By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Tim Beckman’s Fighting Illini may play in the state of Illinois, but the coach’s local recruiting efforts continue to exist in a state of dysfunction.
On Monday, in the latest dig at the Illini’s shaky leader, SI.com columnist Stewart Mandel named Beckman as one of the five worst football coaches in America – after just one season at the U. of I. helm.
“I may be jumping the gun here,” wrote Mandel, who really wasn’t based on the evidence at hand, “but Beckman – hired at Illinois following a pair of eight-win seasons at Toledo – has done little to inspire confidence either on the field (2-10 in 2012) or on the recruiting trail with the Illini.”
As a result, the Illini are trailing badly when it comes to convincing the state’s top prep stars to spend their college careers in Champaign.
On Tuesday morning, the Champaign News-Gazette reported that Illinois had secured commitments in the Class of 2014 from four football players who hail from Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, a number that comprised half of the current class and totaled one more than all of what Illinois hauled in with the Class of 2013.
Later Tuesday afternoon, Illinois’ in-state haul grew by one when Lincoln-Way North defensive back Julian Hylton pledge his allegiance to the Illini. While Hylton may very well be a nice athlete, his only Football Bowl Subdivision offers were from Northern Illinois and Army, according to the News-Gazette. His other offers, meanwhile, were from the likes of Illinois State, North Dakota, South Dakota, Bucknell and Colgate.
Great news if the Illini were playing in the Patriot League.
Not so great considering they still play in the Big Ten.
“They’re not getting the in-state guys like they should be,” ESPN recruiting analyst Jared Shanker told the News-Gazette’s Matt Daniels on Tuesday before Hylton’s commitment. “[Neuqua Valley wide receiver] Mike Dudek is their top in-state commit. He’s No. 21 overall on our board in the state of Illinois.”
Of the 20 recruits rated higher than Dudek, 12 have already decided on schools other than Illinois before practice even begins for their senior seasons. That group includes heavy-hitters Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame, as well as Tennessee, Michigan State, Kansas, Syracuse, Iowa State and Vanderbilt.
Even Illinois’ in-state rival Northwestern has already nabbed a pair of Top 20 players off the list, making the Illini’s slogan sound like it should be “Our State. Other Teams.”
Back in December 2011, after Beckman was hired to replace Ron Zook, I wrote a column about how the Illini’s new coach needed to tackle in-state recruiting much better than his predecessor had in recent years if Beckman expected to excel in Champaign.
“To win big at Illinois,” I argued, “it’s been proven that a coach needs to be able to recruit nationally, whether that be by dipping down into the ‘speed states’ south of the Mason-Dixon (always a wise move), locking up a major metropolitan area (like Zook and Mike Locksley did for a while with Washington, D.C.) or extending west into California (which was Mike White’s tactic during the 1980s).”
However, for a football coach to enjoy any measure of long-term success at Illinois he also needs to be able to recruit well locally. Zook made a big splash in that regard early in his Illini tenure when he signed celebrated Chicagoans Juice Williams and Martez Wilson before fading badly in-state toward the end of his tenure.
Beckman, meanwhile, made his own splash last month when touted quarterback Wes Lunt of downstate Rochester announced that he would join the Illini – but that pledge came only after Lunt boomeranged back to the Land of Lincoln as a transfer from Oklahoma State.
Beckman wasn’t able to convince Lunt to become an Illini directly out of high school. And he hasn’t had much more success since then, either.
Shanker told the News-Gazette that, “This is one of the best years the state of Illinois has ever had in terms of talent, especially in the Chicago area. That’s where you start. (The Illini) are struggling pretty mightily in-state. If you can’t win your own backyard, it’s going to be a struggle to get to the top of the recruiting rankings.”
If Beckman can’t get things turned around soon – both on the field and with the state’s best athletes – he won’t be worrying about recruiting rankings for long.
He’ll be worrying about his job instead.
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.