Illini coaches have met with Penn State players

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Illini coaches have met with Penn State players

Illinois coach Tim Beckman emphasized his eight assistant coaches did not make "a sneak attack" when they visited Penn State players who are interested in transferring from the school. Abiding by NCAA rules, Beckman said his coaches met with players who contacted the Illinois staff. The meetings took place this week at a Starbucks and another restaurant beyond the Penn State campus.
Beckman did not reveal how many players met with his staff. Penn State players will be able to transfer to other schools and retrain their eligibility after the NCAA handed down sanctions amid the schools child sex abuse scandal.
"We did not go onto their campus," Beckman said Thursday at Big Ten Football Media Day at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago. "We only talked to individuals that would be willing to meet with us. We did not go after them. They had the opportunity to come to us if they would like to come to us and speak to us."
Beckman said Penn State was aware which players Illinois would talk to, as Illini staff provided the Nittany Lions with a list of names before the visit. Illinois coaches were seen in State College, Pa., carrying bags with team logos, according to reports. Beckman said he did not make the trip. His coaches talked to players they had previous connections with through recruiting, Beckman said.
"We went there to reach out to the guys that were contacting us previously that we talked to before we went there and then gave them an opportunity to come to us," said Beckman, who replaced the fired Ron Zook, who was 34-51 in seven seasons at Illinois. "We did not go after them. We told them where we were at, and if they would like to come and talk to our coaching staff, we would be willing to speak with them off campus."
While other Big Ten coaches said Thursday they would refrain from recruiting Penn State players out of respect, Beckman said he wants to give players the opportunity if they want to transfer to Illinois.
"I didn't want it to be a big scene or anything like that, and it ended up being more of a scene than it was," Beckman said. "But everything we've done has been NCAA compliant. Penn State knew.
Penn State coach Bill OBrien said Thursday he had yet to speak with Beckman about the situation. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany sounded less than enthused about conference schools recruiting Penn State players, but he conferred with the school presidents.

"My advice to them was this is not a healthy place for us to be." Delany said. "Their response was unanimous. And that was this is not about competition between and among schools. It's about the student-athlete having a full spectrum of opportunities."

During his sessions with the media, Beckman also addressed his transition from Toledo and the Mid-American Conference, his offense and the issue of two ineligible teams (Ohio State and Penn State) in the Leaders Division.
Although Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible for the postseason, leaving Wisconsin, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana as the eligible teams among the Leaders, Beckman said his team still has to win games.
As for his quarterbacks, Beckman said hell put his best players on the field. He used two quarterbacks at Toledo, and he suggested the possibility of doing the same at times in the spread offense at Illinois.
Both of them are great leaders, Beckman said. Nathan Scheelhaase runs the football, and Reilly OToole is a little bit more of a thrower. But its still about the success of the team and the success of the offense, so were going to be able to play whichever one is most consistent and can move our offense down the field.
Last season, Toledo averaged 42.2 points per game under Beckman, who went 21-16 in three seasons at the MAC school. Illinois is coming off a 7-6 season. The Illini began 6-0 but lost six in a row before beating UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
"With the offense that we're installing in Champaign, it will be a dual-threat offense," Beckman said. "You'll see two running backs in the football game at times. You'll even at times see two quarterbacks in the football game with quarterback Miles Osei lining up at running back also. So, it's a commitment that our offensive staff has made to running the football, and we've got to establish the run first for us to be successful."

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

After winter of taking heat, Cubs still have Joe Maddon's back

MESA, Ariz. — It only took 21 minutes into spring training — or the first press conference on the day pitchers and catchers officially reported to Arizona — before Joe Maddon listened to another question about all the heat he took for his World Series Game 7 decisions.

More than 2,000 miles away at Yankee camp in Florida last week, Aroldis Chapman told the Chicago Sun-Times that he "was just being truthful" when he used the conference call to announce the biggest contract ever for a closer — five years and $86 million — to inform the New York media that Maddon misused him during the playoffs. Nothing lost in translation there.

Miguel Montero finally declared a ceasefire on Monday night, getting the sit-down meeting the Cubs felt should go longer than the standard meet and greet after the veteran catcher's jarringly critical comments on WMVP-AM 1000 (if only because it happened on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally).

"It's such an unusual situation," general manager Jed Hoyer said, "because we won the World Series, and theoretically you think that people would be really happy."

