Smile Politely

Dine and Dash

The Munchies come to town. Well, just one actually.  

Munchie Legaux sounds like a fake name you’d give when prank-ordering pizza. But that’s the name of one of Cincinnati’s two quarterbacks. Well, sort of. His actual name is Benton Shannon Legaux, but he goes by Munchie. Too bad we don’t still have Juice Williams. We’d be most of the way towards a balanced mood.

The Cincinnati Bearcats come to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, for an 11 a.m. game to be televised on ESPN2. Cincinnati is coming off a 42-7 dismantling of Purdue, a team that most people, this writer included, expect to be better than the Illini this year. That win was the first game the Bearcats played under new head coach Tommy Tuberville, or as we will be referring to him, “Dine and Dash.” 

Chances are good, but not certain, that Tommy Tuberville will still be coaching the Bearcats on Saturday. It isn’t a lock, because he’s got a history of abrupt exits. Like leaving Texas Tech in the middle of a recruiting dinner. He literally left his food on the table and just walked out to take a call and the Cincinnati Bearcats job. Never stepped back into the restaurant to tell anyone what happened. 

Not that the recruits should have been all that surprised as they snuck fries from his abandoned plate. When he was coaching Ole Miss, Tuberville said “They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box.” Within a week he had left and accepted the head coaching position at Auburn. Apparently “pine box” is some kind of Southern slang that roughly translates to “wheelbarrow full of money.” Reports at the time said he never even told the Ole Miss players goodbye. 


But this back story isn’t just an opportunity to take potshots at the opposing coach. Well it is, but not entirely.

This ties back into what Illinois athletics is and what it wants to be. When Illinois was looking for a coach after Ron Zook had been set free to pursue a job at a bank in Florida (seriously — he is the Business Development Officer at Gateway Bank in Ocala, Florida) there were people who were calling for Illinois to hire Mike Leach, or an analog of Mike Leach. You know, someone who had experienced prior success but flamed out at a big program in some way or another. Like Tuberville. This is essentially how we ended up with Ron Zook in the first place. 

That’s not AD Mike Thomas’s style. He’s the kind of guy who tries to identify talent on the upswing, not try to rehabilitate fallen stars and egos.  He had great success doing this, at Cincinnati coincidentally enough. Obviously, things have taken a different tack in the ‘nati since then. Thomas hired Brian Kelly and Butch Jones there when nobody knew who they were. Thomas left, Cincinnati got a new AD, and now the Bearcats are starting a new era under Dine and Dash. 

Thomas came here and he hired Tim Beckman. Nobody has ever claimed Beckman is the kind of person who punishes concussed players for not practicing by sitting them in the equipment shed (Leach) or generally ditches his players mid-meal for a bigger paycheck.

Does anyone care about these things? Well, I do. I think Illinois as an institution should as well. 

As Tim Beckman is very fond of saying (and of hanging banners which say) “The Image of One Projects the Image of All.”  What would it say about Illinois if the image we project with  the highest paid member of the University was Tuberville. For a lot of people, the answer would come as a shrug. Wins cover sins,  and nobody really cares how the sausage gets made, so long as that sausage is touchdown scoring, conference championship winning sausage.

Mike Thomas’s decision to hire John Groce was rather popular during last basketball season. At the time of the hires, and without the benefit of hindsight, the hire of Groce and the hire of Beckman were identical. Lets face facts: no one with a surging national prominence and an unblemished record is going to take a head coaching position at Illinois. There will always be an athletic director willing to pay the same amount of money at a school with better national exposure. If you are the Illinois athletic director, you find a diamond in the rough, or you go sorting through someone else’s tarnished diamonds.  

Barring a miraculous level of improvement, especially in a very young secondary that shows little chance of stopping Munchie, Illinois will be beat by the Bearcats on Saturday. Perhaps badly, and perhaps because they are a better coached team that attracts very good recruits by having a coach with a nationally prominent name and a lot of SEC success under his belt. 

How much does that matter to you? I’m just going to step out and take this phone call real quick while you think about it. 

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