Illinois football coach Bret Bielema said Thursday that his comments earlier in the week about the team’s personnel were “completely taken out of context” and that he wasn’t criticizing the current roster.
Asked Monday about his recruiting philosophy, Bielema said coaches are only as good as their rosters and that he would have some decisions to make with a transitioning team. He commented specifically about Illinois’ offensive line, which is senior-laden but lacks players from recent recruiting classes in the rotation. Illinois could look to supplement the gap with junior college players.
“As this roster continues to transition, I’ve got to make tough decisions,” Bielema said Monday. “The players have to make decisions. The roster is going to have to change to get to where we want to be to win a championship. I recognized that probably midway through the spring last year, through the summer. Certain positions haven’t probably played out the way they envisioned them to, in particular the offensive line.
“I don’t believe we have a player in the two-deep that they’ve recruited here over the last three years that is really significantly doing anything for us in the playing department, and that’s a major concern.”
On Thursday, the first-year Illini coach said he wasn’t criticizing the current players or previous coaching staff, saying he has been “very complimentary about the staff and the players that they’ve left us, repeatedly.” Bielema said he addressed his comments with the team Tuesday, showing them the entire scope of his remarks, and that players understood his viewpoint.
“I was stating facts about where we are when I mentioned offensive linemen and defensive linemen,” Bielema said. “That is a position of need because of numbers, not because of who I do or don’t have. We don’t have the numbers at the offensive and defensive line, which is a premium in our program. We went from a defensive front that has two defensive lineman to now the one that has three defensive linemen, so we don’t have the numbers. That’s strictly it.
“If you want to take it in any other direction, that’s your prerogative, but that’s not the intent whatsoever, and it wasn’t anything derogatory at the past staff.”
Bielema said he was surprised by the reaction to his comments on social media and other platforms, noting that the media members who attended his Monday news conference understood his viewpoint.
“They’re my words, I said them, but they were completely taken out of context,” Bielema said. “[Media members have] got jobs to do, and sometimes clickbait and comments are part of it; that’s what you’ve got to do. Unfortunately, when you’re a 2-5 football team, sometimes those things get amplified. We’ll advance from this moment forward and take it as a learning moment for everybody involved.”
Bielema said quarterback Brandon Peters was cleared for practice earlier this week but declined to name a starter for Saturday’s game at No. 7 Penn State. Peters left Illinois’ last game, against Wisconsin on Oct. 9, with an undisclosed injury.