Jeremy Werner

Just keep recruiting

After initial shock of Tim Beckman's dismissal, Illini staff back to work on recruiting trail to improve future -- even if that future is uncertain

CHAMPAIGN - The Illinois football office understandably went through a period of shock following head coach Tim Beckman's surprising dismissal last Friday.

By Saturday, though, the staff was back to its normal work schedule.

Sure, the top guy was gone. But everyone else was still there: the coordinators, the assistant coaches, the medical staff, the support staff and the recruiting staff.

After the current players were addressed and taken care of on Friday, the staff's next step was to address the future Illini. The Illinois staff had each of the 15 committed recruits call the assistants on Saturday. Then the staff used its once-weekly allowed call to contact each recruit again on Tuesday.

Firing a head coach a week before the first game of the week is unprecedented, so there is no playbook for how the current Illini staff -- led by offensive coordinator and now interim coach Bill Cubit -- should approach recruiting.

No one on the current staff is guaranteed a future at Illinois beyond this season. But there is a belief inside the football office that if they win enough this season (possibly seven or eight games), that they will be retained for the long-term.

It is unclear whether that message has been delivered by athletic department officials (athletic director Mike Thomas is facing heat for his revenue sports' lack of success on the field and for too many controversies off the field) or university officials.

But the staff is working the recruiting trail as if it plans an extended stay at Illinois. The staff members are basically treating the 2015 season, and recruiting class, like a baseball player entering his contract year.

"Right now, our conversation with (recruits) is, 'Listen, we're going at this thing 100 miles an hour. There's nothing changed,'" Illini recruiting coordinator Ryan Cubit said. "Obviously, it's a unique situation with a head coach at this point in time getting dismissed. But at the same time the guys that we're recruiting, they're getting recruited by a position coach and area coach that has not left the building, so nothing's changed with that aspect. To them, that's what they want to know. The ones who are truly are here for that reason, none of them have wavered. We haven't had one kid say, 'I want to de-commit.' So we feel confident about it."

Ryan Cubit, the quarterbacks coach, will take on more offensive coordinator responsibilities as his father, Bill, assumes more head-coaching duties, like overseeing the defense. So Ryan the recruiting coordinator will rely even more on his hard-working recruiting staff of Pat Embleton (director of football student-athlete development) and Scott Yielding (director of player personnel).

"We've kept that the same," Cubit said. "We haven't really changed that much now, to be honest with you. We always had a lot of responsibility on the two guys in our recruiting office staff, but they know they have a little more ownership over it now in terms of the day-to-day operations. They're guys we always trust, so they're doing a great job at it."

The good news for the staff is that, assuming all the 15 current commitments stay put, the Class of 2015 is almost complete. And the staff received a boost of energy when Missouri defensive end Brandon Jones committed to the Illini two days after Beckman was fired.

"I feel like Coach Cubit is there to stay," Jones said on Sunday.

The Illinois football staff stood in shock on Friday. By  Saturday, the Illini staff got back to work at improving the program's future. Even if that future is still unclear.

"That's our responsibility," Bill Cubit said, "to go out there and get some more guys."

Recruiting targets

Illinois currently has 15 commitments in what will be a class of about 21, when including the three oversigns allowed by the Big Ten. Who are the remaining top targets for the interim staff?

  • Tre Johnson, OT Orlando (Fla.) The First Academy: With most of the class complete, the Illini will swing for the fences for some recruits, including Johnson. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound tackle also has offers from Miami, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Louisville, as well as interest from Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Ohio State.
  • Alaric Jackson, OT Detroit (Mich.) Renaissance: The 6-foot-7, 280-pound offensive tackle has some big offers but doesn't plan to make a decision for a while, which could benefit the Illini.
  • Coy Cronk, OL Lafayette (Ind.) Central Catholic: The athletic 6-foot-5, 272-pound lineman has power-five offers from Illinois, Indiana and Vanderbilt and has family ties to the Illini.
  • Rontavius Groves, WR Nashville (Tenn.) Pearl-Cohn: The Illini feel like they added the big target they need in Florida wideout Dominic Thieman. Groves, the former teammate of current Illini Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Cameron Watkins, would fill the Illini's need for a speedy wideout.
  • Bryce Banks, CB Columbia (Mo.) Rock Ridge: The 6-foot-3 corner would add much needed size and physicality to the Illini secondary. He visited the Illini last month, and Illinois recently added another Columbia, Mo., native (Jones).
  • Kenneth Ruff, LB Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard: Clemson and South Carolina loom large for the strong, athletic linebacker who also plans a Virginia visit, but the Illini have made an impression.

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