Last week I shared the blind resumes of 8 football coaches. 75% of you guessed Bielema correctly. I’ll give it to you; it was pretty easy.
Here are the answers:
Coach 1: Bret Bielema - Arkansas 2013 - 2014
Bowls: 1 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 29 | 2nd: 22
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 1 | Top 25 Wins: 2 | Conference Wins: 2
Coach 2: Kirby Smart - Georgia 2017 - 2018
Bowls: 2 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 3 | 2nd: 1
Top 5 Wins: 1 | Top 10 Wins: 2 | Top 25 Wins: 6 | Conference Wins: 11
Coach 3: Kirk Ferentz - Iowa 1999 - 2000
Bowls: 0 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 29 | 2nd: 21
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 0 | Top 25 Wins: 1 | Conference Wins: 3
Coach 4: Chip Kelly - UCLA 2019 - 2020
Bowls: 0 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 44 | 2nd: 31
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 0 | Top 25 Wins: 2 | Conference Wins: 7
Coach 5: Dabo Swinney - Clemson 2009 - 2010
Bowls: 2 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 36 | 2nd: 27
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 1 | Top 25 Wins: 2 | Conference Wins: 10
Coach 6: Bret Bielema - Illinois 2021 - 2022
Bowls: 1 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 63 | 2nd: 46
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 1 | Top 25 Wins: 2 | Conference Wins: 9
Coach 7: Bret Bielema - Wisconsin 2006 - 2007
Bowls: 2 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 36 | 2nd: 32
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 0 | Top 25 Wins: 2 | Conference Wins: 12
Coach 8: Luke Fickell - Cincinnati 2018 - 2019
Bowls: 1 | Recruiting Class Rankings - 1st: 49 | 2nd: 64
Top 5 Wins: 0 | Top 10 Wins: 0 | Top 25 Wins: 0 | Conference Wins: 8
Which one was the most surprising for you?
I think, looking at these blind resumes, Illinois, after two years under Bielema, is somewhere between UCLA under Chip Kelly and Clemson under Dabo Swinney.
UCLA - Chip Kelly
UCLA hired Kelly following the firing of Jim Mora. It took Kelly five years to recruit the right players and turn that program around. After three years of being in the hot seat, in 2022, Kelly returned UCLA to national prominence, was ranked as high as ninth in the nation, flipped 5-star recruits from better programs, and built an identity with Kelly’s high-powered west coast offense.
Kelly brought a struggling program from the basement of the Pac-12 and kept building that program even after a lackluster 7-17 start.
Clemson - Dabo Swinney
Dabo took over for Tommy Bowden in 2008 and since has built one of the greatest programs in the last 15 years. While Clemson never was in the ACC basement, it wasn’t heralded as a premier program. In seven years after a 6-7 season, Dabo built a middle-of-the-pack ACC team to 4 national championships, 2 national titles and consistent top-10 AP rankings.
But Clemson wasn’t always there. A change under Dabo elevated the standard and brought consistent excellence to a program that was never a prominent player in the world of college football.
Grading Bielema at Illinois
In the last two years there's been a change at Illinois. You can see it in the types of players coming into the program. You can see it in the coaches that want to be here. Hell, you can see it in the coaches that leave the program. The program is being built for consistency in the long run.
I think you might be asking yourself, how in the world is he going actually to compare Bielema to 2-time national championship coach Dabo Swinney? Well, here it is.
College football is a game of inertia. It’s really, really, really hard to change direction. Good teams stay good. Bad teams stay bad. There’s usually a change in direction when there is a coaching change, and you feel it in the first few years. Clemson was a middle-of-the-pack ACC team before Dabo, winning 7ish games a season for about two decades. But he came in, built momentum, and carried that inertia into winning 11ish games each year.
Illinois might be moving from 3 to 7 games a season, but that same inertia exists.
- Illinois played in a New Year’s “Day” bowl in year 2, while Clemson didn't make it to its first NY6 bowl under Dabo until Year 3.
- Illinois won the same amount of ranked games and one fewer conference game as Dabo’s Clemson Tigers.
- Illinois saw a similar jump in recruiting rankings.
That momentum we see is an early sign of a good football program. For programs like Illinois, sure, the bar is lower, but for the first time in a decade, Illinois can reach the bar and soar past it.
2023 will be a prove-it season, and from what we have been seeing in the offseason so far, Illinois has the weapons to go out there and prove it.
And, for what it’s worth when Chip Kelly’s Bruins move to the Big Ten, Illinois is going to be ready to compete.