD might fire him but legitimately wanting to give the interim coach an extension with "very reasonable buyouts". That's not stability. That's lying to yourself that the house you built out of cardboard and old broomsticks will be able to survive the winter. That's the emptiest show of faith possible in a coaching staff. And that continues to overlook the simple fact that while you may be gaining continuity, that's literally all you'd be gaining. The on-field results aren't agreeing with what you're trying to sell.
Illinois is never going to be the most desirable job available in any given offseason, at least not anytime in the reasonable and foreseeable future. We're not a tier one job. We're not even tier two, no matter how much you and I want to believe we are. Illinois is firmly in that third tier of college football jobs. But they aren't in the fourth tier either. There will always be worse openings than Illinois too (hello Hawaii and North Texas). Illinois whiffed on a chance to drastically improve their lot in life last winter by holding onto Tim Beckman for another 8 months and now they're paying for it. Extending Bill Cubit doesn't correct that problem, it just kicks the can slightly farther down the road.