Illinois coach Tim Beckman finally got his man as former Oklahoma State Wes Lunt has decided to transfer to the Illini, colleague Joe Schad is reporting.
Lunt, who passed for 1,108 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions as a freshman at Oklahoma State, picked Illinois ahead of Sugar Bowl champion Louisville. He'll sit out the 2013 season and have three seasons of eligibility left with the Illini.
Although Lunt is a Rochester, Ill., native, his transfer choice is sure to raise some eyebrows given the seemingly opposite trajectories of Illinois and Louisville. Some are already wondering whether Beckman will have an opportunity to coach Lunt in 2014. Beckman faced heavy criticism during a disastrous first season as Illini coach, and there was some talk Illinois would part ways with the coach following the 2-10 clunker.
Lunt's transfer is undoubtedly a big boost for Beckman and creates some optimism/goodwill among Illini fans. Will it cool off Beckman's seat and help his chances of a third season in Champaign? We debate it.
There's no denying Beckman needed some good news after nothing went right in Year 1. Illinois made a very strong push for Lunt, reportedly having former Illini quarterback Jeff George, who transferred to the school from Purdue, meet Lunt during his visit to Champaign. This is a big victory for Beckman, who landed Lunt despite all of his problems last season and a surging competitor in Louisville. How big? There's a better chance you'll see Beckman on the Illini sideline in 2014 with Lunt potentially calling signals.
Lunt wouldn't have made this decision if he thought Illinois would fire Beckman after just two seasons at the helm. He's taking a bit of a gamble as another 2-10 season -- or worse -- could spell the end for Beckman. But Illinois doesn't want to make another change in a program that has seen too much of it in recent years, and athletic director Mike Thomas certainly doesn't want to dump the guy he hired after only two seasons. What does that say to the next group of candidates? Illinois must show some improvement under Beckman in Year 2, which quite frankly won't be hard. Just take a step this season. The team has a clear offensive vision under new coordinator Bill Cubit that attracted Lunt. A few more wins and a sliver of hope for the future -- along with Lunt waiting in the wings -- should be enough to earn Beckman a third season.
The Lunt transfer is some rare good news and a much-needed off-the-field victory for Beckman, who can use any positive momentum after last year's disaster. But how much impact this move will have on Beckman's future is questionable at best, in my view.
Though Lunt and his family clearly must have checked in with Thomas and the Illini administration on their commitment to Beckman before deciding to come to Champaign, spring-time assurances of job security are worth about as much as a Hasheem Thabeet rookie card. I firmly believe that Thomas will give Beckman every chance to succeed and that he has no desire to dump his first major coaching hire at Illinois after just two seasons. But I also believe that if the Illini limp into November with only one or two wins and the Memorial Stadium stands are empty, then Thomas will be worried about the impact on his athletic department's bottom line, not some promise to or the promise of a transfer quarterback waiting in the wings.
Besides, do we even know if Lunt is worth all this hype? His numbers last year at Oklahoma State weren't great, and while he deserves credit for playing as a true freshman, the Cowboys' system usually makes stars out of its signal-callers. There's no guarantee that Lunt is better than Aaron Bailey, who was considered one of the jewels of Beckman's 2013 signing class.
Landing Lunt helps Illinois' depth and sends a signal that Beckman can still attract top talent. Ultimately, whether Beckman is still around to coach Lunt in 2014 depends on whether the Illini can show even modest improvement in 2013.