Bill Cubit wore a blue blazer, orange button-up shirt and khaki pants to the office Monday afternoon. A bit dressy for a football coach.
It was an intentional style choice for Illinois’ interim head coach, who’s dressing for the job he wants and the success he wants the Illini to achieve.
“I’ve always done it every place I’ve been,” said Cubit, promoted from offensive coordinator Friday after Tim Beckman was fired. “You go out there in a professional manner. We’re all trying to run a classy program that’s going to play hard and give everything they’ve got and represent this university the way it should be.
“We’ve got some tough times. I want us to be the rallying cry for this campus right now.”
After a tumultuous offseason, the Illini have designs on showcasing a new image, beginning with Friday’s season opener against Kent State.
Their approach, after a whirlwind few days following Beckman’s firing, has been a mix of “business as usual” and “us against the world” as they try to balance their emotions and use the adversity as motivation.
“We’ve looked at this game like we want to make a little statement to our fans, to our community, to the university that we want to be a successful program,” senior offensive lineman Teddy Karras said. “We’re keeping it positive and we’re ready to roll.”
Beckman’s firing was just the latest in a series of you-have-to-be-kidding-me moments for Illinois’ upperclassmen, Karras said.
The fifth-year seniors have endured coach Ron Zook’s firing at the end of the 2011 season, struggled through a 2-10 season in Beckman’s first year, experienced numerous staff changes and become embroiled in a former teammate alleging abuse by Beckman and a subsequent investigation.
So this news, players said, won’t unravel the team.
“I don’t think there’s much that can really shock us at this point,” senior running back Josh Ferguson said. “We’re just ready to play football.”
Cubit said players have been “enthusiastic” through the early practices under his watch. He said he has heard from alumni who told him, “We’re behind you,” and he said the players told him, “We’ve got your back.”
While the university said the investigation by law firm Franczek Radelet confirmed reports that Beckman had mistreated players, Cubit said Monday he was unaware of any wrongdoing when he coached alongside Beckman. He did say he has told the assistant coaches to make the players feel welcome and safe.
“I don’t know what went on,” Cubit said. “I told (the coaching staff) we have to be professional out there.”
Emotional at times, remembering his mother who died this month, and exuberant about starting the season, Cubit said his expectations are high.
“I’d love to see over 60,000 people in the stands just going nuts about their Illini football team because they respect what they’re doing on the field, off the field,” he said. “That’s what I’m gunning for. I think that’s what we’ll get.”
Recruiting news: Illinois received a commitment Sunday night from Class of 2016 defensive end Brandon Jones of Columbia, Mo. Jones’ father, Brian, is Missouri’s running backs coach; his only other reported offer was from Southeast Missouri State.