Smile Politely

Illinois football remains mired in perpetual mediocrity

For the entirety of my 22 years on this earth, I’ve been an Illini fan. I’ve cheered through the good and the (much more common) bad. I still remember eating dinner with my family when it was announced that we were going to the Rose Bowl in 2008, and how Matt Sylvester’s jump shot ended the perfect basketball season that was 2005. I remember 2002, when we went to the Sugar Bowl (a BCS bowl, at the time) on the arm of Kurt Kittner.

Perhaps this is simply an instance of selectively examining the past, but through the bulk of my growing up, it seemed like there was always hope in Illinois’ athletic programs. Sure, we weren’t consistently good, but it seemed as though any given year could be the year that our basketball team went to the Sweet 16 or the football team made a bowl game.

Lately, this attitude surrounding Illini sports has faded, at least for me. Instead of remaining competitive, we have slipped – especially in football. Attendance is in the dumps, we just wrapped up another sub-.500 season, and our Chancellor and Athletic Director are functioning on an interim basis. Thus, when it was announced that former-interim-head coach Bill Cubit would be hired for an additional two years, I was confused to say the least.

Before I get into this, let me explain that this isn’t a large knock on Cubit; he did a good job filling the shoes of Tim Beckman this year. Intangibly, it seemed like the attitude around the team had improved and that many of the toxic things that had plagued Illinois Football were on their way out the door. For the bulk of the season, bowl eligibility seemed attainable, and it looked like Wes Lunt may have been developing into the quarterback everyone thought he could be. Eventually, however, this excitement faded away and the season was once again lost, like so many before it.

The decision to re-hire Cubit is a curious one, not only because of this year’s record, but also because of Cubit’s ties to Beckman’s program; I’m not saying he should be implicated in the scandal that ultimately brought down Beckman, but did he really have no idea that any of these athlete abuses were going on? Did he really have no idea that Beckman was forcing players to play through injuries? I doubt it. Leaving vestiges of Beckman’s program around couldn’t possibly be a good decision; if Illinois truly wanted to rid itself of all of the issues surrounding this past year, they would clean house and seek to build something new and completely un-tainted.

With that being said, I would understand the hire if Cubit were a successful head coach in the past, but he wasn’t. He was given the chance to be a head coach and was fired from Western Michigan, a MAC school, after a plethora of underwhelming seasons. Naturally, of course, this means that he will be able to coach at a Big Ten level, right?

Even our own interim Athletic Director, Paul Kowalczyk, was unenthused by the decision to hire Cubit, a decision he made, saying “It’s not ideal but for now, I don’t think it’ll put a dagger in the heart of the program.”

Let me get this straight – even the AD, who did the hiring, thinks the decision is “not ideal,” yet moved forward with it anyway? I could be wrong here, but I’m fairly sure it’s his job to only make ideal decisions for Illini athletics. Sure, this probably won’t hurt the Illini next year (they have 30 scholarship Seniors on the roster), but the ramifications that this will have on recruiting and the attitude of the program in the future are perhaps immeasurable. Recruits won’t want to commit to a coach and a program that seem a-ok with mediocrity, and the reverberations of this decision will be felt for years to come.

I understand that stability is the end-goal, here. Those who seek to justify the hiring of Cubit look at the fact that we have an interim AD and Chancellor, and that perhaps Cubit is the safest option. Maybe that’s true, but wouldn’t it be more stable to build from the ground up instead of settling for a non-ideal option? I mean, hell, The University of PIttsburgh hired Pat Narduzzi, former Defensive Coordinator at Michigan State, with an interim AD. You can’t tell me that Kowalczyk couldn’t have looked more into PJ Fleck or Dino Babers, actual successful MAC coaches who have proven themselves. Either one of those options would have been more ideal than extending Cubit.

I’m sick of settling. Illinois fans deserve better than that, and while we are in no position to draw in massive coaching talents, we are in a position to try to build something new, and hiring Bill Cubit for two years seems completely contrary to that solution.

Illinois athletics has become a national laughing stock of late, and by the looks of it, it’s gonna get worse before it gets better. By making this decision, Kowalczyk is setting Illini football up for sub-par mediocrity, and we’re all just so sick of that.

(Photo of Bill Cubit by Deadspin, Photo of Dino Babers by USA Today)

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