Billy Gonzales jumped at the chance to serve as part of Tim Beckman's staff at Illinois. He was delayed in arriving as he coached in the National Championship game for LSU. They lost to Alabama, but that doesn't detract from the tremendous background his resume reflects.
"I've been very blessed to have been around some very good coaches and some very good teams. With great coaches and great records come great players. At the same time, I'm going to go one step further and say there's a great deal of development of those players by their coaching staffs that goes along with that too."
National Championship teams are known for team speed, especially in the South. Gonzales prefers to minimize differences in team speed between LSU and Illinois.
"As I look around this team, I see a fantastic team. They're working their behinds off. I think these guys are eager to get going. You look at them during the workouts, and what they're trying to get accomplished on the football field right now.
"I'm looking forward to working with this team. I'm excited about being here, and I'm not really worried about comparing and contrasting the teams that I've worked with before. I'm going to concentrate 100% on these guys."
There is no doubt the Illini will benefit from a recruiting upgrade, especially in creating more depth. But Gonzales feels the differences can be minimized by coaching diligence.
"We've got a long way to go before we kick off the ball in the season opener. Until then, we're going to continue preparing. This is our team, this is the University of Illinois. We all came here as a coaching staff, no different than these players. Our ultimate goal is to win a championship."
There's a large number of receivers on the Illinois roster, counting several walkons. But there is minimal playing experience. Gonzales is accustomed to developing receivers.
"Been there, done that. I'm used to having an opportunity to work with players. I've had an opportunity to work with a veteran receiving corps before, and I've worked with a receiver corps that had been a yellow group. I think we've got a fine mix here.
"We've got a couple young kids and no senior leadership. We're going to rely on the three juniors that have had extended playing time to do that. Even when you look at the number of receptions those players have had, it's not a lot.
"So as a coach, you always look forward to the opportunity to mold your players and let them show a little piece of you and the style you are. Their reflection should be a mirror image of who you are, what you are. I'm looking forward to it."
The multiple offense Gonzales will employ will give many receivers a chance to shine.
"There will be times when we have one or two, or four or five. There will be times when we have three tight ends, two fullbacks. Again, we'll be multiple. I don't think anybody should pigeonhole the spread. We want to utilize our personnel.
"If we've got more receivers or more quarterbacks, more running backs or tight ends, and they're excelling, this program is built on competition. The ones that go out and compete on a daily basis improve.
"Show me what you can do and prove that you deserve to play. Prove to Coach (Tim) Beckman that they're reliable and accountable on the field. We will adjust around them."
Former Illini head coach Ron Zook installed a spread offense when he arrived at Illinois. One of the staples of that offense is a bubble screen, where a quick pass finds a speedy receiver open in the flat where he can use his quickness to reach the secondary. Unfortunately, the Illini rarely advanced farther than the first tackler.
"I think it's a lot harder than what people think it is. But at the same time, you'd better have some guys on the perimeter that can block. We have a saying, 'We want to be the best blocking receivers in the country.' We're not worried about how many catches you have, we're not worried about how many yards you have. I'm worried about how good you block on the perimeter.
"That's a direct reflection to our team on what our responsibility and obligation to this program is. There's going to be plenty of times when they don't catch a bunch of balls. If they're playing 50 to 60 plays, there's a lot of blocking going on. That means a lot to me.
"I think when you do throw the small bubbles or whatever you want to call them, you better have someone on the outside that's going to be blocking their butt off for their brother as I say, whoever is catching. And two, you'd better have a guy who has some juice to catch it. They've got to be able to make someone miss. That's called recruiting. It's our responsibility to go out and get the best we can possibly get."
The Illini signed one receiver in February, J.J. Robertson. Gonzales is hopeful for Robertson's future but won't praise him until he proves himself on the field.
"I think we're all excited about what we have coming in. I've been in situations before where a guy you think will redshirt, comes in and becomes a superstar. The guy you think is gonna be your top player comes in and ends up redshirting. We won't know that until they step foot on campus and start working out. Get put into the fire, into the arena, to see what they can do."
Gonzales is known for his recruiting skills. If he can attract speed from his many southern contacts, it will be a great boost to the Illini program.
"I have the central part of Illinois. I also have parts of South Florida and Dallas. Those will be my three main areas. I will spot recruit anywhere that there is a wide receiver that's interesting. Where there's a position player that's interested, by all means. After living the last couple of years in Louisiana, I do have some ties there."