Usually by the time a head coach reaches his fourth year in charge of a program everything is finally and exclusively "his." The players he has recruited now make up a majority of the team, those players have become fully acclimated to the schemes and systems he has installed, and the coaches he has brought over now have some continuity within the program. It can be difficult for players to get in any kind of a rhythm if new coaches and schemes are constantly on their way in and out. Nathan Scheelhaase, former Illinois quarterback who had three offensive coordinators in four years in Champaign, may tell you otherwise, but as a general rule of thumb consistency is the key.
It has been anything but consistent for Illini head coach Tim Beckman, and it's no secret that his time in Champaign might be drawing to a close if his team doesn't make it to the postseason in 2015. And given Illinois' strength of schedule (top 50 in the nation) and their slew of injuries, reaching a bowl game is anything but a lock. However, let's throw out how the Illini project to do on paper, or which way Beckman seems to be trending. Instead, let's go on a history lesson and examine how previous head coaches have fared in their fourth season in charge of the Fighting Illini.
The fifth-oldest coach in Illinois history, Huff went 3-5-1 (back when ties were still a thing in college football) during the 1899 season. The team didn't win a conference game (0-4) and finished sixth in what was known as the Western Division of the Big Ten conference. Huff Hall, where the Fighting Illini currently play volleyball, wrestling, and gymnastics, was named in his honor.
Hall's fourth year at the helm of the Illini was the 1910 season, and it was quite possibly the most successful fourth season any U of I coach has ever had. He led the team to a 7-0 record and finished first in the Big Ten to take home the conference championship. Hall remains the only coach to never lose a game during his fourth year.
Zuppke's 1916 Illini went 3-3-1 and finished tied for third in the Big Ten Western division. He would go on to be the longest-tenured and most successful coach in Illinois football history, including several conference and national championships.
In 1945, Eliot, in his fourth year in charge, had a very subpar season. After leading the Illini to six wins in his first season and five the next, the team went 2-7 and finished seventh in the Big Ten standings. It was only a fluke, though; Eliot would go on to win a Rose Bowl with Illinois in the following season.
Not to be confused with the Elliot before him, Pete Elliot had a triumphant fourth year in Champaign. He led the Illini to an 8-1-1 record and a Big Ten championship. The team then won the Rose Bowl and ended up finishing fourth in the nation in the Coaches Poll.
The 1970 season would end up being Valek's last in Champaign. He went 3-7 in his fourth year after going 0-10 the year before that.
Blackman's fourth season in charge was his high watermark for wins at the U of I. The Illini went 6-5 during the '74 campaign including four Big Ten victories. They finished third in the conference standings but didn't go to the postseason.
The 1983 season was a good one for the Fighting Illini. Mike White led the team to a 10-2 record including a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance. Their biggest win of the year came against #4 Iowa, a 33-0 upset that helped propel their team to a 9-0 conference record. Unfortunately, UCLA blew White's squad out in Pasadena on January 1st, 45-9.
Mackovic's fourth year was a weird one; he was relieved of his duties before the Illini played their bowl game. Lou Tepper took over before the John Hancock Bowl appearance; the team lost by a field goal.
Speaking of Tepper his official fourth season was the 1995 season, where the Illini finished 5-5-1. They upset #17 Arizona at home during the non-conference season, but finished the year with two losses in three games to Ohio State and Wisconsin. They didn't reach a bowl game.
The turn of the century marked Turner's fourth year in charge. While the season started out strong with a 3-0 record, the Illini then went 2-6 down the stretch of the Big Ten season and didn't reach the postseason. They lost 61-23 to Northwestern in the final game of the year to seal their fate.
The Zooker's fourth season was a disappointing one. Following the 2007 Rose Bowl appearance, hopes were high in Champaign. But following an opening day loss to Missouri where they surrendered 52 points, the season was an inconsistent mess to say the least. A loss to Western Michigan in Detroit helped doom Illinois to a 5-7 record.
To recap, the success of Illinois head coaches during their fourth season vary greatly. Four coaches have been fired following their fourth season. Three have won a Big Ten Championship. Three times an Illini team never won a Big Ten conference game when their coach was in his fourth year in Champaign. Twice a team has gone undefeated throughout the conference schedule. What will happen to Tim Beckman as his fourth season gets underway? Only time will tell.