Beckman Discusses Game Day Realities

Fighting Illini football fans have had eight months to get acquainted with their new head football coach Tim Beckman. He has been in a great mood, giving pep talks around the state, putting on high school camps and going through spring practices. Now comes the real test, the fall season. How prepared is he for the rigors of Big 10 football?

For Tim Beckman, this isn't his first rodeo. He has been involved with football his whole life, and he was a successful head coach at Toledo for three years. He has even more pressure now that he's coaching Illinois in the mighty Big 10.

"Yeah, I would say the demands are greater, but it reminds me of my first year at Toledo. It's going out and meeting people, it's things that you do as a brand new head football coach.

"I think the experiences that we had at Toledo in establishing a football club which we called Rocket Fuel, we had to go out and raise more money. We built the weight room at Toledo because we went out and raised the money for it. Those things we've learned, and they can only help you at the University of Illinois."

Coaching Toledo was a necessary stepping stone in becoming a successful major college coach. There were growing pains as he learned from his mistakes. It served as a building block for what he's doing now.

"Going from Toledo to here, no question. That first year, of course there were struggles. It was your first opportunity to be a head coach, and you learn from your experiences. That's life. So there are definitely some things I've taken from that first year at Toledo, and I said we are going to do those things a little different here.

Organizing and prioritizing time is always hard for new coaches.

"It has to do with work time and the things that you put on a coaching staff. The first year was so driven time-wise. I've learned that you've got to let your staff have more time away from all the football work that we do. We're working hard; the hours might be long. We've got to get them out and get back to their families too."

Games were especially hard for him.

"Personally, I would not go home after games. I'd just stay in the office and watch film until four in the morning. We played night games, and it ended up dragging me down at the end of the year. I was just dying.

"I learned the next two years that you don't need to do that. You can still get all your things done. It's not always about overdoing time, it's about spending the right time for things. I learned that, and I think it made Toledo a better football team."

Beckman has been so calm, so congenial no matter the situation. On the surface, he has appeared to transform stress into peace and balance. Can he maintain that calm demeanor on the sideline during games?

"No, you'll see I get a little bit nervous and doing all those types of things."

Of course losses eat away at him. But he is learning, little by little, a healthier approach that will help insure his longevity in the business he loves.

"You always want to win the game, but you try to learn from it and teach your players the reasons for the loss. I would spend more time in the office after a lost than a win, but it became counterproductive. Now maybe you're over-analyzing.

"It's a game, it always will be a game. Sometimes you've got to do what you believe in, and just do it instead of over-analyzing it or tweaking it this way when really, the first way you're doing it was right. You've just got to do some fundamentals better or make the play when you need to make a play."

College football can be especially frustrating for a coach because there are so many things out of his control. Beckman is learning to anticipate and prepare for as much as possible while accepting what is beyond his control.

"That's why we do certain things in our practices, that's why we have these competitions. You never know in the game of football when six or seven plays are gonna change the outcome of the game. You have to be prepared for those.

"That's why we try to do make-a-play deals in our practice, or the competitions that we do. You try to educate your kids and get as close to game action as you can."

Winning teams minimize letdowns so prevalent when things don't go their way. Beckman wants his charges treating every play with importance and maintaining confidence throughout the game.

"Sure. You never know when it might be the last play. It might be the third to the last play, or the second play of the third quarter. You don't know it, so you have to play every play hard."

New coaches also struggle with game day decisions, especially unpredictable ones that require an immediate response. His Toledo experience should help him with that at Illinois.

"No question. As much as you can get prepared as a coach, the game situation is the ultimate, and it is necessary to practice these things.

"There is the two-minute drill, or in this situation, this is where we have to go. We talk about it prior to it ever happening, so the decision is a lot easier to make. But there's always those spur-of-the-moment things that you have to believe in your staff and yourself in making that decision and going with that decision."

Is Beckman capable of giving inspirational locker room pep talks before games? Is the pregame pep talk overrated?

"That's a good question. I think it's important. That's why we bring back a former player for each of our football games. He is our guest coach.

"We're also starting a new thing where we bring in a current NFL player who's on break that week. So let's say Rejus (Arrelious Benn) is not playing in a game. We're going to ask him to come back and be that guest coach so we'll have two guest coaches on the sidelines to help us."

Beckman has enjoyed somewhat of a honeymoon to this point. Illini fans want to believe success is just around the corner and are hopeful Beckman is the answer to their prayers. But they will react strongly when things go badly. Is the Illini coach ready for the fan scrutiny?

"I think that's college football everywhere. That's kind of the way college football is today. You believe in what you believe in and do the best you can. You try to educate your football players. We have a great staff here, and we're all in this together. We'll try to do all we can do to make sure the Illini are successful."

Beckman has done all he can to this point. He must wade into fall camp and prepare his team the best he can for the 2012 season. We will know much more about him as a coach and the Illini football program's potential by the end of the year. Let the games begin.

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