Beckman answers questions about offseason, recruiting and team’s prospects

For college football programs nationwide, the time between recruiting and training camp is a period of downtime where coaches and players cannot interact, with the exception of strength and conditioning coaches accompanying players during workouts. The Daily Illini caught up with Illinois head coach Tim Beckman to check in on how the offseason has gone so far, and what to expect for the upcoming year.

The Daily Illini: What has been your best moment so far since you’ve been named head coach at Illinois?

Tim Beckman: I guess being named head coach right now. I mean, we haven’t played a game or been involved in any of those things so far, but the moment and the opportunity to become the head football coach here, and the 23rd head football coach, that’s a blessing and something that my family’s very excited to be a part of, and the part of being at the University of Illinois and the Champaign-Urbana community.

DI: How has the transition been? Has it been what you had expected?

TB: I think any time, I mean this is — I’m not a rookie at this. It’s the second opportunity I’ve had to be a head football coach, and the first six months are always challenging. You’re bringing in a new culture, you’re bringing in a new system and you’re trying to input it in the best way you possibly can, and in the fastest way you possibly can. I think the players have done a good job. Yes, we have had some that weren’t willing to do what we asked them to do, but they’ve moved on, and our players are continuing to get better and better at the things that we ask our players to do.

DI: How’s recruiting been going for you?

TB: I think that my coaching staff’s done a fabulous job. I mean, if you look on Rivals, or if you look on Scout, we’re in the top 25 in the country. But that’s also star system, that’s not about — we haven’t played a game yet with any of the men that’ve committed to us. And that commitment is a commitment, it’s a verbal commitment. We’ve got to recruit hard until signing day, that first Wednesday in February. We’ve got great numbers, great players and great people that have wanted to be a part of this program. So we just gotta continue and finish with one of the top recruiting classes in the country.

DI: What about the players you inherited? How has it been inheriting players who are talented, but don’t necessarily fit into your recruiting bill?

TB: That’s a tough one. Change is always considered tough if that’s the way you perceive it. But I will say this team has been very willing, and it was a process, whenever you’re dealing with culture change, it is a process. I’m very proud of the way and the willingness of this football team to get to: ‘This is the way it’s gonna be. This is the way we’re gonna set these standards.’ And they’re very capable of accepting what we feel is necessary to win ball games and to get quality educations and to give back to the community. So I’ve been proud of the way they’ve responded to that.

DI: Which specific position group most needs to step up to take this team to the level it wants to reach this season?

TB: I’ll put a finger in just a second, but the depth of this football program is of major concern. People are gonna have to grow up and accept their role quickly — guys that haven’t played very much football, very much college football — so that’s a major concern. The offensive line, with the depth concerns, is definitely one of the groups that needs to be able to perform and stay healthy and do the things that are necessary for them to be successful because the game, to me, is still won in the trenches. Our wide receivers, we don’t have the number of scholarship football players that, probably, anybody does in the country. That’s gonna be a situation that, again depth issues, we’re gonna have to stay healthy and need some freshmen to step in and help us play there.

DI: With A.J. Jenkins gone, do you look to someone to fill his role or will the offense spread the ball around more?

TB: I think the passing game was A.J. Jenkins last year, and he was a tremendous football player. … It’s not gonna be just one guy that’s the main guy, it’s gonna be the whole group, including running backs getting the football and being able to utilize people that we’ve talked about before. Taking Terry Hawthorne and letting him play wide receiver a little bit, or Justin Green playing wide receiver a little bit, or Miles Osei being able to go from quarterback to wide receiver. All those things are things that we’re gonna have to do because of the number of scholarship wide receivers we have.

DI: At the quarterback position, would you be more likely to try playing both Reilly O’Toole and Nathan Scheelhaase, or are you looking to find the better one and go with one quarterback?

TB: Well I mean, that’s what two-a-days are for. Going into spring ball and after spring ball was over, Nathan was the one that was in front of Reilly, but Reilly also had a great spring game. So we’ll utilize two-a-days and then make that decision when it’s necessary. Nathan Scheelhaase has won football games here and has taken this team to back-to-back bowls, and bowl victories, so he does have that. But Reilly’s also proven in 15 days of practice that he’s capable of doing it also so we’ll utilize two-a-days and can make that decision. That’s why we’ve also taken Miles and moved him out to wide receiver, plus running back and quarterback. So at times, you could definitely have two guys, two quarterbacks on the field at the same time.

DI: So you have no philosophical stance one way or the other?

TB: We’re gonna play players that can win.

DI: What makes you so confident that you can turn this program around from the inconsistencies and lack of success it’s experienced in recent years?

TB: It’s the plan that we’ve come up with, it’s been proven and it’s been done. We had the same issues at Toledo before we got there and it wasn’t an immediate. It was a five-win season, but then it went to the bowl type atmosphere where we were building a consistent winner. And I think you do that with recruiting, and that’s what we feel that we need to do to continue this process of building a team that can win every year. It is a process, but it is a plan to get the best players we possibly can that fit this program. They might not be a Rivals five-star, they might be a Rivals three-star, but so was Troy Smith and so was A.J. Hawk — they weren’t even any stars and both of them ended up taking that football team to multiple Big Ten championships. It’s about getting the right people in the right fits into your program.

DI: How much pressure are you putting on yourself to win immediately?

TB: That’s been my career, if you look at it in the last nine years, I’ve been to a bowl game in every one of them except for one, so there’s no question I like to win. I liked to be involved in winning. We did that in Ohio State, we did that at Oklahoma State, we did it at Bowling Green prior to that and then we also did it at Toledo, so I would like to think that we can do that as quickly as possible and to be a contender as quickly as possible.

DI: What would you mark as a successful first season for your team?

TB: We don’t mark that by W’s and L’s. I want this football team to get better every practice. I want this football team to get better every series and get better every quarter and get better every game. We set standards that we wanna accomplish after the first three football games, then the six, then the nine, then the 12. And I want them to be achievable goals based on the opponents that you’re playing at that time. It’s something that I’ve been around that’s been very successful for our football teams. So the goal is to be in the championship game on 12-1-12. We need to be at Lucas Oil. If that’s not your goal, then you really shouldn’t be playing the football game. Our goal is to be at Lucas Oil on 12-1-12, and we’re gonna try to strive, each week, to be able to achieve that goal.