Mailbag: Illini football coach Tim Beckman

Illinois coach Tim Beckman answered readers’ mailbag questions this week at ESPNChicago.com, as he watches his new team prepare for the Dec. 31 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA in San Francisco.

Has it been a difficult situation with two coaching staffs right now? – Dave, Champaign, Ill.

Tim Beckman: Not at all. I think it’s been a great working environment. Coach Koenning and his staff, you’d say, have done an exceptional job. I was out at practice watching the players, evaluating the players on the team. We’ve enjoyed watching them coach. In this profession, it’s tough to keep everyone. I thought they were very professional about it.

How do you think coaching in the Big Ten will differ from coaching in the MAC? – Mike T., Chicago

TB: To me, football is football regardless of where you’re playing or coaching it. Competition is competition. Of course, the Mid-American is a very level playing field as you would say the Big Ten is. The talent is very equal. The great thing about football is it’s played in a 60-minute period. I think they’ll be comparable because they’re balanced in the talent each team has.

You’ve used two quarterbacks before. Is that a possibility at Illinois? What’s the key to making that work? – Jason M., Chicago

TB: We have and we did this year. Our staff has proved it can be successful. We recruited those two young men at Toledo in the same recruiting class. We told both of them, ‘If you can compete at this level and be successful in winning big football games, we’ll play you.’ We did that. I know this isn’t a common thing in football. We have three quality quarterbacks when I watch practice here. You have 15 days in the spring. We’ll have to make a decision when those 15 days are over.

Coach, congratulations on the job. What do you feel is a realistic expectation for this program? – Tony J., Naperville, Ill.

TB: I think we’re in the process of building this program. It’s a team that won six football games and was one of the first BCS football teams to become bowl eligible. They really proved they can start. We got to learn how to finish. As I look at the stats, we have to learn how to take care of the ball and learn to create turnovers.

Where do you start with a new team? – Max, Danville, Ill.

TB: I think it starts from the ground up. I think it starts with the current players on that football team to the former players that have been pivotal in the Illini’s great moments. I think it’s going out to get a recruiting class that not only can be great players, but believe in what you believe in as a program.

Hey coach, welcome to the Illini nation. How have your first conversations with the in-state high school coaches went? Every coach has said they want to lock down the state, but it never happens. – Derek, Edwardsville, Ill.

TB: I think they’ve been outstanding from the phone calls. I was lucky enough that after my press conference on Friday the state’s high school coaches association was in Champaign on Sunday. I got to walk in and meet 40-some-odd coaches in the state. What a great opportunity. Like anywhere at any program, it’s important you create a local recruiting base in your state. You see the people winning are the people who are successful recruiting in their states. It’s one of the first steps in building this program back. We’re going to recruit this state as hard as we possibly can. We’re going to be as thorough as we possibly can.

Coach Beckman, your teams at Toledo have been notorious for scoring many points, but they have also allowed many points in the process. How will you adapt any defensive schemes when it comes to playing teams in the Big Ten like Michigan and Ohio State instead of teams from the MAC like Western Michigan and Ohio? – Martin Roman, Northlake, Ill.

TB: Throughout our career at Toledo, three seasons there, we have scored a lot of points. We also played pretty good defense. We had two stretches where we didn’t. I know we’re capable of playing good defense as they have done here in the past couple years at Illinois.

What are some positions of interest for you as you watch the game (Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) on New Year’s Eve? – Jake, Rockford, Ill.

TB: I told the players when I met with them in individual meeting that it’s an opportunity for them to write a resume in front of a new coaching staff. To be a football player. How you handle yourself on and off the field, even if you’re not playing. Everyone has a role. For a program to be successful, everybody has to know their role and do their role. It’s part of their resume they’ll provide for us on the 31st.

As a longtime Illini fan and alumnus, I know that our fan base has suffered with lack of consistency for a very long time. This year marks the first time that the Illini have put together back-to-back seasons at .500 or better in the last 15 years. I would like to know what your benchmark is for this team for next year and moving forward? - Jorge from Chicago

TB: I think as you look at our football program the last three years and the ones I’ve been involved in the last three places I’ve been at, we have been very consistent. The thing that stems from consistency is it’s being consistent in everything you do. Not just football, but academics, how you handle yourself off the football field. All those things help in the process.

ESPNChicago.com: Anything you’d like to add coach?

TB: I’m excited. It’s a new year. It’s a new era. The coaching staff will be named soon as their opportunities in bowl games are done. We’ll be out on the road as soon as the recruiting calendar allows.