Before Bill Cubit left to attend his mother's funeral earlier this month, he tearfully explained his absence to his players. He informed his Illinois offense that it would be the first time he missed a football practice in his 40-year coaching career. It was such an emotional moment for Cubit that some of his players cried, too.
While he was gone, Cubit was inundated with text messages of support from his players and his fellow Fighting Illini assistants. “They all rallied," Cubit says. “They did an unbelievable job."
Illinois now finds itself rallying again around Cubit, who was promoted to interim coach from offensive coordinator last Friday after Tim Beckman was abruptly fired. The move came exactly one week before Friday's season-opener against Kent State.
“We'll do it again," Cubit says. “The kids have been super. We'll just go out there, let it all hang out and see what happens."
The 61-year-old Cubit has plenty of experience to draw from thanks to his 17 years as a head coach. His last eight were at Western Michigan, where he had a 51–47 record and made three bowl appearances, one more than the school had ever had.
But now after being the Illini's offensive coordinator since January 2013, he's working to learn more about his defensive players. That's after staying up until 12:30 a.m. last Saturday to answer the 175 text messages he received after being named interim coach.
They came from the likes of former Florida coach Galen Hall and former Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust, both of whom he worked for as an assistant. Messages also poured in from former players, some whom Cubit coached in high school three decades ago.
“I don't consider myself the head coach," Cubit says. “I'm just holding down the ship for now."
But Cubit has already implemented some changes, particularly when it comes to practice. Sessions are now conducted at a faster pace to maximize time and effort. He has outlawed walking on the field, and he is using the scout team less to give backup players more repetitions. Cubit has also reduced the number of contact drills in an attempt to lessen fatigue during the season.
Cubit's son, Ryan—who is the team's quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator—is also taking more of a leadership role, especially in offensive play calling in practice. That allows his father to spend more time with the defense.
“There's a bunch of smiles on our kids like, 'Man this is going to be fun,' " Bill says. “But I told them, 'It's going to be hard. There's going to be people who say we can't do it. We've just got to fight through the adversity.' "
Cubit had to do just that in wake of his mother's death on Aug. 5. “I don't think anybody's had to fight as much I have in the last month," he says.
Cubit first knew something was amiss with his mother, Loreta, in May when she didn't answer his calls. The two had always talked to each other daily. It was his sister, Phyllis, who finally called and told him their mother had cancer.
Bill immediately left the recruiting trail and flew to see Loreta in Philadelphia. Last month, Phyllis called again to inform him that Loreta's health was rapidly deteriorating. Bill again returned to her bedside and stayed three days. Before leaving, he closed the doors and thanked her for all she had done for him.
“I know she was listening," Cubit says.
Loreta died three days later. It was the first day of preseason camp in Champaign. After Cubit became interim coach last week, his sister sent him a text message that read, “Mom would be so proud of you."
Cubit's mother always thought coaching was stressful, but was grateful that her son's numerous coaching stops allowed her to visit so many different parts of the country. “She was a big, big supporter," Cubit says.
Even before Beckman's firing, Cubit was optimistic that Illinois could reach a bowl game again this season. He still feels the same way and insists he isn't thinking about trying to keep his new job beyond the season.
Fighting Illini athletic director Mike Thomas has said that Cubit will have an opportunity to keep the job on a full-time basis. “I don't look for jobs," Cubit says. "I really don't. I just go and I work. They gave me a role and it's changed. You just adjust and go. If a job comes up, great. I'm from the old school. Too many guys in this business are all self-promotion. That's not the way it should be."
Instead, Cubit is focused on his players, some of whom have had four head coaches during their time at Illinois. At the end of each day, he tells them that he loves them.
He did that while working for Beckman too, but it means even more since his mother's death. “I needed them as much as they needed me," Cubit says.
And now they need each other more than ever.
UCLA's Jack: 'Don't be surprised if Josh Rosen wins the Heisman'
Star UCLA linebacker Myles Jack rapidly rattles off his favorite nicknames for true freshman Josh Rosen, who was recently named the Bruins' starting quarterback: Chosen Rosen, The Rosen One and The Chosen One. It's all part of the hype surrounding the 6' 4", 210-pound product from Manhattan Beach, Calif. Rosen enrolled in January after being ranked by some as the nation's top high school quarterback.
Jack has high expectations for Rosen, who will make his debut on Saturday when No. 13 UCLA hosts Virginia. “Don't be surprised if Josh wins the Heisman," Jack says. “I believe in Josh. Josh is going to be great. Nobody needs to worry about Josh."
That's a ringing endorsement coming from Jack, who could enter the NFL draft after this season and be a first-round pick. “He can definitely throw the ball very fast, very hard and very accurate," Jack says. “I'm excited. He's got a great grasp of our offense."
Jack also raves about the 18-year-old Rosen's maturity and confidence. “Josh is really a cool guy, very about his business, very serious," Jack says. “I like his swagger on the field. He's not really rattled. Like you can run your mouth at him and he'll just kind of look at you and smile."
It's that type of composure that makes Jack plenty comfortable with his Heisman prediction for Rosen. “Whatever expectations or hype [there are], he will exceed it," Jack says. “Myles Jack is a believer. I believe in Josh Rosen."
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W. Michigan's P.J. Fleck uncovers wealth of knowledge in Florida
When Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck made a trip this summer to Gainesville, Fla., this summer, he didn't go to see first-year Florida coach Jim McElwain. Instead, he went to spend time with the Gators' legendary women's soccer coach, Becky Burleigh.
Burleigh started the Florida program in 1995, won an NCAA championship three seasons later and now has 13 SEC titles. She entered the season third in career victories among NCAA Division I coaches with a 436-117-36 record.
Fleck has incorporated some of Burleigh's coaching philosophy into his approach to the Broncos' season-opener on Friday against fifth-ranked Michigan State. “We're both process-driven people," Fleck says. “It's organization of the process. We both feed off each other that way."
Fleck first met Burleigh when she spoke last year in Kalamazoo, Mich., at a HUMANeX Ventures event. The two now often speak at the same events for the talent selection and development firm.
“We're both programs that develop the character of somebody within the process to equal a result," Fleck says of his and Burleigh's approaches . “Some people just focus on how can I get that result—I want to win, win, win. If you only focus on the process of winning without having the character of people in the process, you have no shot."
During Fleck's trip to the Sunshine State, he also met with his mentor and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.
“It's always great to get his perspective, especially with him not in [coaching]," Fleck says. “He's had a year to reflect on what he did. What he liked, didn't like. Where he's visited and what did you like from those things? What would you instill in your next program? He's so brilliant and such a great listener who has all this knowledge."
And now Fleck has another Florida confidant in Burleigh, who he's sure to talk with during this season. “She'll be a person I go see every year," Fleck says. “We've built a really good relationship. You can learn from people in all different sports."
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