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#AskTCR: Illinois Football Preseason Head Coaching Search Mega-Edition


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#AskTCR has been handed down yet again, at least temporarily. Fornelli began this Champaign Room stalwart, Primiano honorably followed his predecessor, and now you guys are stuck with me. That's like having lobster bisque for your appetizer, Black Dog's burnt ends as your entrée, and a piece of bread as your desert. I'll do my best to live up to the excellence that precedes me.

Now sit down and enjoy your bread.

There are two ways to ask The Champaign Room your questions. You can tweet them at us on Twitter using the hashtag #AskTCR -- it just makes it easier to keep track -- or you can email them to us at And if you've got a personal question and you're worried about your privacy, just tell us. We'll change your name to Tom Crean when we publish it on the site. And remember, you can ask us ANYTHING. It doesn't have to be about Illinois or even sports.


There's no more appropriate way to begin a new season of #AskTCR than with a question from our most frequent contributor. Hello, Mike. Illinois is going to win ten games this season and lose to Ole Miss in the Capital One Bowl.

Here's the answer for your trick question about point guards: I think Illinois already has its man on the roster. If and when Jalen Coleman-Lands fully recovers from his stress fracture injury, gets back into playing shape, and starts competing in practice with Jaylon Tate and Khalid Lewis, I have a feeling John Groce is going to find that he's the best man to run the offense. A potential Coleman-Lands, Nunn, Hill, Black, Finke line-up gives me a tingling sensation. Obviously, JCL will probably never be as good as Dee was, but I like his potential to be a very good lead guard for multiple years at Illinois.

If we have to look into the future and away from the current squad, I like Charlie Moore as the guy to potentially take over the position (perhaps sliding JCL to the two, thinking several years into a purely hypothetical future). Moore seems to like Illinois, and Groce was in on him before his meteoric rise up the recruiting rankings this summer. That's my guy, and it sounds like he's the staff's guy too (though Xavier Simpson is another possibility).

These are both great questions, and ones I inadvertently addressed already today in my piece about some misconceptions Illini fans have about the coaching search. Rakesh is correct that most sports teams in general pursue coaches whose strengths cover the weaknesses of the just-fired coach. Nebraska did this when they hired Mr. Rogers' younger brother Mike Riley to replace Bo Pelini, the very angry descendant of an Easter Island head.

Just try and tell me which one is Bo Pelini.

But no, I really don't think Illinois is "forced" to hire a nice guy or anything like that. I think you'd generally want to hire a nice guy, though. Illinois could go out and get Greg Schiano, who's a decent football coach but also a dick, if they decided his football prowess overcame his similar shortcomings to Beckman. Do I think that's likely? No.

If I had to pick one trait that the new coach will have that Beckman didn't, it's an ability to act confidently, and perhaps even charmingly, with the media. Beckman killed his reputation with the press from day one because of the way he handled himself, and I don't expect the next coach to make similar mistakes. PJ Fleck is probably the best candidate on our coaching candidate list at this sort of thing, which is part of why he's a likely option. Still, Illinois will hire whomever they believe to be the best coach on their own list, taking into account everything that goes into the head coaching job.

If you had to bet on one player, put everything you have on Ke'Shawn Vaughn. Josh Ferguson doesn't have the best stamina as the lead running back, and I expect Vaughn to receive plenty of touches this season even when Ferg is perfectly healthy. If Josh went down with an injury, Vaughn would be the number one back regardless of what the depth chart says.

Vaughn has the look of a future starter and workhorse to him, even if we don't see that this season. I doubt anybody's going to have a Dudek-esque breakout, because Dudek was close to the best receiver in the Big Ten for the second half of 2014. But Vaughn is the most likely to get close.

Other options are all on offense: Desmond Cain as a slot receiver could surpass Dionte Taylor and Sam Mays as an outside receiver could potentially see enough playing time to have a mini-breakout. It's unlikely they do too much though, especially given how much depth Illinois will have at receiver when Hardee and (hopefully) Dudek return. I don't expect any offensive linemen to make a major impact, and probably not anybody on defense. Perhaps DT Jamal Milan if Rob Bain goes down with an injury.

I think Cubit is a pretty decent head coach, and probably better than Beckman. But, I don't think six wins and a bowl would be enough to hire Cubit full-time for the head coaching position. Illinois is probably looking to hit a hard reset on this program, with the exception of hopefully keeping around a guy like wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy for the new regime.

Let's break down Bill Cubit's chances of sticking around in Champaign after this season by projected 2015 regular season win total:

0 wins -- Commenters from our Facebook page light every building in Champaign on fire, Bill Cubit dies, does not coach in Champaign in 2016.

1-4 wins -- Bill Cubit is not strongly considered for the head coaching job and ultimately leaves Champaign after 2015, either through retirement or by pursuing another opportunity.

5-6 wins -- Bill Cubit is very lightly considered for the head coaching job. Should he not get the job, which is extremely likely, the acting athletic director at least broaches the idea of Cubit staying on as an offensive coordinator for the next coach.

7-8 wins -- Bill Cubit is considered a strong candidate for the head coaching job. He's still very unlikely to get it, but has a shot if other candidates aren't deemed a significant upgrade. The acting athletic director recommends Cubit to the next head coach as a very good candidate for the offensive coordinator position.

