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Getting rid of Illini ‘war chant’ isn’t difference maker in attendance issue

One more symbol of the Illini goes down, as the athletic department takes on the ‘war chant’ ahead of the 2017 football season.

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The University of Illinois continues to try to distance itself from anything Native American imagery nearly a decade after saying goodbye to Chief Illiniweck.

On Friday, the athletic department decided to decree that the so-called ‘war chant’ band music was to be outlawed from that point forward.

In reality, it was outlawed as of Thursday night, when an athletic department official allegedly scolded and pressured the band in to stopping the play of the song at a soccer match.

So, for the time being, the 590 people who were in attendance for Illinois’ 2-1 loss to Washington, they were witness to the last time the ‘war chant’ would be heard at an official sporting event.

While it is hard to argue that the ‘war chant’ was anything be a caricature of Native American drumming and culture, is this really the back-breaker for people attending football and basketball games?

I’ll take “Not Winning Games” as the actual answer for $1,000 Alex.

While the Illini brass continue to try to distance itself from Native American imagery, they fail to take the really bold step. You know, actually changing the mascot and nickname of the university.

Naturally that is a step that would create plenty of conversation and controversy in the Illinois community. It also would cause a massive disruption to the flow of money in to the athletic department.

That, more than anything else, is likely what drives the inability to make this move happen.

Are people really sitting on the sidelines with checks, holding millions back because of the use of the term “Fighting Illini” or the playing of a ‘war chant’ song? Given the recently announced $132 million facility upgrade proposed, that seems to not be true.

Could the real issue facing Illini athletics be a lack of inspiring and winning tradition on the field or court? One could argue there isn’t a worse atmosphere in Big Ten football than what happens in Champagne (even West Lafayette can be more full of life on a Saturday in the fall).

It’s no coincidence then that both Illinois and Purdue are arguably the worst programs in the conference right now. That…way more than some song played during third downs (just 104 times at home last year, good for 5th fewest in the Big Ten in 2016)…is the likely reason people are staying away from Memorial Stadium in droves.

The student section would love to come back in force, but it needs to see winning football to start caring again. It’s what a decade of losing football will do to a generation of students. You want to increase the fun and increase the noise? Try winning some football games and see the passion come back in the fans of today and future fans of tomorrow.

Getting rid of that apathy, not so much the ‘war chant’ is what will make the biggest difference for Illini athletics.

Either the university embraces what the fans want — winning athletics and a meaningful culture around its sports programs — or it wants to focus on its imagery and the rest be damned?

Athletic director Josh Whitman seems committed to the former for the future, while certainly focused on the later presently. New hires in football and basketball in the past few years suggest he’s willing to wait on the long game for winning. But, all of his focus on the little things and a continued losing feeling on the field and court don’t exactly inspire confidence.

Perhaps Whitman and the Illini (notice the irony) brass are putting the cart before the horse here? Let’s start with winning ways in the highest profile sports before you worry about the little things.

It just seems like the focus of the athletic department is on the small things, while they continue to get the big things wrong. Until that turns around, these types of moves just seem petty.

Either stop chipping away at your current theme or go bold…after all, Whitman hasn’t been afraid to do that since arriving in Champagne.

This is the guy who fired Tim Beckman just before a season began, decided to let Bill Cubitt drift in the wind and unconventionally pull the plug just days before spring football and bring in Lovie Smith. Whitman is also the guy willing to take a coach who doesn’t stay in one spot too long as a replacement for a failed basketball coach.

Make no mistake, those hires, more than anything he does or doesn’t do in the background will matter way more.

It’s just getting to the point where the Illini need to figure out who they are. Either embrace the nickname and stop chipping away at it or just pull the plug on the Illini thing and star a new tradition.

The fans are at least owed that much.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Illini Football

Predicting the 2018 Illinois Fighting Illini season game-by-game

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We’re nearing game week and that means it is time to gather all the intel possible and make the best decisions possible…because it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. 

Yes, the annual tradition of Illinois Fighting Illini season predictions is back. Yes, we’re also going to break down the season in game-by-game fashion. 

No, you won’t see it in the written form. Instead, we’re going 21st century and giving you our publisher, Andrew Coppens, thoughts in video format. 

The Illini went first (no coincidence to alphabetical order), so you can follow along by subscribing to our YouTube channel as well. 

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also don’t forget to join in the conversation below and let us know your thoughts on the season and your predictions too! 

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Illini Football

Illini look to fresh jerseys to help reboot football program

Illinois reaches to its successful past in hopes of sparking interest in struggling football program of today. It means new uniforms for the football program.

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Nothing says trying to shed a bad image like rebooting your jersey and helmet looks. When you’re the Illinois Fighting Illini and you’ve compiled a whopping 5-19 overall record and just two Big Ten wins in the last two years, a reboot is probably a good idea.

