A decision on Bill Cubit’s future at Illinois will come no later than 24 hours after Saturday’s regular-season finale against Northwestern.
During a Wednesday interview on "The Tay and J Show" on ESPN Radio 93.5, Illinois interim athletics director Paul Kowalczyk was asked if a decision on the interim head coach's future needs to be made this weekend, and he said that indeed it does.
"In my mind, we need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everybody’s sake," Kowalczyk said. "To me, it’s post haste, absolutely.”
Cubit has served as interim head coach since former head coach Tim Beckman was fired a week before the start of the season, but it has not been known whether Cubit — who's done an admirable job holding the team together and winning as many games as he has under difficult circumstances — will be able to stick around as the team's permanent head coach or if the school will bring in a new coach to lead the program.
It seems, though, that we'll find out the answer this weekend.
Kowalczyk was complimentary of the job Cubit has done, praising his ability to focus on the football team with all the uncertainty swirling around him in Champaign. Beckman fired a week before the season after initial findings of an investigation into the program determined he was behaving horribly and with little care for the safety and well-being of student-athletes. Then, just a few weeks ago, athletics director Mike Thomas was removed from his role as more ugly details of Beckman's behavior were included in the release of the full investigative report. There's also an interim chancellor at the school.
Cubit, though, has maintained a positive attitude and displayed a passion for the job and his players, all while leading the team a win away from a second straight bowl appearance.
“It’s a challenge for everybody to focus on what’s going on, but he’s been laser-like focused in trying to do right by the university, by our kids," Kowalczyk said. "I can’t praise him enough for what he’s been able to accomplish this year. And if we go up and get another one against Northwestern, that’d really be an awesome way to end the regular season.”
Cubit has repeatedly expressed his desire to stay on as the team's permanent head coach, and he has some credentials. He was the perfect choice to take over so quickly in the wake of Beckman's firing. He provided stability and brought head-coaching experience. His dedication has been evident, as he's become emotional at times when talking about his players and has been vocal and active in trying to earn the community's support for the team.
But is it enough to keep him around full time? Particularly if the Illini should finish with a 5-7 record?
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“There’s a body of work there, let’s put it that way, so the evaluation is based on that body of work," Kowalczyk said. "I don’t know that one game here or there matters as much. But it’s the whole body of work, and we’ll know more Saturday.”
There's no doubting the decision is a tough one. While Cubit has plenty of positives on his side, the Illini — despite playing with enthusiasm — just haven't played very well in most of their games this season. Losses have come in nearly every game against a good opponent, and the offense has been generally ineffective, an important point, as the offense is Cubit's area of expertise.
Plus, there is an above-average number of FBS head-coaching vacancies this offseason, meaning a lot of teams will be competing for top candidates. And though Illinois is a Big Ten job with plenty of attractive attributes, it won't be among the highest-profile openings.
Players supported removing the interim tag and keeping Cubit on as the permanent head coach following the team's final game in Champaign this season, a loss to Ohio State. Whether the administration will fulfill those wishes will be determined this weekend.