9-11 wins -- Bill Cubit is hailed as the savior of Illini Football; is extended three years as permanent head coach. Illinois goes 3-9 in 2016.

12 wins -- Commenters from our Facebook page light every building in Champaign on fire, Bill Cubit dies, does not coach in Champaign in 2016, Illini Football never makes it to their College Football Playoff Semifinal and Purdue gets a BYE to the championship.

So there you go. That's exactly what will happen.

Dre Brown will take a redshirt year due to his torn ACL. Jihad Ward was expected to be back by the North Carolina game, but don't be surprised if we see him against Western Illinois. Reports have been extremely positive about his injury.

Mike Dudek is the most interesting injury case on the roster. I think he returns this season, likely for the majority of the conference schedule, but there have been some rumors flying around that he may take a medical redshirt and sit out the season.

Dudek and the coaches will have to weigh his huge competitive desire to get on the field with his long-term health and safety. They'll likely err on the side of caution, ensuring that all protocols are fully followed to the letter in the wake of the allegations against Beckman. If Dudek is healthy by the Iowa game, he'll play the second half of the season. If he's not healthy for the Iowa game, I wouldn't be surprised if he sits out the rest of the season.

Probably not. Even if his name is cleared through a lawsuit, the amount of baggage that would come with hiring Beckman as a head coach would likely be too much for even a small school to try it. And Beckman's coaching acumen isn't good enough to make it a worthwhile endeavor. He'll probably be around in the football world as a position coach or maybe a coordinator for a while, though.

Not really. In fact, it's the best time to fire a coach because the university has all the time in the world to figure out how to evaluate coaches. It's probably the worst time to do it for on-the-field performance, but the long-term outlook is perfectly fine. By the time firing/hiring season comes around, Illinois will have a leg up on the rest of the competition.

He probably doesn't. BUT IF HE DOES, here's how it happens:

Step 1: Illinois football has a quiet, somewhat successful season. They make a bowl.

Step 2: Illinois men's basketball makes the tournament despite all the injuries.

Step 3: Illinois women's basketball has an improved culture following the Divilbiss firing; has an average B1G season in spite of all the transfers.

Step 4: The spring sports continue to dominate the Earth.

Then, maybe Thomas keeps his job. I'm not sure he's as close to being fired as others think, but he's certainly not in a good place and needs some luck this school year.

Ok, so Eaton Spence and Vanjo Bentley have a ton of experience between them which is great, but do they really have the size and/or talent to match up against B1G wideouts? They seem to make plays all too infrequently on defense.

-- Dan Korenchan, Facebook

This is a fantastic question, and a very important one for the fate of the 2015 defense. Both Spence and Bentley have struggled to cause turnovers and the entire Illini defense will have to pick that up if they're going to stop the better offenses of the Big Ten. I think both guys have the talent to compete in the Big Ten, though. Hopefully, improvement in the defensive line will result in more opportunities for errant passes to be snatched away by Illini defensive backs.

That's probably the best part about this season-- Illini fans cannot lose! It doesn't matter if Illinois wins four games or fewer, because then everybody gets fired and we get to be excited about the coaching search. And if Illinois makes a bowl, we get to be somewhat excited about the performance and excited about the coaching search. And if Illinois wins a whole bunch of games this season, then we get to be very excited about the performance and STILL EXCITED ABOUT THE COACHING SEARCH! What a year. Let's just sit back and enjoy this one, Illini friends.

Here's the big one, folks. I won't tell you exactly who I want, because I haven't narrowed it down yet. We have a whole season to watch most of these coaches go through 12 games and see where they stand as a coaching candidate with another year of experience. PJ Fleck could go 11-1 in the MAC and we would immediately jump on that. He could also go 3-9 and we'd run far in the other direction. It's gonna be a good time. Anyway, here's my shortlist, in no real order:

  1. Mark Hudspeth, HC of University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He has yet to not have a 9-4 season at ULL. That's pretty cool. He's like the Easter Island hea--err, Bo Pelini of the Sun Belt.
  2. Justin Fuente, HC of Memphis. Really like this guy. Want to see him follow up his surprise 10-3 season with another 8-plus wins in 2015, but it seems like he would be a really good hire.
  3. Bo Pelini, HC of Youngstown State. I'm not sure how likely he is to become the coach, given his rocky relationships with boosters and the media, but winning cures everything and I think he would accomplish that at Illinois.
  4. P.J. Fleck, HC of Western Michigan. Definitely want to see how his team performs this year, but I love his incredible recruiting prowess and his goofy, fun personality. Would be a hit with the media.
  5. Jeff Brohm, HC of Western Kentucky. Surprise! This one isn't very likely at all-- we didn't even include him in our coaching candidates post the other day. But he's a personal favorite of mine. Another year of C-USA excellence at Western Kentucky and Brohm could be a dark horse candidate for the job. He's already stolen my heart, mostly because I have a soft spot for the Hilltoppers.


I hope you enjoyed my first #AskTCR, and if you didn't, then please don't tell my mom. Be sure to submit questions for next Wednesday's version by whichever method you prefer.