New era for Illini football begins with Beckman

When Tim Beckman runs onto the field at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, it will be the culmination of eight months since being named head football coach at Illinois. In many ways, his first game as a Big Ten coach is something Beckman has worked his whole life for. He said he’s been waiting for this day since he was in a crib.

“Words are probably not going to be able to express the feeling that I’ll have,” Beckman said.

He’ll walk from First Street with the team through the early tailgaters at Street Fest around 8:45 a.m. without the presence of his daughter, Lindsay Beckman — the first walk he’s completed without her. She’s walked with him during his days at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Toledo. But she enrolled as a freshman at Toledo this fall and, as he put it, she’s a grown girl now; however, Beckman will be able to look over and see his parents sitting in the stands cheering him on.

“We’re really excited. I mean, this coaching staff, this football team, I can’t say enough about the excitement that’s filling the air about opening week, opening season of football,” Beckman said.

“You can smell it in the air, as they say.”

He said he doesn’t sleep much, especially in the last few weeks. His mind has been so focused on preparing the Illini for a football game that he said he’s barely heard about possibility of rain from Isaac’s leftovers on Saturday.

“I haven’t seen TV in three weeks,” he said Monday. “My wife told me there was a hurricane coming. I heard that last night as a matter of fact ... but we’re looking at right now and what we need to be successful both offensively and defensively and special teams.”

When Operation New Era — ONE, as it’s been abbreviated on the Illini’s wristbands — begins, an old Mid-American Conference foe, Western Michigan, will be waiting for Beckman. He is 2-1 against the Broncos in his career. Last year, Toledo and Western Michigan both had an offensive explosion, where Beckman’s team eked out a 66-63 victory. The score prompted defensive lineman Akeem Spence to poke some fun at his head coach, saying Beckman didn’t have any answers for him.

Beckman’s going to be focused on not allowing that to happen again Saturday. The last time Illinois scored 60 or more points, it needed three overtimes against Michigan in 2010.

Expect Beckman to be very involved and active during the game as well. He’s always had high energy, and his coordinators can expect to hear him in their headsets all game long.

“My headset will be clicking back and forth offensively, defensively and special teams,” Beckman said. “I like to be involved in the games. I like to chest bump them, run down the field with them, all that stuff. That’s what I like to do, that’s why I coach football.”

This will be Beckman’s first time with this group of coordinators, and he’s excited to see how they call the games. He uses the co-coordinator system on offense — something he said he’s always done because he wants to see his coordinators work together, just like his team.

“It’s about building a family,” Beckman said. “I’m not into ego guys. We’re not going to have ego guys on this football staff. We’re going to have ‘we guys, not me guys.’” A banner that reads the same hangs on the practice field adjacent to Memorial Stadium.

On Saturday, Beckman said his football players can expect two things from him and vice versa for them: accountability and trust. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who’s starting his third straight season opener, has put his trust in Beckman. He said this opener is different from any in years past.

“There is a new momentum building. There is a new look for what we’re all about,” he said. “It’s exciting. I think our fans are excited. I think our players are excited for the new era we’ve been talking about for so long.”

Beckman has tried different tactics to build camaraderie within the football program. Now this is his first chance to change the culture of the Illini in a different way. And to prove what he said when he took the job in December: “This is a gold mine. You can win at the University of Illinois.”

_Jamal can be reached at collie10@dailyillini.com and @JamalCollier._