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#AskTCR: Return of the Mailbag (Again)


Illinois v Indiana Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images


You see it all started on June 7th, 2013. Some guy named Fornelli started a question mailbag during the college sports off-season for readers of a blog called The Champaign Room. If they had a question about anything, they could ask The Champaign Room and The Champaign Room would give them an answer. The answer may not have been to the question they asked, but it was an answer all the same.

Their questions didn’t have to be about Illinois, though they could’ve been. They could ask The Champaign Room about anything their heart desired. If The Champaign Room knew the answer, The Champaign Room answered. If The Champaign Room didn’t know the answer, it answered anyway. Readers flooded the mailbag with questions for months on end, and the great Fornelli provided them with answers.

Six months passed, and the great Fornelli moved on to cover college football with some “Columbia Broadcasting System.” The mailbag was passed on to The Champaign Room’s Kansas correspondent, Doctor Primiano. The doctor brought the mailbag to new and improved horizons. Answering questions from remote locations across the country, expanding the variance of topics covered, and even bringing in a guest to help from time to time.

The doctor manned the mailbag for a 16 month tenure without fail, and helped a weekly cornerstone of the blog continue to flourish. His efforts turned the mailbag into a treasured segment for fans and readers alike. Time would take it’s toll however, and the doctor’s attention turned to doctor things leaving the mailbag floating in hiatus.

A hiatus that lasted 9 months...

As Bill Cubit held the Interim Head Coaching position for the Fighting Illini football program, the mailbag had an interim caretaker for a month. A Daily Illini editor named Silich kept the segment a float while TCR looked for a full-time host. The search lasted 17 months, until a staff writer volunteered to revive the sleeping giant.

With a nod to the past, and a look to the future, the mailbag returns...

As we approach the end of this season, it is becoming more apparent that John Groce will not be retained as head coach of the Fighting Illini in 2017-2018. We have multiple sources here at TCR that say Josh Whitman has been meeting with donors about potential coaching options both in Illinois and Florida. While Whitman has been extremely quiet about potential head coaches, it seems that Cuonzo Martin has been on his radar for some time. Word is that Whitman was in Florida earlier this week to meet with donors about a new basketball coach hire, and rumor has it Martin was the focus of the meeting. Expect Groce to stay for the remainder of this season, shortly followed by an announcement involving a new hire.

Technically Cuonzo Martin is taken until 2021 thanks to a recent contract extension, but he’s the front runner right now. His ties to East St. Louis give him leverage against other schools recruiting in Central and Southern Illinois, and every program he’s coached has improved both overall and in conference play. He’s also a branch on the Gene Keady coaching tree (along with former Illini coach Bruce Weber). Rumor has it he’s the top target on Josh Whitman’s radar, and it would be another great hire for Illinois athletics.

While ANYTHING can happen, it’s a safe bet to expect DaMonte Williams and Javon Pickett will stay no matter what. Jeremiah Tilmon initially looked like he was on the fence about staying if Groce was not here, but we’ve seen him attending games with other recruits like Mark Smith. If Illinois brings in Martin as their next head coach, you’ll have an East St. Louis Head Coach trying to convince an East St. Louis player to stay. I don’t think that will be an issue.

Then there’s Trent Frazier, and tweets like these...

But then there’s Trent Frazier and tweets like this...

As time goes on, I think his loyalty has shifted from a head coach to a program. But there’s reason to believe he might still be thinking about what is going to work best for him and his playing career. Will be interesting to see how a new coaching staff will gel with recruits on the fence like Frazier.

Both Ayo Dosunmu and Tim Finke have been on the radar for a while now, and I personally like Finke’s size and having a guard to fill the hole Malcolm Hill will leave after this season. The hometown connection doesn’t hurt either...

We were a little screwed knowing that we wouldn’t have an arm like Wes Lunt’s to carry what COULD be a struggling offense next season. While Chayce Crouch is good enough to run the offense, a shoulder injury last season could effect the way he plays. Then we found out that Dwayne Lawson was transferring to Illinois, and things changed immediately. Which leads us to this:

Dwayne Lawson. If he arrives in Champaign this June, he’s likely the starter next season at Quarterback. If he arrives in August, it’s a tough call. Sure, you could easily start a 6’6 guy with the hope of him being ready on opening weekend...but there’s a chance he wouldn’t be ready until mid-season. There are some areas of concern with Dwayne, including him struggling to pick-up a playbook and failing a drug test while at Virginia Tech. But if he can turn things around and work his way into the starting role, Lawson’s high ceiling is something to look forward to.

As far as I’m concerned, Illinois went 2-1-1 against Darrel Hazel and Purdue from 2013-2016. I’m a hockey fan.

From the Illinois Renaissance FAQ page:

“This fall, we will begin interviewing potential architects for the renovation. After hiring an architect, we will continue to work with that firm to create final drawings and cost estimates, with completion of the planning process anticipated by Fall 2017. Final approval from campus leadership and the Board of Trustees will then be required.”

My guess is you’re good for this season, but you will likely need to find a new spot for 2018 as the current goal for completion on the south endzone renovations is 2019 (presumably BEFORE the 2019 football season). A VERY underrated spot in Memorial Stadium is the upper deck on the West side. You’re blocked from the elements thanks to the press box and west towers, and all of the facilities on that side of the field are new. My play would be to sit in the southwest corner of the west balcony in 2018, then move back to the south endzone after renovations are completed.

Circle October 12, 2019 on your calendar right now. It COULD be a preview of the 2019 Big Ten Championship game as Michigan comes to Champaign for the first time since 2011.

Jim Harbaugh will very likely have control of the Big Ten East division, and Lovie Smith will have had 3 years of recruits invested in the program. With a non-conference schedule of Akron, @UConn, and EMU, Illinois will be 3-0 headed into B1G play. The road schedule is @Minnesota, @Purdue, @MSU, @Iowa, which is relatively soft and should be easy to win out. This leaves Nebraska, Wisconsin, Rutgers, Northwestern, and Michigan as your home slate. The ONLY team that poses a legitimate threat is Michigan, and they come to C-U early enough in the conference season where a loss doesn’t derail your season. Winning out will earn an invitation to the Big Ten Championship game as the representative of the West division, giving the Illini a chance at their first outright Big Ten Championship since 1983.

The opportunity is why not us?

“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow.” Orison Swett Marden

March 13th is our “tomorrow.” Expect something to happen.