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July 26, 2012
Q. Kind of after how the team finished the regular season last year with six straight losses, how do you think that affected the team's mentality in the offseason?
COACH BECKMAN: Well, it was a challenge. During the offseason, we're big on competition. And if you've read any of the Twitter stuff that I tweet or any of the other things that we talk about each week on Illini football, you know that we build it through competition. And the things that we structure our program around is competition. And that was one thing that I challenged our football players in those last six football games, where was the sense of competition, individually and as a football team. So that's one of the things that we've addressed. I think we had 15 outstanding days of spring, going over competing and playing the first play as if we played the last play and playing at a tempo that we believe is going to be the Illini tempo and being a finisher by competing.
Q. If you wouldn't mind clarifying, so you did not have any of your coaches in State College yesterday?
COACH BECKMAN: We were in State College, but we did not go on campus. We went to two establishments outside campus and called some individuals and if they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by.
Q. Hey, Coach, Toledo has had a couple great coaches, Nick Saban and Gary Pinkel to name a few. What's it about Toledo that's such a great, almost, stepping stone for great coaches?
COACH BECKMAN: I think the tradition at the University of Toledo is outstanding. It's one of the top in the mid American. Coach Saban did an outstanding job. He was there for a year. Coach Pinkel did an outstanding job, and really Coach Amsted did until there at the very end. But we all know that the reason that I am here at the University of Illinois is because of those three years of Toledo Rocket football and the commitment that those players made to give me this opportunity to be a head football coach in the Big Ten. I do believe that the University of Toledo has an outstanding leader there now in Matt Campbell and I look forward to watching them, and the commitment to that program has always been outstanding.
Q. As you take over this program that's really been winners on NFL Draft night recently with three first round picks, three second round picks the last two years, but just the 14-12 record over that span, how do you go from winning the NFL Draft night to winning consistently on Saturdays now?
COACH BECKMAN: Well, again, that was -- I think the first thing that you look at is that we had four individuals that went and asked theNFL what their pre-Draft status would be. I tried to help them get as much information on that. But they've made the commitment to come back, because I challenged them. It's about building the legacy. It's about establishing something in the program as a senior. When Michael Buchanan and Graham Pocic and Terry Hawthorne and Akeem Spence made the decision to come back and be a part of that, I sure hope that's the start of something special about being a senior and about being the leader of a football team. So those are the things we're looking at. I'm very, very proud of the NFL legacy that we have now and having young men have that opportunity to be a first or second round Draft choice. But I'm very, very proud of the four that have decided to make a commitment to the university and to this football team and to come back and play their senior football seasons.
Q. Last year on Nathan Scheelhaase as the team's leading rusher, do you plan for that to be the case again this season, or do you think you can establish a ground game through one of the other running backs?
COACH BECKMAN: The major concern, as we all know, is the offensive line. The offensive line has got to be able to protect and block for you. And Nathan was one of the great, great football players, there's no question about it. But with the offense that we're installing in Champaign, it will be a dual-threat offense. You'll see two running backs in the football game at times. You'll even at times see two quarterbacks in the football game with Miles Osei lining up at running back also. So it's a commitment that our offensive staff has made to running the football and we've got to establish the run first for us to be successful. So the challenge will be on the offensive line to provide for Young and Ferguson and hopefully some of the young freshmen to step in and play.
Q. Have you or any members of your staff talked to anyone on the Penn State staff about their players, and are you going to talk to any of the Penn State coaches about their players?
COACH BECKMAN: Great question. Of course this morning we met as head football coaches and athletic directors. I spoke with Coach O'Brien, but not in depth, about that situation. I did talk with the athletic director a little bit about the situation. But that's as far as we're going to go.
Q. You were talking a lot about competition, having players push each other. Scheelhaase has been a starter the last few years, but you kind of see Reilly O'Toole pushing him for the quarterback spot, and do you think that's locked or do you think that's pretty open right now?
