Bret Bielema is renting temporary quarters, but he told reporters Wednesday that he’s building a house for the long term in Champaign. The same could be said for what he’s trying to do with the Illini football program, to the point that you might call him the team’s Construction Foreman, instead of the Head Coach.
For all the talk you’ll hear in athletic circles about building a culture, or building a team into a program, Bielema sounds like a man who has been busy building, but literally, and figuratively in recent weeks.
On the day he was hired, he started building a clean slate with the state’s high school football coaches, who for a long time have watched as several different Illini coaching staffs have failed to keep a large portion of in-state players from committing to other programs.
He’s set up a “Zoom Room” in the football facility where he and his staff can and have, spent hours recruiting his own players, potential transfers and current high school players.
“I can’t control anything that Illinois has done or been a part of in the past, all I can do is control what we are in the future and there isn’t going to be a program in the country that is going to recruit you harder than to come to your home state,” Bielema told FOX2 Wednesday. With next week’s signing period approaching, the Illini will sign a few more high school recruits but will also be working the transfer portal to see if impact players who got away want to come back. “If they want to come back home I want ’em back home if they can help us win a championship.”
In building a staff, Bielema has largely gone the route of most head coaches, dipping into past associations to find assistants, with a few exceptions. He said Wednesday it was important to hire a coordinator without any previous ties.
“It was very important for me to hire a coordinator that I had not worked with in the past. I wanted to bring in fresh blood in my mix…I only offered the defensive coordinator position to one guy and that guy was Ryan Walters, and he took it.”
His staff includes someone else he had no previous association with, in Cory Patterson, the former Trinity Catholic High School head coach who will coach running backs after dealing with tight ends under Lovie Smith’s staff. Patterson “came in and knocked it out of the park,” Bielema said.
Patterson will retain the St. Louis region as part of his recruiting territory, and while Walters knows the area from his time on Missouri’s staff, Bielema said that his coordinators will have minimal recruiting responsibilities. The ten assistants will carve up the state of Illinois, then handle regional assignments.
Over the next few weeks, the Illini staff will focus on building players in the weight room, while also building out a playbook. Bielema didn’t make any huge revelation about scheme or personnel Wednesday, other than saying his offense would play with tempo.
Bielema the foreman wants to build quickly for the long haul, and not be standing in an active construction site any longer than necessary.
“I’m not going to skip a step to be where we want to be, but I’m trying to be good now. I don’t want to wait three years from now,” he said.