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With all the clamoring Illini fans seem to do about Tim Beckman’s job status, it’s not surprising if Beckman starts hearing the finger snaps from the Queen/David Bowie song “Under Pressure” in his head from time to time.
And it’s very possible that Beckman might be under pressure. In just two seasons as head coach, the Illini have remained a Big Ten bottom-feeder, mustering just one conference win. But it’s not getting to Beckman, at least it’s not getting to him publicly. Monday at Big Ten Media Day, the Illinois coach answered a question about pressure like a pro.
“You know, that's the life of a football coach. If you're not going to have that life, then you shouldn't be in this profession,” he said. “So it's just a part of it. I'm a competitive winner, I believe. And I want to win because I want our players to win, not because of me, but I want our players to feel what it's like to be successful on the field and off the field.”
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Success hasn’t been easy to come by for Beckman & Co. After winning just twice in his first year in Champaign, things started off a bit more promising last season, with a 3-1 non-conference record and a successfully transformed offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. But dark times quickly returned when Big Ten play started. The Illini beat just one team — league-worst Purdue — the remainder of the season.
Still, four wins is twice as many as two. If it’s improvement you’re looking for, Illinois showed it.
“(Illinois athletics director) Mike Thomas has asked for our program to continue to get better. And we did,” Beckman said. “I mean, we won more games. We won more away games. We won more home games. We have made strides to get better. Now, it's not the numbers that we all want, but we did get better. We've gotten better academically. Our GPA is a 2.96 right now. When I took it over, it was a 2.67. So we're proud of the way that our players have responded, and we have gotten better.”
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Though the Illini offense is a bit depleted — four-year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and a bunch of receivers are gone from last season’s high-powered offense — some weapons return, like talented running back Josh Ferguson, and fans are excited about the prospects of potential Scheelhaase successor Wes Lunt. The defense, which was a problem area to say the least last season, is more experienced and has big expectations for itself. The point is, the Illini expect to see more improvement this season.
“We haven’t had the best two years, but we feel like we’ve gotten better each season, from two (wins) to four. We feel like six wins, that’s probably what our minimum goal is like, the next thing to do,” tight end Jon Davis said. “It's our time to go to a bowl game, experience that.”
And isn’t that how this is supposed to work? Beckman wasn’t handed an elite program like Ohio State or Wisconsin. Things haven’t gone well in Years 1 and 2, but if the Illini can get to more than four wins — and potentially a bowl game — this season, it’ll have been nothing but improvement from one year to the next.
Instant gratification hasn’t helped the view Illini fans have of Beckman, even if the improvement he speaks of is there. So, until he does something that really wows fans — like win multiple conference games this season — he’ll continue to remain under pressure.
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