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Q&A: Illinois coach Tim Beckman, Part I

Tim Beckman was hired as Illinois' next football coach on Dec. 9. Though he won't take over actual coaching duties until after the Illini play in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA, he's been busy putting together his staff, recruiting and learning his new home. ESPN.com caught up with Beckman this week to try and get to know the former Toledo coach. Here is Part I of our Q&A; look for the second installment later on Wednesday.

How is the first week or so on the job going?

Tim Beckman: Good. I just got done with five hours of meetings with the juniors. They got done with practice, and I met with each junior for 15 minutes. Just trying to build relationships and bonds and get them to know who I am and get me to know who they are. It's been nonstop, hair's on fire and all that good stuff.

How much have you been watching bowl practices?

TB: Well, last week, of course, I was out on the road, trying to do as much as I could. Then we had a couple of official visits in for the last two weekends. But I went out Saturday to watch them practice and again Monday. I've got five hours of meetings with the sophomore and juniors coming up.

Are you attending the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl?

TB: Yes, I am. I'm still trying to see if I can get to the [Dec. 28] Military Bowl to see the [Toledo] Rockets play, but I do have an obligation on the 29th in California. So we're trying to work both scenarios, because I would definitely like to see both teams play.

That's interesting. Why is it important to you to be at Toledo's game?

TB: They're family. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them, that's for sure. That's how I feel about it, and they know that. I went back for the senior banquet the Sunday after my [introductory news conference at Illinois] to pay tribute to the seniors and the families I got to know. They mean a lot to me.

What's it been like recruiting to a school you barely know yourself?

TB: I love it. I love recruiting and always have. I've been a recruiting coordinator and defensive coordinator at the same time. I did it for Urban [Meyer] at Bowling Green. I really enjoy recruiting. Of course, it was a little bit crazy, being that we didn't have any staff at the time because of the change. But it was great. Anybody can sell Illinois -- it's got great facilities, a great education. It was definitely a pleasure to go out and talk to the young men who were committed.

What kind of reaction did you receive on the recruiting trail?

TB: Change is always uneasy at first, and when they got to hear who was going to be their football coach, I think they were excited. Offensively, they know we've been very, very successful at Toledo. And defensively they know we're going to have a very aggressive defense and get ourselves to the football. A lot of them we kind of knew, being Ohio kids and Indiana kids and Illinois kids. There were a lot of players we had previously talked with at some time during their careers. So there were some similarities.

I read about you meeting with some local high school coaches already, even though those schools don't normally produce a lot of recruitable players. How important are those relationships to you?

TB: Huge. I've learned from some great coaches, no question, including my own father. It's about recruiting and about going out and building relationships with high school coaches. We are the state-supported school of Illinois. So they'll see our coaching staff.

How much experience do you have recruiting Chicago and St. Louis?

TB: Well, I've been in the city of Chicago quite a bit, because we did have some players from that area at UT. I also went to a couple of camps up there as a head coach. I haven't been into St. Louis quite as much, because it wasn't as recruited [by Toledo]. I know it's very important, and my father used to recruit that area when he was at Iowa. I've been in that area and know that the football is very, very good.

How do you build bridges into there? Is it just getting to know the high school coaches?

TB: Sure, I think that's what it's all about anywhere. The first time you go into Florida or Georgia ... that's recruiting. It's just about showing high school coaches and prospects what's so important and positive about your institution. And I think we have a lot to sell at Illinois.

Other than those two areas, where will be your recruiting pockets? Is there an "Illinois Nation?"

TB: At Toledo, we called it "Rocket Nation," and we'll do the same thing here with "Illini Nation." We're going to draw a four-hour radius -- think somebody said there were 14 million, or 19 million, people within a four-hour radius around Champaign. That's going to be our No. 1 area. We're going to recruit that area first and then go from there. I think it shows from the success we've had at Toledo. We recruited that area first then moved out.

How important to you, if at all, is it to have a coach on staff who has recruited those areas before?

TB: Well, I think I just need recruiters. And I think my staff is going to be, you'll know when they're hired and it's finalized that they are good recruiters. Of course, you want to find some guys that are from those areas of choice, but it's still about recruiting. A great recruiter can recruit anywhere.

When will you hire your full staff?

TB: It's already finalized. It's just a matter of when I feel it's necessary to release the names.

You offered the defensive coordinator spot to interim head coach Vic Koenning, but he declined it. How disappointing was that?

TB: Vic's a great coach, and he's known throughout the coaching world as a good defensive coordinator. I offered him at first the opportunity to be a co-coordinator, to kind of teach another coordinator how to become one because he hadn't been one. [Koenning] was going to be in charge of the defense; he knew that. This young man was going to come in from another great football institution. But in the long run, he ended up getting the same opportunity at the university he's at. Vic had to make a choice based on his family, and I totally respect him. I know he's going to be successful wherever he's going. People who will be involved in this program and coaches coming in will be very successful.