Dick Butkus on Illini recruiting: 'I believe in turning it around'

Illini great, Hall of Famer Dick Butkus wants to see more recruits follow his path and help restore pride in Illinois football

CHAMPAIGN - Dick Butkus is old school -- in case you didn't know by now.

He’s part of the generation that is resistant to how much the world has changed even if it knows change is inevitable and may be for the better.

He noticed on Tuesday a lot of change on the University of Illinois campus, where he visited to take part in a press conference for the announcement of a new Illinois athletics Hall of Fame of which he headlines the inaugural class.

“It’s just gotten big, it seems like,” Butkus said of the campus. “High rises? Are you kidding me? We never had them. ...To me it feels like it’s getting away from a college campus, but that’s the way things are now.”

Butkus has noticed another big change -- in college football recruiting.

http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1721705-butkus-to-be-inducte... Butkus arrived at Illinois in 1961, a star recruit out of Chicago Vocational for second-year coach Pete Elliott. Freshmen didn’t play at that time, and Illinois went 0-9 in 1961 and then started the 1962 season 0-5, ultimately finishing 2-7. But Butkus’ huge junior season (145 tackles, consensus All-American, Chicago Tribune Silver Football Most Valuable Player) propelled Illinois in 1963 to a Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl berth.

Butkus wishes more recruits, especially in the state, would blaze their own trail.

“It seems like nowadays, all the kids want to go to an Alabama or teams that are up there all the time,” Butkus said. “I think the era where we came to Illinois, (Jim) Grabowski and a bunch of us, we wanted to turn that program around -- and we did. I think we get more out of that then just going to a school that’s been successful in the past. I believe in turning it around. That shows the real capabilities of a player and what kind of character you have.”

Butkus is part of a storied history of Illinois. But during the last three decades, that program has struggled to find consistency.

College football’s first star, Harold “Red” Grange, and Butkus are two of the all-time football (not just Illinois) greats -- and they are just two of 25 consensus All-Americans to play at Illinois. The school also has produced 20 first-round NFL draft picks, five since 2008.

“It’s like (Illinois athletics director Josh Whitman) is saying, we got to get that pride back and get these kids, the recruits know that you’re going to quite frankly a hell of a school with a great history in athletics,” Butkus said. “OK, so we were down a little bit, but we can get it back up there if we all get at it. With his decisions with this coaching staff we have with Lovie, I think we’re going to see a big difference coming back here -- rightly should be because you look back at history, some great people came here starting with (George) Halas and Big Red. We got to renew all that and get people back on the program.”

http://www.scout.com/college/illinois/story/1720389-illini-football-recr... Butkus thinks the 38-year-old Whitman, who was roommates at Illinois with Butkus’ nephew Luke Butkus (now the offensive line coach at Illinois) when they played with the Illini, is steering the ship in the right direction. Though, Dick Butkus did a small bit of advice for Whitman after his hire.

“I think he’s been a great addition and is going to continue on with all the success of the programs here," Butkus said. "When I talked to him the very first time, I just told him in so many words, ‘Don’t blank with the (No. 1-ranked) golf team.’ He promised me he won’t.”

Times are a changin’. Butkus just hopes that the inevitable change -- including a $132 million renovation of the east and south sides of Memorial Stadium -- is for the better for Illinois.

“Things have changed since I was recruited,” Butkus said. “You got to have the facilities. We got to be able to match the Oregons, the Ohio States and the Michigans. In a couple three years, we’ll have that. We’ll be starting everything anew. With that, it’s something that goes along with the program. I mean, that’s what they look at, the facilities. No way of getting around it. I think we got the coaching staff in order and then we’ll have the facilities and then we can start getting these kids.”

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