Illinois promotes Bill Cubit to head coach

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Cubit has a two-year deal for $2.4 million to step into the head coaching role at Illinois. (AP/Michael Conroy)

Illinois made a decisive move late Saturday morning, announcing the promotion of Bill Cubit from interim head coach to head touch. Cubit gets the job for two years at $1.2 million per, thus ending months of speculation about what the school would do with the position that opened up when Tim Beckman was fired prior to the season.

“Bill has stepped in during an extremely difficult period and done an outstanding job in leading our football program since August,” interim athletic director Paul Kowalczyk said. “Our student-athletes have responded in a positive manner, and we feel he is the best person at this time to be the head coach.”

The Illini are 5-6 this season under Cubit, needing a victory over Northwestern at Solider Field on Saturday afternoon to become bowl-eligible.

Illinois would’ve been taking a risk either way it played this thing. By hiring Cubit, the program can maintain continuity and relationships with current recruits can flourish; those are important things, as are the positive changes Cubit has brought to Champaign in the people-skills department.

Yet if the on-field product languishes, some will see the 2015-16 offseason as one that got away for Illinois. There might be upward of two dozen coaching changes in college football in the coming weeks, and many Illini fans wanted to be in on that action.

Given Illinois’ potential position in the pecking order of suitors — and the school’s uncertainty in the athletic department administration — there seems to be wisdom in holding on to the 62-year-old Cubit, who has a solid run as Western Michigan’s head coach from 2005-12. Cubit has directed Illinois’ offense for the last three seasons with aggressiveness and imaginativeness, though with only inconsistent success.

Still, he’s a proven coach — and, undeniably, a step up from his predecessor.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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