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Schultz goes through adaptation at Illinois

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When Illinois scrimmages Wednesday afternoon in Memorial Stadium, Mike Schultz will coach from the press box.

It's part of Schultz's attempt to simulate a game situation, always a good idea for a new offensive coordinator going through his fifth practice with his new team. But there's another, slightly more embarrassing reason for Schultz's whereabouts.

It will get him out of the cold.

The temperature is hovering around 50 degrees Wednesday, which isn't bad for central Illinois this time of year. But for a Houston native like Schultz who spent the last 11 seasons at TCU, where he held the same job, this might as well be the Arctic. At least it's better than his initial trip to Champaign in January, when a cold front dropped temperatures to 10 below.

Schultz is slowly adjusting to the weather, but he'll get there soon enough. He's not afraid to adapt, which is a good thing in his new job.

"I have come in and fit myself to this offense," Schultz said. "We have new ideas coming in. But have we changed the offense? No. It's not like there's going to be a major overhaul of this offense. There's no need to.

"One of the things coach Zook and I both agreed on is we're going to try to keep everything the same as we can, so the only people really going through a transition are myself and [new offensive line coach] Joe Gilbert. It's two versus 40. Just common sense-wise, it just make sense to approach it that way."

In an age of my-way-or-bust playcallers, Schultz is unique in his willingness to be flexible. Since taking the job in January he has talked with his predecessor, New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley, but not about Illinois' personnel or schemes.

He wanted to come to Illinois with no preconceived notions. It's a clean canvas, and the players will be doing much of the brush work.

"We had a plan when we went out to decide who we wanted to get," Illini head coach Ron Zook said. "I'm of the opinion that when you've got a quarterback in particular [Juice Williams], but a bunch of guys that have done the same thing now for three or four years, I don't know if you want to try to reinvent the wheel. You'd like to have as much carryover as you can."

Schultz inherits an offense that led the Big Ten in passing (269.3 yards per game) and finished third in scoring (28.7 points per game). He inherits the league's most experienced quarterback in Williams, arguably the league's best wide receiver in Arrelious Benn and three running backs (Daniel Dufrene, Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure) who combined for 233 carries and 1,083 rushing yards.

There are areas to fix, namely limiting turnovers and improving the run blocking, but it's not a bad group to take over. Schultz, however, doesn't concern himself with big names and big numbers.

He took the job mainly because of Zook -- their mutual friendship with longtime coach and ESPN analyst Mike Gottfried played a key role -- and didn't have extensive knowledge of the Orange and Blue.

"I hadn't done a whole lot of homework on this situation here," Schultz said. "I came here a little bit on blind faith because I believed in Ron Zook. I didn't know who some of these guys were before I got here. ... I knew Juice was here, and I knew Rejus [Benn] was here. I was intrigued by the Big Ten, so I thought that this was a situation that I thought I'd like to explore a little bit."

Don't mistake Schultz's ignorance for carelessness or laziness. He was so locked into the happenings at TCU -- he coached LaDainian Tomlinson and coordinated four of the five highest-scoring offenses in school history -- that he had no time to worry about a team 850 miles away.

When Zook contacted him in mid-December about the Illinois job, Schultz asked for some patience.

"I was right in the middle of bowl prep and I asked him, 'Coach, is this anything that's pressing? I'd like to get through these next 10 or 12 days and get through the bowl game and then let's sit down and visit,'" Schultz recalled. "And coach Zook absolutely understood where I was."

Imagine that, a coach actually waiting to finish one job before worrying about another.

Schultz is now fully focused on the Illinois offense, which revolves around Williams, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall who set total offense records in three stadiums last fall. Though Kurt Beathard was moved from receivers coach to quarterbacks coach to maintain some familiarity for Williams, Schultz, who also coaches tight ends, has worked closely with the senior signal-caller.

Illinois wants to increase its tempo on offense -- co-defensive coordinators Dan Disch and Curt Mallory already notice a difference in practice -- and Williams is fully on board. He's helping Schultz catch up in more ways than one.

"The first day me and Juice sat down and started talking about the offense, you could tell that he'd been well-schooled," Schultz said. "Just the terminology and the vernacular. I said, 'Tell me what you're thinking here,' and he'd just pop right through things.

"The transition's been nice and smooth."