CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The Big Ten blogger spring tour is finally under way, as I'm spending the day with the Illinois Fighting Illini and their new coaching staff.
I met earlier today with Illinois defenders Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence and Jonathan Brown in the team's new, swanky players' lounge at Memorial Stadium. I'll be visiting this afternoon with new head coach Tim Beckman and the team's new coordinators, as well as with several other players.
One theme that surfaced with the players this morning is the emphasis Beckman is placing on discipline. He instituted an Illini Time policy, where every appointment takes place 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled time. For example, Buchanan showed up for our 9 a.m. interview at 8:50, while yours truly rolled in seconds before 9 (Big Ten blogger time, baby). There also seems to be a stricter policy on class attendance and some severe consequences for those who mess up.
"There are a lot of new rules," Buchanan said. "It's taking a lot of adjusting to, but I understand exactly why [Beckman] does those things, why we're being held accountable for everything. We have to do what we're supposed to do or we won't be winners."
Buchanan stopped short of saying a lack of discipline contributed to Illinois' slide from 6-0 to 6-6 in 2011, but he acknowledged the team "let up a little bit after a couple losses. We lost what had got us to that position. And when you lose it, it's hard to get it back."
Illinois has started the process of regaining its poise.
I'll have more on the Illini throughout the day on the blog, so stay tuned.