Tim Beckman was able to announce two more members of his new Illinois football staff today.
"It's an exciting day. I'm very proud to announce two new staff members to our Fighting Illini football staff. Mike Ward is a close friend of mine. I've known Mike forever; I can tell stories on Mike. He coached me. He's been the oldest coach we've had on the Toledo staff.
"He does a fabulous job. He's not just about the X's and O's, he's about people, he's about players, he's about the welfare of the student-athlete. I can't be more proud to have Mike as a staff member here. He'll be on the defensive side of the football.
"Also, new staff member Alex Golesh. I've also known Alex for an extremely long time. Alex was with me at Ohio State, he was with me at Oklahoma State. I kid him because he's got the hair color of the team down in Stillwater, and he'll fit right in here with the Fighting Illini.
"He's a fabulous person and has a great family. He was in charge of our recruiting at the University of Toledo the last three football seasons. He was the guy that was instrumental in the top recruiting classes (at Toledo).
"He does a fabulous job with players and a fabulous job of bringing in the best caliber of student-athletes that we can have here at the University of Illinois in Champaign.
"We're excited about having those two involved in my life and helping this family."
Ward was Co-Defensive Coordinator at Toledo. Will he have the same role at Illinois?
"No sir. He will be an assistant for us. Another person has made a commitment to be the defensive coordinator."
Beckman previously announced current staff member Keith Gilmore will be retained as defensive line coach. Is his staff now complete?
"We have all but one. We have commitments from what I believe is an outstanding coaching staff. Due to obligations in bowl games, I would like for them to do that because they need to finish what they started. And that is to be the best they can be in their bowl games."
Beckman has had a whirlwind first couple weeks as Illini coach. Besides hiring a staff, he has been heavily involved recruiting for the February signing class. His first priority is the Illini's 14 commitments, and he has branched out from there. Will he recruit any players he recruited for Toledo?
"One thing I'd like to strongly emphasize. The 14 players who were committed to the Illini were excited about being football players and wearing the Orange and Blue. We've been out actively talking to those young men.
"We want to make sure they're fits for what we're planning on doing and fit the expectations of what being Fighting Illini football players is all about. All of them met that criteria, so we're excited with them. We're going to actively keep recruiting those 14 young men.
"The young men we recruited at Toledo, in my opinion, are very capable football players. We thought that some of those players we recruited would help us win a championship. And they're the type of young men we feel can meet the standards we've set for our football players.
"There are a few of them we have gone back and talked to. If they're interested in coming here to Champaign and seeing what we have to offer, we will definitely talk to them at this time. I'm sure they'll be interested in the coaching staff that we're about to have here."
Beckman has also found time to begin acquainting himself with the current Illini team.
"I've been meeting with the football team as they go throughout the practices this week. I met with each junior for five and one-half hours last night. For fifteen minutes we sat down, talked about each other, got to know one another.
"I talked about the expectations I have for them this week and in the bowl game on the 31st. And how excited I am to get started with them on the team meeting at 6:50 pm on the 16th of January.
"It's an outstanding group of juniors. I look forward today to meeting with the sophomores. That will be about 6 hours of meeting time. We'll get with the freshmen tomorrow before Coach Koenning releases them to go home for the holidays."
Beckman related the message he shares with each of his players regarding bowl practices and the game against UCLA.
"'What a great opportunity to start your resume. Change is sometimes uneasy, but change is also good. Everybody's on that level playing field. You have an opportunity to show what you can do during practice.'"
Whenever possible, Beckman has watched bowl preparations. He has been impressed with what he's seen.
"I watch effort and attitude. I will be there to see what type of practice players they are, and then also to see what type of gamers they are. What a great opportunity for them to showcase what they want to be known as as Fighting Illini."
Toledo used a two quarterback system this year. Might he do something similar at Illinois next season?
"There's three. I think they all three do a fabulous job. All do some things a little bit differently. I think all three of these young men have capabilities. The greatest thing is we'll be able to see them January 16th."
One big question mark hanging over next year's team is the decision of Whitney Mercilus whether to return for his final season or turn pro. The consensus All-American has a big decision to make, and Beckman has already talked with him about it.
"I talked to Whitney quite a bit. In the time that I've been with him, to me he's a very mature individual. He's very well respected as a leader on this football team. As this thing further progresses with the NFL, we'll see.
"He'll have to make an educated decision. I think it will be a decision we all sit down and talk about. One that he's willing to hear both sides of the ball. And make the best decision possible for himself, his family and Illini Nation.
"We enjoyed ourselves. We talked two days ago, and then we had the one-on-one yesterday. He's a great young man. He's very mature. I haven't been able to coach him as a football player, but I've sure enjoyed being around him. He's respectful, and he's a leader."
Without doubt, Beckman would like Mercilus back with the team next year.
"Heck yeah. There's four of them I'd like back, juniors that have possible opportunities to go into the NFL. There's four great players, (Mercilus), Michael Buchanan, Terry Hawthorne and Akeem Spence. There's nothing like being a senior, being a leader and starting a new era of building a program. I hope they all four stay because they're outstanding individuals."
From all indications, Beckman likes the potential of the Illini football team, both in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl and in coming years.
"First of all, they're very excited. They've practiced extremely well in my opinion. They've had a great attitude. I'm excited to see what they do out in San Francisco. It's gonna be a heck of a football game, and I know they're excited about playing in it and being involved in back-to-back bowl games.
"I'm eager to coach this football team because I think there's players here that are eager to win and finish, do the things that are necessary to be champions. I'm really excited about what I've seen so far."