Column: Fans can’t just blame (any) Ron

By Darren Bailey

It’s that time of the season again, ladies and gentleman. Time to start the blame game. Who’s fault is it this year? Which Ron gets the blame – Turner, Guenther, or Zook? Of course, there’s also the old adage, “Coaches don’t win or lose games; players win or lose games.” That means it must be Tim Brasic’s fault. Or, since he doesn’t ever have time to throw the ball, maybe the offensive line. Or maybe he does have time but won’t throw the deep ball because he has no faith in the receivers. I won’t mention the defense.

Point the finger anywhere you want, that’s your right as a fan. Just don’t forget to point it back at yourself sometimes, too.

Since Saturday’s ugly debacle, all I’ve heard is how hard it is to be an Illini fan. Don’t you think it’s hard to be an Illini football player, too? Or how about the coaching staff? Many of them came from schools loaded with lions at linebacker and gazelles at receiver. Now they coach players whose other offers came only from lower-level MAC schools and 1-AA programs.

Before you start complaining to me about how hard it is to be an Illini fan, maybe you should try really doing it. How many of you really live and die with Illini outcomes? How many truly bleed orange and blue? Some of you do, of course. The rest? Maybe you do, too – but that orange and blue is the paint job on Kam’s. Illini football games have become just another reason to go out and pop a few (or several) and wake up with a hangover.

You want to experience a high better than any buzz? Try the feeling you got when you saw Walter Young snag a deep bomb from Kurt Kittner against Northwestern to clinch the Big Ten in 2001. Or how about the goosebumps you got when looking at Luther’s face last year on that drive against Arizona. That’s a high that lets you know you’re alive.

A football program is much like a democratic government in that it gets all of its power from the people. For current players, full stands and loud crowds remind them of who they are playing for – the University and community they represent. Large crowds and a strong following also help get games televised, bowl bids (think to the future, here) and much more money flowing into the athletic department. This funds scholarships, stadium renovations, advertising… The list goes on.

But most importantly for this program, fan support is what really makes recruiting pop. Take Saturday’s visit from five-star basketball prospect Eric Gordon. He was down the week before for Midnight Madness, but hearing the Krush chant his name drew him back again. Fans, if you build it (support of the program), they will come.

It is hard to be the fan of a bad team. It’s hard to look at the scoreboard and see 28-3, Penn State. It’s even harder to see that, and then realize that it’s still just the first quarter. I’m not going to try to explain that. It’s obvious that Penn State has more talent, but 63-10? I didn’t know it could get more embarrassing than Michigan State.

But instead of yelling, “Woe is me!” and running to hide behind the keg, think about what’s going on with this program.

Ron Zook is not at Illinois to build a football team. He’s here to build a football program. Could Illinois close the gap on some of these games? Yeah, sure. That’s what happened last year – play for the now and damn the future. Instead, Zook and Co. run the offense as they will in the future, play the guys that make mistakes but who will carry the program into the future.

Because of this, hopefully, in three or four years I won’t have to be calling for support of a woeful program, but instead requesting that people stop burning couches on Green Street after a big bowl victory.

So, complain about any piece of the team you’d like – that’s your prerogative, Mr. Coach-in-the-Stands. But remember, it all starts with you.

Two punts and a kick:

Too bad that Illini defensive end Xavier Fulton went down with an ACL injury. The future NFL draft pick needs as many reps as he can get to improve.

Div. III program Mount Union lost its first game since 1994 Saturday to Ohio Northern, ending a winning streak of 110 games.

About a dozen football recruits on campus for the Penn State game were consoling coaches post-game, telling them to keep their heads up. Zook is some kind of salesman.

Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]