CHAMPAIGN - Last September, when Bill Cubit led his Western Michigan Broncos into Memorial Stadium to play Illinois, the long-time coach began to get emotional.
He couldn't put his finger on it, but it was of the good kind of feelings variety.
"I have no idea," he said. "I love these kinds of stadiums. I love this kind of tradition. I love this conference."
After agreeing to become Illinois' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Cubit will become part of that tradition, playing against Big Ten foes on the field that played stage to Zuppke's coaching, Grange's touchdowns and crushing tackles by Butkus.
So why this job? And why now? He spent the last eight seasons as head coach of Western Michigan, leading the program to three bowl games and winning more games than he lost. His name popped up in a few coaching searches, smaller schools looking for a head coach and various positions on staff at other larger programs.
But he settled on Illinois shortly after coach Tim Beckman called to express interest.
"Everywhere I've been… it was a reclamation project," Cubit said. "Western was the same way. I kind of like that. I enjoy going out there and seeing kids that are out there and may have not been successful and give them a plan and work the plan and all of a sudden you're pretty successful. That's kind of been my whole career, and that's what I want to do."
The new gig certainly fits Cubit's ideal challenge. The Illini struggled offensively in 2012, scoring 16.7 points and gaining 296.7 yards in total offense. Both categories ranked last in the Big Ten and next to last nationally. Former co-coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales were split up following the season. Beatty was not retained on staff with Gonzales remaining on board to coach receivers.
The challenge is now solely in Cubit's hands, who was a coordinator during stops at Stanford, Rutgers, Missouri and Western Michigan.
"I've spent the last few days really just watching game tape and seeing the talent level and what guys can do," Cubit said. "There is talent here. We've got to put them in great position."
Inevitably, questions about quarterback came up during Cubit's press conference with the media Wednesday. The Illini employed both Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole a year ago, with each player playing through highs and lows. Cubit has already watched game film with each player and said he'd like to have a starter in mind by the end of spring practice, which concludes in mid-April.
"I think the quarterbacks are going to have to be really mature," Cubit said. "I've talked to them already. They're going to be leaders. They're going to have to go out there and get those things done in the summer because that's when a lot of work is going to be done.
"I think both are talented. We just got to put them in the right spots. They're going to need a lot of work, too, and a lot of help."
Regardless of who wins the quarterback battle, the offense will have a different look than the spread-oriented formations employed in 2012 and will most likely feature a no-huddle or uptempo pace.
"Downhill runs, a little bit more downhill runs," Cubit said. "I think getting into a little bit more quicker passing game, getting rid of the football. We have a philosophy around, we always have the quarterback get rid of the ball in 2.2 (seconds), so everybody has to know a lot of pre-snap reads. We'll have a lot of wideouts that have to get in the right spots at the right time to utilize talent."
There are still some details to work out. The offensive line coaching position left vacant by Luke Butkus is yet to be filled. Cubit must be assigned a recruiting territory to join the chase for talent. And decisions such as whether he'll spend game days on the field or in the pressbox must be finalized.
In the meantime, Cubit plans to watch a ton of film, put together his playbook and form his strategy.
"I think you've just got to put them in the right spots," he said. "That's what going through the evaluation process right now for me is, what can we do to get a good offense in here?"
That's a question Illini fans hope Cubit can provide an answer to.