Billy Gonzales knew immediately he would join Tim Beckman at Illinois. He knows and trusts Beckman; they share similar philosophies.
"Coach Beckman has proven what he can do. I've been around him before, so I know what he can do. I know how he teaches and how he develops. I think that's one of the things that he's done. He gathered together a bunch of guys that have the same mold, the same fit as him in terms of developing players and maximizing their potential."
Stated simply, they are teachers.
"Our goal as teachers is no different than a professor, no different than someone in the work force. We want to try to develop our players to get the maximum out of them.
"How do we do that? You've got to leather them, you've got to make them so tough and so strong and put them in those positions constantly so that when it happens in a game, the pace slows down for them.
"Practice is at a much faster tempo than in the game situation. You've got to put them into different situations throughout the season, not just on the football field. How they respond to academics, how they respond (to their social life), that's all part of growing up, maturing and becoming a man."
Some offensive coordinators bring in their own assistants, people who already know their system. Some are forced to find commonality with a group of assistants already established on a team. With Gonzales, it's like a blended family. Everyone must adapt to others' needs and expertise.
"Adapting is about the best word to describe the situation. Everybody's here and getting along right now. We're in the staff room every spare moment that we have. The offensive staff room, the defensive staff room and our players, it's those three things that we want to get accomplished for spring ball. Evaluating our guys and getting a good feel for what we can do."
Like mad scientists, the Illinois offensive coaches have been cooking up a brew that will best serve the needs and abilities of their players, while finding a language all can understand and accept.
"We've been putting our offense together formationally, signals, what we want to call defensive fronts and coverages. We are putting the playbook together right now.
"The terminology is a combined deal. The biggest thing is, you've got a couple different ways to do things. Some guys have been a part of staffs that have done it this way, so that's what we're calling it. But I think the biggest thing that we've talked about as an offensive staff, we want our offense to be Illinois's offense.
"With that being said, we want to make sure that we are all in there together. It's not my offense, it's our offense put together collectively as a staff.
"What we're basically doing, we know what we want to do, we know what we want to get accomplished. Now it's just a collaboration of five guys trying to make sure we call it the same way we want to call it. We are trying to make it fit for what we want to do here for our players."
Beckman said he wants to run a spread offense. That will be the primary focus, but the Illini plan to combine various offensive approaches to find what works best with their personnel.
"Everybody that we have on our offense right now has, at one time or another, been a part of either a true I-formation, two-back offense and a spread offense and a multiple offense. When people say 'true spread,' they get the misconception that's all you're doing. I think the biggest key to say is, 'Multiple-set offense with an upbeat tempo.'
"If we can get that accomplished, we'll be on track. That's one of the goals we want to accomplish in spring. We want to utilize our personnel, whether it's fullbacks, tight ends, etc.
"I don't want there to be a misconception that we're completely spreading it out and that's all we're doing. We're going to try to take advantage of what we have with our players and get our signal callers comfortable with what we're doing."
Gonzales has never before been the primary play-caller for a college team. But he feels that will be one of the easiest parts of his job description.
"I think it will go smoothly for the simple reason that the meat and potatoes of what we are doing is going to be done on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and continuing on into Friday. The biggest thing for us as a staff, we'll have everything by down and distance figured out before we get there. We'll have a menu of plays that we take into the game with us.
"I'm excited; I'm looking forward to it, and our staff is looking forward to it."
In part two of his interview, Gonzales talks about his role coaching receivers.