An Open Letter to Illinois’ Clay Nurse



Dear Clay,

I was wrong.

I’m willing to admit that. According to my wife I’m wrong a lot. For better or worse though, I know a lot about sports, and a whole lot about football. I’m right more often than I am wrong.

But I was dead wrong about you, the defense and Illinois football this season.

In my various preseason predictions I had Illinois winning one game for certain, but as a best case scenario only three total for the season. I thought that, quite frankly, the only game that the Illini might win was the Southern Illinois game.

I was not expecting this, not in a million years.

You and your teammates are 5-3 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten. You have the looks of a team that is going to win out the rest of your games this season, and you know what?

I’m a believer.

We can start singing The Monkees’ song if you like, but the salient point is that you’ve convinced me.

More importantly, I think that you and your defensive-line teammates have made me believers in the defense. The defense is playing with a ferocity and aggression that we just haven’t seen in years. And I’m not even talking about the years you’ve been here, Clay — This looks like one of the best defenses I can remember since the Dana Howard/Kevin Hardy/Simeon Rice days…the salad days of the Illini defense, if you will.

I’m not the only person that thinks so. Many of my Illinois friends are all saying the same thing, that they can’t recall the last time they saw a defense in the Orange and Blue that was this good. And while there have been some good teams in the interim, most are comparing you to those early-to-mid 90’s Illinois defenses, and that has to be a good thing.

The confidence that the team exhibits is really amazing, although you know all about the confidence, don’t you?

When you and I spoke at media day, I asked you a lot of questions with a negative slant towards them. Many had during the two-hour one-on-one  breakout sessions, and so I was no different.

It was pretty clear from the start you had had enough of that. It was pretty clear you didn’t agree with it. It was pretty clear that you were confident in your and the team’s abilities.

I didn’t understand it at the time. Illinois was coming off of a 3-9 season and had really nothing to be looking forward to. It was mostly the same personnel on defense and worse yet, the team was coming in with a freshman quarterback with no game experience.

When I mentioned the above to you on Saturday after your 44-10 shellaquing of Purdue, you said that you were getting angrier, but that you understood.

“Of course people don’t believe, because they aren’t in house, working with us and seeing the progress,” Nurse said. “And I had been answering the same kind of questions over and over, and my whole thing was, I just can’t wait until the season gets here so I can show them. People just didn’t understand just how many weapons we had on defense. People just didn’t understand the mastermind we have as a defensive coordinator. For me, yeah, I took offense, but I just bit my tongue and said, yeah, we’re gonna show them.”

“We want to prove everybody wrong,” you continued. “In house, out of house, we don’t care who you are. We’re going to show you that, this defense, we work hard. We’re not just coming in here every week and just taking our time and not doing our job.”

Well, Clay, you’ve made a believer out of me.

You’ve made a believer out of most of my friends.

Now it’s time for you guys to make believers out of the rest of the nation.

Again, my apologies. I didn’t get it, you were absolutely right. But I do now.

And I’m eager to see what you guys have in store for us next.


Paul Schmidt

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  1. I’m liking our chances at Michigan this week. especially since Zooker seems to have their number. He knows how to beat the Wolverines. we were wrong, I had ILL at 4-8, or maybe I said 3-9 again

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