The New Insideillini.com: We Keep Growing!

To think, it started just as a way to pass the time. And along the way, to help out one of my closest friends, who, oh by the way, had become the head football coach at the University of Illinois. A few years later, we're charged with turning this Scout.com owned site into something truly special for all Illini fans. Thus, an exciting plan is firmly in place for the new Insideillini.com.

First, some history. My first introduction to Illinois football, or at least talking about it, was on the Rivals site as a poster. And the more I talked about the Illini, about my relationship with Ron Zook, about how good things were going to be for Illini fans, despite how it appeared at first, the more I got into it. It made sense for me to do it on a more regular basis. Hell, I had become a fan. Just like you.

Meanwhile, two very good men and passionate Illini fans -- John Brumbaugh and Kedric Prince -- were growing a site once called Illiniboard.com. When Brumby left (and took the name) and Scout believed it needed a football presence, and preferably one with a journalistic background, it contacted this knucklehead broadcaster all the way down in Florida to help Kedric spice things up on Insideillini.com.

I agreed, but with a condition. I knew I had to find someone who, unlike Kedric or me, lived in Champaign. Someone who loved the Illini, was willing to put in the time to cover the team, was a good writer, loyal employee, hard worker, and would work for very little pay. ... Quit laughing, that really was the pursuit.

And, uh, one other thing. A second person. Someone very good with a camera who could provide terrific photos, whenever we needed it. Someone who also was loyal and hard-working and would do it for -- here's the shocker -- very little pay! I know what you're thinking -- what are the chances?

I asked around, but mostly to Illinois football SID Cassie Arner, who is one of the coolest people around, and quickly had become my buddy. Cassie knew more people in the area than I did. You see, I knew nobody in Champaign. Cassie knew everyone. That would be more.

The result -- a breakfast in Champaign with this savvy veteran -- I didn't say old, Jack, I said VETERAN -- named Jack Lyman and bright young photographer named Holly Birch. Illinois student and passionate II.com member Joe Deien (forgive me JayD if I botched the spelling) came along as well for guidance, and we had a plan.

Now, the latest news. Scout informed me that Kedric, who put so much heart and soul into this and kept it on life support when it could have died, is focusing more on other matters. So once again, the Florida knucklehead is asked to take it on, this time in full.

And I couldn't be more excited. But it won't be easy. For those who don't know, I stay kind of busy. I live in Jacksonville, Florida, began my career as a sports writer but moved on and have since hosted an afternoon drive talk show here for 19 years.

Also, I host numerous television shows on Comcast Sports Southeast, own a television production company that produces college-based programming and call a national college game of the week, along with Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta, for Touchdown Radio, Inc.

So Jack and Holly are crucial to this thing working. For that reason, we've upped the ante. Jack will be workiing for us on a more fulltime basis (and actually be paid accordingly), writing once or twice every day, covering football, basketball and recruiting for both sports. As you can see, a touch of that has begun. But far more is to come.

Some of our terrific moderators -- Peoriaman, Phil, Nova, JayD, plus others, will continue to help us out. They have been most gracious in offering to help in any way they can. You guys already are helping out as I try learn the website business.

Any way, Jack will follow up this story with one of his own -- I think you'll see how excited he is.

Holly, who stays very busy with her photography business, just got busier. You will see more of her work -- you've already seen some basketball photos -- and you now will see work from basketball games as well. Plus a whole lot more.

Our goal? Simple. To be everything you possibly could want from an Illinois sports website. That means Jack's terrific daily reporting, Holly's photos, my columns and posts and some behind the scene stuff that I gather from Zook and the coaches. Possibly the explanation of some why's and why not's that you didn't know.

Plus another writer or two I hope we can add along the way.

We know, truly know, that our major upgrade will have to come in the area of recruiting. We are going to do all we can to cover recruiting as well as we possibly can -- giving you visit updates, leanings, who is offered, who is not, who the staff likes, who they do not, who they might get, etc.

That won't be easy, either, because NCAA rules do not allow coaches to talk to the media about recruits. But hopefully that is where the good reporting comes in. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished in covering the day-to-day affairs of this football team -- I'd put our coverage up against anyone's in any format.

The goal is to equal that work with basketball and football and basketball recruiting. We want to add chats on a regular basis. We ultimately want to grow to having actual site-based events. We can't wait to get started. Jack is excited; Holly is excited. And I'm jacked.

So sit back and enjoy. Tell your friends to join, because the best stuff will always be premium. If you have thoughts, tell us. Post it, send me private messages in my inbox, send via carrier pigeon, hell, I don't care. Just let us know. Our job is to be there for you.

Since I tend to be a bit wordy -- I know, shocker -- I'll end with a quick story about some karma sort of affecting us all.

In 2001, with my broadcast career going well, I wisely chose to begin a second, side career, an extremely successful 10-month career in the sports bar business (please note the sarcasm). And although we didn't last, the first booster club here in Jacksonville to use us as their official meeting place on game days was... you guessed it -- Illinois. That year, the Illini, as it turned out, were pretty good.

So the next year, the sports bar closes, the Illini begin a stretch of not being so good and my pal Ron Zook returns to the area as the head coach at Florida. You know how that went. That was six years ago.

Now, we're all in this together. Again. Just minus the Gators, North Florida and the scantily clad waitresses. Who knew?

I'm excited about our next step. Hope you are as well.

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