Tim Salem is the son of former Minnesota head football coach Joe Salem. He enjoyed success as an assistant coach at Colorado State, Purdue, Ohio State, Eastern Michigan and Central Florida before joining Tim Beckman at Illinois. He has been an offensive coordinator, and he has coached running backs and quarterbacks.
His job at Illinois is running back coach, along with being special teams coordinator. But first things first. He has been acclimating himself to a new school and new environment.
"I've been here a short while, and the time has gone fast. The biggest part of that is obviously the players. Not just your position players, but the players on the team. You are dealing with a new face every time you turn the corner. You call somebody by the wrong name; 'Oh I get it, you're the guy from Cass Tech, not the guy from Memphis.'"
After playing at Minnesota and coaching two other Big 10 schools, Salem admits he's happy to be back in the conference.
"No question. I was driving down Florida Avenue last weekend, and I saw no palm trees. I've been driving around this town looking for palm trees and haven't found any yet. I had eight years of fun in the sun in Florida."
Some of his fellow assistants have already moved to Champaign-Urbana. For Salem, that will occur this summer.
"I haven't even gotten into the issues of trying to sell my house and stuff. Those are family issues, things you have to overcome every time you move. Two of my three kids are trying to get into school here at Illinois so they can wear the Orange and Blue and be part of it."
One of his first priorities is helping Beckman create bonds with the team.
"Each individual received a wristband. Any way you can improve the bonding improves the team. And we're trying to improve the team. The sooner that bond is made, the better. Then everything improves."
Salem has a refreshing take on every football question presented to him. For instance, he is quick to point out how much of a running back's success comes from natural gifts rather than sound coaching.
"Our running backs will run the ball. Whether they run it five times, 10 times or 25 times, you've got to run. There is a natural part of running the ball; you're recruited to run the ball.
"I like to say for running backs, there's a small part that's coaching. Either the guys know how to do it, or they don't. Unlike some other positions where you can almost grow and work into your position, the running back guy better be naturally talented and gifted. He does what he does, and you just try to bump him up the extra 10% to make him a good back."
Illinois will be employing a spread offense this year. From Salem's perspective, the type of offense shouldn't matter to a running back.
"The ball still says to inflate to 13 pounds. That hasn't changed. The field dimensions are not any wider or longer. And defensively, there is still 11 guys over there.
"It's different for quarterbacks if you're in a two-back offense or a spread offense. But if you are a running back, you run. The hole is over here, and you run through the hole.
"There's only one guy in the backfield, so there's no one to block for him. I should say, we do still have some two-back mentality plays. It's not like it's all Communist football. Communist football is no backs in the backfield.
"It's an offense. Coach Beckman and his staff had good productive numbers at Toledo. They put a lot of pressure on the defense to get lined up to formations to create that one mismatch."
Salem reminds of the important role running backs play in the spread offense passing game.
"No question. From a protection side first, and from route running. A running back has to be considered a blocker first in the passing game because he's the only protection. So I teach pass pro like an offensive tackle. I'm part line coach."
In part two of a four-part interview, Salem discusses his running back personnel, including new signees.