Bret Bielema has had the keys to the Illinois football program for a little over a month,and the momentum he has created has been palpable.
Bielema completed the hiring of his coaching staff last week with the announcement of associate head coach/outside linebackers coach Kevin Kane.
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And it is evident that Bielema’s plan to change the Illini football culture is already in place and moving.
“From the jump to where we are now, there have been four phases: recruiting our current roster, recruiting a future roster, recruiting a group of coaches and then also just relations within the university,” Bielema told the media last week.
Over the past few weeks, it feels that every day has had an announcement of a senior returning to the team for another year of eligibility, a coach or assistant hired or retained, a transfer or recruit deciding to come to Illinois or even a high schooler receiving an offer from Bielema or his staff.
When it came to putting the right leaders in place to get the job done, Bielema said he was hiring people as much as he was hiring football coaches.
“I look for people that are good people, that appreciate family, [and] that love to win, and if you can have those characteristics you got a chance to be successful.
“If you can wake up every day and do what’s right, be respectful for others and be the best you, if you do those three things every day you’re gonna have a lot of success. That was the first thing I told all of our coaches, it was the first thing I told our 95 players.”
Bielema stressed in his introductory press conference that recruiting the state of Illinois was going to be a priority — and followed that up with a call to the Illinois high school head coaches hours after his hiring — and it seems he has made that good on his promise in his hiring process as well.
“I know I got a lot of good recruiters because they got a lot of wives that are out of their league,” Bielema joked.
However, Bielema knows there is more to recruiting than just having good recruiters, there needs to be a plan. That’s why Bielema has divided the state of Illinois into ten pieces, one sliver for each assistant coach to hone in on.
In addition to that, Bielema also has been studying out-of-state flights in and out of Champaign, Bloomington and Chicago so that his recruiters can make the most of their time. For example, if there is a direct flight from Bloomington to Dallas, the person assigned to recruit Bloomington will also be in charge of recruiting in Dallas.
To simplify it, every coach will have an in-state and out-of-state recruiting obligation.
But it’s not just his organization so far.
Known for some issues in the past, Bielema has been excellent with the media, and his approach seems solid — but after a troubled ending in his last head coaching gig at Arkansas, he knows better than anyone that this business is about results.
“I’m trying to get the best players,” Bielema said. “I’m not going to skip a step to get to where we want to be, but I’m trying to be good now.”
But as National Signing Day and spring ball nears, the first-year coach’s process is an ongoing one for the Illini.
“We have a lot of work to do.”