By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Down in Champaign, where these days things are far more blue than orange, the Fighting Illini football team is a woeful 2-5 in head coach Tim Beckman’s first season.
Meanwhile, 335 miles away in northwestern Ohio, the Toledo Rockets are flying high at 6-1 in their first season without Tim Beckman as head coach.
So, is that stark disparity of records a sign of brighter days to come for Beckman by showing that, in time, he can build program so strong that it runs smoothly even without him? Or is it instead a frightening warning flare signaling that Illinois AD Mike Thomas hired the wrong guy?
Because, at least one Illini fan believes that this season’s results are proof that the true head coach of Toledo football during Beckman’s tenure wasn’t Tim Beckman at all. Rather, it was his 32-year-old former offensive coordinator Matt Campbell, now the current head coach of Toledo football.
This past weekend, after Illinois and Beckman were humiliated – yet again – in a 45-0 skunking in the rain at Michigan, a commenter at IlliniHQ.com by the moniker “Chitown” wrote about Illinois, “We hired the wrong coach. Just like Colorado did with Dan Hawkins, we did with Beckman. The real coach of Boise State is still the current coach of Boise State [Chris Petersen].
“Colorado got scammed with Dan Hawkins. The REAL coach of Toledo was the offensive coordinator last season and he’s now the current head coach. We got the current Dan Hawkins, aka Tim Beckman. … We are the Colorado Buffs from 3-4 seasons ago. Admit the mistake. Tim Beckman was NOT the reason the Rockets were successful. The current head coach of Toledo, former O coordinator, is the reason Beckman got the Illinois job.”
For Illini fans, such words should send a chill down many a spine – much in the same way that the name Dan Hawkins probably still invokes nightmares among fans of the Buffaloes.
In 2006, after Hawkins had compiled a 53-11 record in six seasons at Boise State – including a ridiculous 37-3 mark in the WAC – Colorado hired the mop-topped hotshot to replace the scandal-marred Gary Barnett and return the CU program back to its former national championship glory.
That didn’t happen.
In five seasons in Boulder, Hawkins failed to post even one winning record – his best was a 6-7 season in 2007, his second year – before he was finally dismissed after going 19-39 overall, including 10-27 in the Big 12.
In the meantime, Hawkins’ former offensive coordinator Chris Petersen assumed the reins in Boise and lifted the Broncos to even greater heights. Since ’06, Petersen has amassed a 78-7 record, averaging a mere one loss per season, while piling up an even more ridiculous 46-3 mark in the WAC and Mountain West Conferences.
Petersen took a good thing at Boise State – built largely on his offensive schemes – and made it even better. At Toledo, Campbell, a 32-year-old offensive wunderkind, may be doing the exact same thing.
After all, consider this: At Toledo, Beckman went just 5-7 during his first season running the program in 2009. In 2010, however, he made the wise decision to anoint the youthful Campbell – then just 29 years old – as his offensive coordinator and immediately the Rockets took off.
In 2010-11, Toledo piled up a 16-9 record that included a 14-2 mark in the MAC, allowing Beckman to make the leap to Illinois. Last season, Toledo’s offense devised by Campbell averaged a whopping 42 points, topping 60 twice, during a 9-4 campaign. Meanwhile, the Rockets’ defense gave up a less-than-impressive 30.9 points per game.
Defense, mind you, is supposed to be Beckman’s forte. Then again, when he was defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, the Cowboys finished 101st nationally in total defense in 2007 and only marginally better at 93rd in 2008.
Considering all those stats, should we really have expected much better from Beckman than the 41.6 points Illinois is giving up per game in its five losses this season?
Or, without Campbell at his side, should we have counted on Beckman’s Illini being an offensive juggernaut? They’re not, averaging a meager 11.8 points per game in those same five losses this year.
In fact, things are so bad in Champaign right now with the befuddled Beckman, that 88 years ago today, Illini legend Red Grange scored as many touchdowns in one quarter vs. Michigan as Illinois’ entire team has scored through three entire Big Ten games in 2012.
That would be four.
At IlliniHQ.com, “Chitown” went on to vent this past weekend: “We are screwed. We got scammed. Beckman hasn’t upheld the standard of Illinois football. He should be dismissed immediately before the mistake compounds, a la the Dan Hawkins era in CU.”
I doubt that happens. But, right now, it’s awfully hard to argue with the guy.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.