Be Careful What You Wish For

<P>Two years ago Illinois head football coach Ron Turner could do no wrong. His weekly call-in shows were positive and fans were wondering if the Big Ten "Coach of the Year" was going to leave. He appeared to enjoy the media a little more; but now after two losing seasons, Turner is fighting to stay afloat.

Having spent the day in Champaign on Saturday, I heard enough negativity about the football program to last a decade. Most think the easy fix is to change captains of the ship and everything will be fine. "Not so fast my friend."

Let's take a trip up north and look at another Big Ten program that has struggled, but in recent years had winning seasons - the Northwestern Wildcats. Garry Barnett was the hottest coach in the game for years during the Wildcats glory years. He could have coached about anywhere. And that's what Barnett did. Northwestern appeared to be a stepping-stone so he could land that "dream job". Barnett is now the coach of the Colorado Buffalos, a program that was once considered a Top Ten job. Today, Barnett is fighting to save his job.

My point here is that Ron Turner could have left the Illini in 2001 but didn't. He was committed to build a winning football team at Illinois. The problem with this team is not Turner's coaching abilities; it's players not playing up to their potential, injuries and right now - confidence. Fans are booing at the play calling this year. Maybe the Illini don't throw the ball down field like years past, but that's because most of their skill players are first year players. There's no separation between the WR and the defender when any quarterback throws the ball down field. You can say that's a recruiting flaw, but I don't think so. Not when Turner went out and signed Kelvin Hayden, the National Offensive Player of the Year. What would be the case if Turner hadn't signed Hayden and freshman Lonnie Hurst? Then it would be a recruiting issue. Speaking of recruiting, as bad as this season has gone for the Illini Turner is still able to get players. Just last week the Illini received a verbal from J.R. Kraemer, the No. 1 TE in Missouri.

There are many things to take into consideration this season. FB Carey Davis's injury was a lot bigger than what most fans believe, not just his catching ability out of the backfield, but the blocking he provided for QB Jon Beutjer. What about the injury to DE Mike O' Brien during the Missouri game? The color analyst felt confident that O'Brien would be playing on Sundays somewhere.

Another point is. You can't go from Big Ten "Coach of the Year" TWO years ago and forget how to coach. Turner knows the game and studies it just as hard as the next guy. What Turner must do is surround himself with the best defensive coordinator available - the offense will be there. The players have not lost faith in Turner or the program. On the sidelines the guys were positive to their teammates and cheering in the 4th quarter as if the game had just started. After the game during post game interviews, you could see the frustration on the players' faces. Think about it - who is more frustrated - the fans or the team?

You know what you have with Turner as a coach. If for some reason he's not there in a couple years, you might not like his replacement and you could be stuck with the unknown for several years.

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