Illini Basketball

I feel good about Illini football. Is that weird?

Bill Cubit won his umpteenth press conference Friday by offering a non-existent carrot cake and exposing non-existent five year coaching contracts.

The carrot cake was offered to Mark Tupper, who was not physically present, but e-attended. The contract talk answered the $64 question: How can Cubit recruit when he has, essentially, no job security?

As always, Cubit was the most candid coach ever queried by attending media . (Loren Tate was absent.)

How does he recruit with no guaranteed future at Illinois? Pretty much like everyone else, he said. Everyone knows that five year contracts are meaningless. If you don’t win, you get fired.  And if you do win, and you’re at a place that’s accustomed to winning, you still get fired. (See Richt, Mark)

Cubit implied that his final two hires are currently working at other programs, preparing for bowl games. (See his entire press conference here.)


Talking with Mike LaTulip a year ago, I offered the concept of two “head” coaches running a program, one for offense, and one for defense. Illini football would be awesome with Lou Tepper and Ron Turner both in charge, right? As long as the staff included a charming recruiter as well?

Mike seemed to think it was an interesting idea, but he’s not averse to outside-the-box thinking.  The football industry, on the other hand,  is completely inside-the-box (until a guy like Bill Walsh comes along and revolutionized everything). No one would ever go for such an idea, right?

And here we are a year later, with the offensive coordinator now permanently ensconced in the lead role, with a single defensive coordinator ready to autonomously run his side of the program.

Cubit is obviously good with people. And he praised Mike Phair’s aptitude for in-home recruiting visits. That puts them ahead of Tepper, who was kinda nerdy, and Turner who hated recruiting.

But they do have charasmatic assistants as well. Nathan Scheelhaase and Jeff Hecklinski have buckets of charm.

Hecklinski is a presence. He embraced the opportunity to meet the media and talk about himself, his past and his return to Champaign. He also made it clear that he loves Michigan, where he coached under Brady Hoke.

That professed love might rub some people the wrong way, but screw them. The tribalism among sports fans is just as disturbing as it is among displaced Palestinians and Israeli settlers, but lacking any objective or historical causation (Bruce Pearl excepted).

Hecklinski’s wife Tiffany, the daughter of abrasive, foul-mouthed former Illini O-Line coach Mike Deal —”whatever stories you’ve heard about him, they’re probably true” — beat colon cancer (barely) in Ann Arbor. Hecklinski said he wouldn’t have a wife, and his children wouldn’t have a mother, but for the University of Michigan.

Hecklinski, Scheelhaase and O-line coach AJ Ricker have their work cut out for them. As Cubit said Friday, the Illini offense was really great last year, except that it couldn’t score, which Cubit seemed to tacitly acknowledge is kind of a big deal.

Can Scheelhaase establish a running game? Can Ricker solidify a line that loses a couple of key players? Can Hecklinski — ostensibly the tight ends coach but a lifelong QBs coach — teach his charges to hold on to the goddamn football, or Wes Lunt to be patient in the pocket (assuming there’s a pocket to stay in)?

The only problem with Bill Cubit is the only problem with John Groce. So far, neither has demonstrated prowess in the one area of expertise that earned him the job. Cubit’s offense has been boring and non-productive. Groce’s recruiting has failed to ignite the program or the fanbase.

But whereas Groce remains a bit of a mystery to the Illini media pool, Cubit is an open book.

On the elevator ride to field level, following Friday’s presser, Cubit confided that he always worked for coaches who played golf. It’s something he actively looked for in a coach. Not because he loves golf, but because he knows what having a hobby implies about a boss: He’s not in the office every hour of the day.

Cubit recalled interviewing with Gerry Faust at Akron. He wasn’t sure whether Faust was a golfer, so he just asked him. Once it was confirmed, Cubit accepted the job.