Bret Bielema accepted the job of being the next head coach of the Illinois football program.
This isn’t an easy task, though. A program once steeped in excellence. The likes of Red Grange, Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke are some of the most famous names to don the Orange and Blue. Illinois has also been victorious in three Rose Bowl games. The players mentioned and success in the Rose Bowl all came before most Illinois fans who are reading this were born.
Now let’s fast forward to the present day. A 26-season span that has seen seven total bowl games and only three of those postseason berths were victories. Only three times have we been ranked at the end of a season and only once in the 26 seasons has the Illini hit double-digit wins.
That is the reality of what Coach Bielema is tasked with.
The hiring of Coach Bielema has already made an impact on the Illinois football team. On Monday, I wrote about three new additions in the roughly three weeks he has been on the job. But the impact of the Prophetstown, Illinois native isn’t just being felt in the present. Coach Bielema is already making up ground on future recruits as well.
Danny McGuire is a talented three-star offensive tackle from Chicago, Illinois. Currently attending Marist High School, McGuire is ranked as the No. 447 player in the class of 2022 and the No. 5 player in the state of Illinois.
Around the start of the season, the Illini came in with an offer to McGuire. After a rough 2020 campaign and the firing of the previous head coach, Illinois had to start fresh with the talented offensive tackle. Despite not having a scholarship offer from the Illini, McGuire was keeping tabs on what was going on with the head coach position. The swift hiring of Coach Bielema is something he took notice of as well.
“Yeah, I was excited to see him get hired. He seems like he is going to turn everything around and make the in-state recruiting a top priority. So, I’ll be interested to see how the staff forms and hope to hear from them sometime soon.”
The staff formation started soon after McGuire talked to the Writing Illini about the hiring of Coach Bielema. One of the more important pieces to the staff forming was when Illinois hired offensive line coach, Bart Miller.
With extensive experience coaching offensive lines, Coach Miller took the reins for the Illini. Just a few days after his hiring, Illinois again extended a scholarship offer to McGuire. This offer came straight from Coach Miller and the communication seems to continue being strong between the two.
“I talked with Coach Miller over the phone when they offered, and we also text a few times a week.”
— Danny McGuire (@deucemcguire) January 5, 2021
Progress continues to be made with McGuire. Building out the offensive line is going to be extremely important considering Illinois is losing both Vederian Lowe and Alex Palczewski after the 2021 campaign. The Illini coaching staff knows they need a player like McGuire, so getting as much time with him seems to be a priority.
“I’m actually having a Zoom call with them at 5:30 (Monday), so I’m looking forward to that.”
McGuire was able to confirm with the Writing Illini that Coach Miller was also on that Zoom call. Building that relationship now will only pay dividends down the road.
Illinois coaches haven’t been able to get any tape on McGuire from this season, though. The state of Illinois hasn’t played their high school football season due to COVID-19. McGuire says the date is set for when the Marist High School football season should begin.
“It should be starting February 15, but at this point, we have no idea.”
With so much uncertainty, the preparation for whenever the season starts has to be difficult. McGuire was kind enough to let the Writing Illini in on what he is doing to get ready for the start of the 2020 campaign in 2021.
“To prepare, we’re just going to control what we can control. We’re working out as much as possible on our own because we can’t lift as a team now. So, I’m working out four days a week at the place I train.”
Physical preparation is important but so is learning the playbook. McGuire talked about how they are preparing when it comes to the playbook and film.
“Yes, we have the film from last year with all of the plays organized on it. So, we are always recommended to be watching those clips as much as possible.”
Once the season begins for Marist, McGuire’s recruitment will surely pick up again. COVID-19 has really put a damper on recruiting with some players not getting attention due to lack of film and others not getting the number of opportunities that would once be afforded in a healthy non-pandemic world.
Despite a recruitment slow down for most, McGuire still has a lot of teams coming after him. Illinois is getting back in the game and should continue making strides to get into the talented offensive tackle’s recruitment, but there are a handful of teams showing the most interest for the Marist standout.
“I would say Indiana, Michigan State, California and Colorado.”
It is great to see the Illini and their new coaching staff going after the in-state talent. This is something that the previous coaching regime failed to do on a regular basis. But it won’t be as easy as just being a presence. For the past decade, teams have come into the state of Illinois and plucked out our best talent. Now it is time for the Illini to take back their ground. Landing a player like McGuire would be a good start.