Just a few days ago, Tim Beckman landed his greatest victory since taking over as Illinois head coach in December 2011 – securing the transfer of former Oklahoma State QB Wes Lunt.
Beckman had some help. Cowboys coach Mike Gundy initially barred Lunt from transferring to schools in the Big 12, Pac-12, SEC or Southern Mississippi, where former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken is now head coach.
Stay classy, Gundy.
Ultimately, though, Lunt’s decision to play for Beckman at Illinois gave something valuable to the embattled coach, entering his second season. Lunt gave Beckman a product to sell.
Coaches, by nature, are salesmen. When things go sour – or, in the case of Beckman, start sour – the most valuable commodity is hope. It gives coaches a plea, to administrators, recruits, boosters and fans alike, that they need just a little more time.
When hope is lost, change happens.
Those changes are coming faster in today’s college football then ever before.
Beckman’s 2012 season followed the unfortunate blueprints set by Turner Gill at Kansas and Jon Embree at Colorado. Both coaches were fired after just two years and five and four wins, respectively.
The team Beckman inherited from Ron Zook made consecutive bowl games. Beckman was there for seemingly 15 minutes before everything started eroding, culminating by a 2-10 season
It seemed Beckman feared the same fate that befell Gill and Embree might befall him as well, leading him to fire offensive coordinator Chris Beatty. Bill Cubit, charged with the task of bringing a fast-tempo offense to Champagne, takes over. His primary objective will be helping QB Nathan Scheelhaase return to the form that made him one of the Big Ten’s rising stars in 2010-11.
Scheelhaase struggled mightily in the new offense last year, throwing a career-low 4 TDs while getting intercepted eight times. He also set a career-low with 1,361 passing yards, topping the 200-yard mark just once.
All of the Illini’s – and Beckman’s – ills can’t be placed at Scheelhaase’s feet. The biggest problem facing Beckman is that Illinois spent most of the season as an utterly non-competitive mess.
The Illini beat Western Michigan in the opener and then slaughtered Charleston Southern in Week 3. Aside from those two games, Illinois played within 13 points of just one team – a 20-17 loss to Purdue in the team’s penultimate game of the 2012 season.
Illinois finished with a 24.6-point average margin of defeat, with 10 losses. This seems as good a time as any to point out again that this was a team that qualified for consecutive bowl games under Zook.
What Lunt gave to Beckman, other than the ability to sell hope, is one more play.
Coaches typically cast out coordinators, as Beckman did with Beatty, in an effort to alleviate pressure. They don’t typically get the chance to do so in consecutive seasons.
However, Beckman now can attempt a variation of the same play. If Scheelhaase and the offense stall in 2013, Beckman can potentially use his senior quarterback as essentially a sacrificial lamb.
Beckman can say Scheelhaase – an athletic, dual-threat quarterback – simply wasn’t a good fit for the offense he wants to run to help Illinois win big in the Big Ten. Lunt, a lifelong fan of the Illini, is a far more prototypical pocket passer.
That variation of styles of play, combined with the fact that Lunt started as a true freshman at noted offensive power Oklahoma State, would provide hope to virtually any fan base.
Just wait, Beckman can now say, better times are coming when Lunt takes the helm of my offense next year.
Beckman certainly hopes he can find significantly more wins on the 2013 schedule than he did a year ago. Even if he doesn’t, though, the victory he clinched earlier in the week might just give him one more shot to retain his job.