The Illini still have a season of football to play, one that starts in five days.
With head coach Tim Beckman fired on Friday, Illinois is in the unenviable position of needing to quickly pick up the pieces, put them back together and play a football game. No one’s expecting it to be easy, and the tough task goes to Bill Cubit, the offensive coordinator named interim head coach in the wake of Beckman’s dismissal by athletics director Mike Thomas.
But Cubit, who spoke for 12 minutes Friday after Thomas finished addressing why he decided to end Beckman’s tenure as Illinois’ head football coach, said all the right things and displayed an attitude that should be rapidly adopted by the team as they face this shocking situation.
“The bottom line is it’s all about the student-athletes. You’ve got guys down there in the locker room that are wondering, they’re a little bit nervous, there’s a lot of emotions. But like I told them, the one emotion you better have is perseverance, and you better fight through it,” Cubit said. “You’ve got a chance to go out there and really make a legacy within yourself and this university, and there’s no other way to go about this. My focus right now and always will be the student-athletes.
“I can’t look at it as any obstacles. You focus, you have a process. I’ve always been a process guy. I don’t worry about three months from now, I don’t worry about two months from now. I worry about today, and I tell the guys, we’ll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. I talked to the football team, I told them how they’re emotions got to be right now. Some are going to hurt, that’s the way it is. It’s our jobs to get those kids ready to go and play next Friday, and I’m sure our student-athletes will go out there and do a great job.”
Cubit is well-suited to take over as head coach. He’s spent the past two seasons turning around the Illini offense. In 2013, with the help of fourth-year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Cubit turned the offensively inept Illini into one of the more prolific offensive teams in the Big Ten. Last season, the offense was hindered by an injury to starting quarterback Wes Lunt.
Cubit also had eight years of head-coaching experience at Western Michigan, leading the Broncos to a trio of bowl games during his tenure.
But, if his Friday press conference was any indication, it’s his dedication that should best serve the Illini during this unusual and unexpected season.
“You’re under unique circumstances, and you’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to perform,” Cubit said.” And if you look at those players and know that you’ve got to give everything you’ve got for those guys, whether it takes 16, 18 hours, it doesn’t really make a difference. And when you understand about these student-athletes — they’ve got one shot at this thing. They’re at the University of Illinois, they’re at a great institution, they play in a great conference. And it’s my job and the other coaches’ job to go out there and give 120 percent because that’s the only way you go about it in this business.”
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Providing stability in the most unstable of situations might be Cubit’s best asset. The team won’t be changing systems or changing what they’ve doing with Beckman gone and Cubit taking over. The rest of the coaching staff is expected to remain. While the head man has departed, everything else should carry on as it was from a football standpoint.
Of course, that doesn’t really make this sudden transition any easier, and Cubit addressed the emotion that is running through the roster. But he also talked about supporting the players, and his talk of bringing the Illinois community together was the proper thing to say in a situation such as this one.
“We’re a family This Illinois is a family atmosphere out there,” Cubit said. “So for people, we need everybody, as far as fans, alumni, students, parents, everybody’s got to rally together. There’s only one way to do this now. We can’t sit back and worry about all these little distractions. There’s one way, and everybody in the Illini family has to get together if we want to achieve what we need to achieve. And I feel real confident that a lot of people out there are going, ‘Let’s support these student-athletes’ because those guys are the ones that are in the battle, they’re the ones that are going out there representing this great university on this Friday and the following Saturdays. Hey, let’s rally, let’s all rally together and get this thing going.”