Instead of doing our typical Friday staff article where we list predictions for that weekend’s game, we’re going with Illinois’ next coach (mostly because Saturday’s game against Penn State is all but meaningless).
Michael Berns: Lance Leipold, Buffalo Bulls head coach
Hoping for and predicting the Illini hire the former Wisconsin-Whitewater legend Lance Leipold. Illinois can pay 5 or 6 times what Leipold makes at SUNY Buffalo where Leipold currently coaches, and the chance to play (and beat!) the likes of Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa, etc has got to be appealing to a coach who cares about his competitive legacy. Leipold was 109-6 at DIII Wisconsin-Whitewater, going to seven championship games and winning six of them. At Buffalo, a horrible program prior to his arrival, he’s gone 23-9 in his last three seasons, winning two division titles. He has ties all throughout the midwest. Illinois seems like a natural fit for a coach that loves to run the football and knows how to maximize his talent.
Stephen Cohn: Bret Bielema, New York Giants OLB Coach
I don’t love this pick, but I’m not sure I love any pick right now. I know dumping Lovie was the right move, but I sure hope Josh Whitman had some names in mind, because I’m afraid as hell that it’s just going to end up being Bret Bielema. It honestly makes a lot of sense — yes, I know there are some off-the-field issues in the past, as well as the style of play, but getting a coach who has been at two Power Five program (including one in the Big Ten), having gone to Iowa, and being from Illinois, it kinda works. I honestly hate it, but I don’t know right now what I would like. So I think we just sadly end up with Bielema getting a chance at redemption. Anyone know how the Giants’ outside linebackers have been this year?
Matt Rejc: Lance Leipold, Buffalo Bulls Head Coach
Josh Whitman’s hiring of both Brad Underwood and Lovie Smith were both somewhat unconventional in that neither name showed up on lists like these. Since the Lovie hire didn’t work out, I expect Whitman to limit this hiring process to more traditional candidates. While Gus Malzahn and Luke Fickell would be ideal, I just don’t see what they would have to gain by coming to Illinois versus more established destinations. Jeff Monken makes some sense, but running the option in the Big Ten would make that hire somewhat unconventional and riskier. I also think that Whitman will look for a G5 coach rather than a former NFL or P5 head coach. The only possibility that I’ve seen thrown around which I thoroughly disagree with is Bret Bielema. He may have some credentials on paper, but he’s not at all a fit for this program and I’d be stunned if he’s even seriously considered by Whitman.
Raul Rodriguez: Jeff Monken, Army Head Coach (and run the Triple Option)
In summer 2018, I wrote a post about what it takes to create consistency in college football. My answer to this piece will use that past post as a basis for this answer.
To sum it up, the Illini have many disadvantages in terms of talent acquisition given that high school football in the state of Illinois and the midwest in general has deteriorated as a result of de-industrialization of the midwest and a subsequent population shift from the midwest to the sunbelt.
So the Illini need to do two things: (1) find a Barry Alvarez who can maximize what is available in-state at level the Illini haven’t maximized in the modern era of CFB and (2)they need to counter the current trends in the Big Ten. The Elite Programs in the Big Ten East, are moving to more pass oriented offenses with air raid concepts while the better programs in the West have merely added elements of spread modernization to already old-school pro-style offenses. I think Jeff Monken— a native of Peoria, Illinois—, and his triple option offense give him a chance to be the Barry Alvarez of Illinois and to run an offense no one else in the Big Ten is running and something that Big Ten will HATE HATE HATE having to defend. Monken could go to coaching clinics and teach Illinois high school coaches how to implement triple-option blocking techniques and this will help Illinois maximize the State of Illinois. It could also help the Illini develop a walk-on program that will be of great benefit. Do the right thing Josh Whitman. Bring Monken home.
Patrick Catezone: Nathan Scheelhaase, Iowa State WR Coach, Illinois Alum
The Dabo Swinney comparison is both comical and simple. Both Scheelhaase and Swinney are men of faith, and certainly make it a point in their coaching style. Swinney started his head coaching career at a young age, Scheelhaase would do the same. Finally, they were/are both considered great recruiters at a young age. Scheelhaase successfully recruited two 4-star running backs, Jirehl Brock and Breece Hall, during his time as running backs coach at Iowa State. The comparison is too simple. Dabo had been the assistant head coach at Clemson before being promoted to head coach. He had been around two successful programs, Alabama and Clemson. He was 39 years old when he had been promoted to head coach, Scheelhaase is only 30 years old. The comparison seems outlandish but Josh Whitman can learn a few things from it. Dabo’s success has changed the College Football coaching landscape, coaches now require three things: recruiting talent, excitement and loyalty. Those three attributes have made Dabo Swinney one of the most successful coaches in College Football and it was what Clemson was searching for when they hired him. Those are three things that Nate Scheelhaase can bring to Illinois.