As ex-Cub manager Dale Sveum might say: "Ya think?"

Ending the 108-year drought might lead Maddon's Hall of Fame plaque someday, but it also led to waves and waves of second-guessing and speculation about how it might impact his clubhouse credibility. But with Maddon and Montero declaring their Andreoli Italian Grocer summit a success, gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss cruising onto the field in a Ferrari for the first wacky stunt of 2017 and Cactus League games beginning on Saturday, it's time to remember that the Cubs still have their manager's back.

"Everyone says they don't see or read anything," pitcher Jake Arrieta said. "We see and hear a lot of the stuff. But I just think that critics are going to find holes in something always.

"Joe was our leader all year last year. He obviously set the tone in spring training and gives us all these freedoms that help us play the way we played. So the people that matter — and know what Joe's about — are on the same page with his philosophies.

"The way he expresses himself to us is the most important thing. And we stand behind him. We trust that he's going to do what's in our best interest. And we know that any decision he makes is geared towards trying to help us win."

Within the last two seasons, the Cubs have won 200 games, five playoff rounds and their first World Series title since the Theodore Roosevelt administration. Maddon readily admits that the scouting and development wings of Theo Epstein's front office did most of the heavy lifting and credits the strong coaching staff he largely inherited. Spending more than $475 million on free agents like Jon Lester and Ben Zobrist certainly helped.

But all this doesn't happen without Maddon and the environment he created. The Cubs Way absolutely needed a ringmaster for this circus.

Arrieta developed into a Cy Young Award winner. Kyle Hendricks transformed into an ERA leader. Kris Bryant burst onto the scene as a Rookie of the Year and the National League MVP. Addison Russell became an All-Star shortstop by the age of 22. Maddon didn't prejudge Javier Baez, immediately appreciating the dazzling array of skills and super-utility possibilities.

Surprised by the Maddon backlash?

"Yes and no," All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "Because there needs to be a story. But what he did — people who are real involved know that since Day 1, he came in and he set the tone.

"He completely flipped the way people think, the way we believe, and everyone has bought into it. The credit he deserves — he gets a lot of it — but I don't think he gets enough of it. Because he lets me be me. He lets Javy be Javy.

"Willson (Contreras), Kris and Addie — everyone has their different personalities. He understands that. And it's not easy to do."

It's such an impossible job, at times, that even Cubs officials and players have acknowledged their frustrations with some of Maddon's in-game decisions and communication gaps. This can't just be written off as a media creation. But imagine the grumbling if the Cubs didn't have a leader with seven 90-win seasons and three Manager of the Year awards on his resume.

"We have a competitive group of guys," Hoyer said. "Every guy wants to be on the field at the right time. Every guy wants to be on the roster. Every guy wants to pitch in winning games.

"That's not realistic sometimes. It comes from a great place. It doesn't come from a place of selfishness. It comes from a place of: 'I want to contribute to winning.'

"The meetings we've had have been awesome. Our camp is unbelievably focused. We are just as focused as last year. I really don't look at it as a negative."

The last word from Maddon, who turned 63 this month and has a $25 million contract, a wide range of off-the-field interests and the championship ring that will make him a legend in Chicago forever, no matter what kind of heat he took this winter.

"Stuff like that doesn't bother me at all," Maddon said. "Regardless of what people may have thought — like any other game that I worked all year long — I had it planned out like that before the game began. So it wasn't anything I tried to do differently game in progress. Had I not done what I thought I was supposed to do — then I would have second-guessed myself.

"So, no, I have no problem with that. I really don't mind the second-guessing from anybody. I kind of encourage it. Please go ahead and do it, because I'll take that kind of second-guessing after winning a World Series on an annual basis. Thank you very much."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Jonathan Toews' the Blackhawks' MVP?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is Jonathan Toews' the Blackhawks' MVP?

Chris Emma (670TheScore.com), Chris Hine (Chicago Tribune) and national college football analyst Anthony Herron join Kap on the panel.  The guys discuss if Jonathan Toews is the Blackhawks’ MVP so far this season, whether a Jimmy Butler trade to the Celtics makes sense and why Rob Manfred is focused on shaving seconds off of the length of games.

Plus with Jay Cutler heading out the door, who will replace him?  And should Northwestern be on the NCAA Tournament bubble after losing again to the Illini?