COACH BECKMAN: I think it's still open. If we had to make a decision right now, Nathan Scheelhaase would be our quarterback based on the 15 practices. But again that's why you practice football. And that's what the unique thing is about the game of football. You try to achieve those 13 football games, 14 being a Bowl game. And out of those 13 games, you're going to practice four times a week and you're going to make sure that you're competing in each one of those practices and giving opportunities for anybody to be a starter. So that's what we're going to do at every position. Not just with the quarterback position, but every position that we have. Competition breeds success in my opinion around the people that I've been around, and that's what we're going to do throughout practice. So quarterback-wise and defensive back-wise, it's all going to be the same. We're going to compete and make our determination on who is going to be that starter based on practice.
Q. What I'm wondering is now that you're part of Big Ten, do you see things differently? Do you think you'll make any differences in your style or is it pretty much football is football?
COACH BECKMAN: Well, again, I've been very, very blessed to be at the places I've been at and be underneath some outstanding coaches and outstanding people. We're going to do what we believe will be successful. We've been fairly successful in the Mid American at the University of Toledo, and we're still going to instill that same plan, the plan we believe in, at the University of Illinois. So it's going to be very, very similar.
Q. Can you talk about your renewed emphasis on Illinois's game with Northwestern and why you chose to emphasize that game in particular?
COACH BECKMAN: Again, being around college football for my whole life, rivalries are something that make college football so unique. And even in the Big Ten, I've been in those big rivalry football games, and I think it's something that you breed through your program. We call it the team upstate. And I'm not scared to say that. That's the school we're going to call it. We're going to make it a rivalry and we're going to make it a very, very important part of our football season.
Q. We talked to Penn State and all the off-field stuff that's going on now, but looking ahead to the end of September when you got to square up with those guys, what are your expectations once you get on the gridiron with Penn State?
COACH BECKMAN: No different than competing against them before when I was in the Big Ten. And even at Bowling Green when we played them there at Bowling Green, it's Big Ten football. I believe the competition, week in and week out, if you don't have your A game, that's what this conference is all about. So I expect, against Penn State, it will be just like it will be our first Big Ten football game.
Q. You're new to the league this year, and so is Coach O'Brien. Your thoughts on Coach O'Brien coming in and what he brings into the Big Ten and what changes do you think he'll make to Penn State? Especially the offense will probably change quite a bit.
COACH BECKMAN: I don't know Coach O'Brien personally. We were not able to meet him at the Big Ten meetings in February. So this was the opportunity, really, for us to get together here earlier today. I have the utmost respect for him. I think he's doing an outstanding job at Penn State and with the situation there at Penn State. He was a fabulous coach in the NFL and has been around some quality, quality leaders. So I expect great things at Penn State, as always.
Q. The NCAA is allowing Penn State players to transfer. You addressed it in your opening statement. Do you feel like there'sanything that you would have to apologize for or be defensive about if you are looking at Penn State players and if they end up coming to your school?
COACH BECKMAN: Not at all. We're just following the rules of the NCAA. We provided Penn State with the names of the people that -- prior to us even going there. Our compliance coordinator, Ryan Squire, and Mike Thomas, our athletic director gave him a list of people that -- so that they were aware of, before we got there, of who those individuals might be.
Q. With two of the traditional powers ineligible for the championship game this year, and only four teams in the division eligible, does this seem like this is really a great opportunity, like this is the year to really strike?
COACH BECKMAN: It's still going to come down to winning football games. We all know that in the Big Ten. And we have a challenge, there's no question about it, because of our away football games, playing in Camp Randall and playing at the Big House and playing in The Shoe, are three big places to play in this conference. And being on the road for those three challenges are definitely going to be the challenges on the road. No question about it. Again, I think it all comes down to winning. You've still got to win your Big Ten football games to give yourself that opportunity to get in that championship on 12-1-12 in Indianapolis.