On Friday morning, the Illini announced exactly that, keeping the school colors and even the Gray Ghost uniforms they have worn to pay homage to the Galloping Ghost himself, Harold “Red” Grange. The new uniforms feature a much simpler look and a more defined block “I” on the v of the neck.

For you old-timers out there, these uniforms are likely to look very familiar to you. That’s because they harken back to the Illini glory days of the Dick Butkus era in the 1960’s.

One of the biggest additions to the uniform combinations is that of a re-designed orange helmet. Gone is the metallic look, replaced by a matted finish and a color that more accurately fits the uniform color as well.

Illinois will begin wearing the new gear for the home opener on Sept. 1 against Kent State and of course will begin to be available for purchase (blue only apparently) this fall as well.

As for the design, I like the simplified look and feel of the jersey. Illinois has a color scheme that stands out in the Big Ten, so why try to hide it. Instead, they are embracing history and moving forward to hopefully more success.

With all the momentum off the field, hopefully Love Smith and crew can deliver some of that same momentum on the field. We’ll have an idea about that when the Illini hold an open practice tomorrow, April 7.

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Illini Football

Lovie Smith hits home run with Rod Smith’s hire as OC

Lovie Smith hires prolific spread offensive coordinator Rod Smith in hopes of jump-starting a stagnant Illinois Fighting Illini offense.

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Just one day after two former starting quarterbacks announced their departure from the Illinois Fighting Illini program, the Illini went out and announced a huge hire.

On Friday afternoon, head coach Lovie Smith announced the hire of former Arizona offensive coordinator to the same position for the Illini.

“Rod Smith brings terrific and exciting offensive experience to our staff at Illinois,” Lovie Smith said. “His background and development of dual-threat quarterbacks and multiple-threat offenses is the direction we are going here. Rod has developed explosive quarterback play and offensive performance at each of his coaching stops.”

It was huge get for the head coach because Cam Thomas, who is a true dual threat quarterback is literally the only scholarship quarterback on the roster until the fall.

Smith comes to Illinois after leading one of the most explosive offenses in the country at Arizona. Smith helped lead an offense that averaged 41.3 points (5th nationally), 309.3 rushing yards, 180.2 passing yards and 489.5 total yards (12th nationally) per game. Wildcat quarterback Khalil Tate rushed for 1,411 yards (9.2 yards per carry), while completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,591 passing yards with 14 touchdowns.

Most importantly, Smith has an extensive background as a quarterbacks coach, and that background will be tested by the rawness of Cam Thomas’ game and two incoming recruits this fall.

He’s had success not just with one quarterback in the fold at Arizona as well, working with Anu Solomon for three seasons prior to Tate taking over at quarterback. Solomon completed his three-year playing career with the third-most passing touchdowns and fourth-most passing yards in UA history. In 2014, Solomon threw for 2,793 yards and 28 touchdowns, with only nine interceptions.

That kind of production and long-term output at quarterback is sorely needed for the Illini to turn things around. Just how fast can Smith mold Thomas? He’ll get a really good opportunity with a cleared quarterback room this spring.

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Illini Football

Illini have no choice but Cam Thomas at QB now

Two quarterbacks announce transfers within a matter of hours on Wednesday, leaving the Illini with only Cam Thomas on scholarship.

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The Illinois Fighting Illini went in to this offseason with three quarterbacks who started games in 2017. It took just one day for that to completely change though.

On Wednesday night, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff George Jr. announced he would be graduating in the spring with a degree in Management and will transfer from the program as a graduate transfer. He will have two seasons of eligibility left wherever she goes.

Chayce Crouch then announced that he was retiring from football period after an injury-riddled career at Illinois.

So, what was once a potentially three-man race for the starting quarterback job just became a one-man race and the winner by default is sophomore quarterback Cam Thomas.

He’ll have a lot of work to do this offseason though, because his opening campaign was a rough one on the stat sheet. Thomas completed just 42.4 percent of his passes (28 of 66) for 375 yards and zero touchdowns to five interceptions.

In four games he also rushed for 233 yards and a touchdown. Thomas was clearly much more comfortable as a runner than a thrower in the Big Ten.

The question is, will the lessons learned in those four games as a starter be enough to push him in to being the guy that turns things around for the stagnant Illini offense.

Thomas is easily the leader in the clubhouse given he’s the only quarterback on the roster with any experience, but he will be joined in the fall by 2018 signee M.J. Rivers. He is a 6-4, 213-pound dual threat quarterback that was ranked as the No. 26 dual threat QB in the country.

It means the Illini will go in to spring ball with just one scholarship quarterback on the roster and in to the 2018 season with just two scholarship quarterbacks at all.

Lovie Smith now has to trust in Thomas and pray he’s the answer they’ve been looking for or it may be curtains for his time at the helm of the Illini program.

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