In the hours before Illinois played its regular-season finale against Northwestern at Soldier Field, its interim head football coach simply became its head football coach.
The Illini announced the removal of the interim label on head coach Bill Cubit, also announcing that Cubit agreed to a two-year deal with the school.
“Bill has stepped in during an extremely difficult period and done an outstanding job in leading our football program since August,” interim athletics director Paul Kowalczyk said in the announcement. “Our student-athletes have responded in a positive manner, and we feel he is the best person at this time to be the head coach. We wanted to allow Bill to make decisions regarding the program as the head coach without the interim title and lead the Fighting Illini into Saturday’s game without speculation.”
Cubit took over as interim head coach a week before the season started, when Tim Beckman was fired after an investigation revealed he behaved horribly as the team’s head coach with a disregard for the safety and well-being of student-athletes.
Cubit, who served as the Illini’s offensive coordinator for the previous two seasons, was as good a choice to take over as there could have been, bringing stability as well as head-coaching experience from his eight seasons at the helm of the program at Western Michigan, when he posted a 51-46 record.
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Through the first 11 games of this season, Cubit’s Illini have gone just 5-6, struggling when up against quality competition and especially struggling on the offensive side of the ball. But a win Saturday at Soldier Field would send the Illini to a bowl game for the second straight season.
Cubit has brought numerous positives to the job, displaying incredible passion and at times visible emotion, working hard to rally the community around the team and getting his players playing with noticeable enthusiasm.
Illinois announced that Cubit will receive $1.2 million a year.
The decision to go with just a two-year deal has been criticized by some who point out that recruiting could be a challenge for a staff that can’t guarantee its presence for the full four years of an incoming freshman’s college career.
But the school is also searching for a new athletics director, and a two-year deal provides whoever's hired flexibility in the near future.
As was reported earlier this week, the lack of organization in the search for a new athletics director could have something to do with Illinois deciding on Cubit.