Illinois Public Media News
Jerry Angelo was fired as the Chicago Bears' general manager Tuesday following a team collapse marked by injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and a drug scandal involving receiver Sam Hurd.
Angelo had been on the job 11 years, a stretch in which the Bears reached one Super Bowl and advanced to another NFC championship game. An 8-8 record this season, a questionable draft record and an inability to fill big holes, particularly on offense, led to his ouster.
His dismissal comes after a wild season in which the Bears at one point seemed a lock to make the playoffs. A five-game losing streak, however, spoiled a 7-3 start and kept Chicago out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
Cutler broke his right thumb trying to help make a tackle following an interception during a win over San Diego on Nov. 20. The Bears didn't win again until the season-finale at Minnesota on Sunday.
It didn't help that Forte sprained a ligament in his right knee against Kansas City on Dec. 4, leaving the offense without its two best players. Those would be blows for any team, but they were crippling for Chicago. Throw in Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges in mid-December, and what looked like a promising season turned into a disaster for the team and organization.
The injuries exposed a glaring lack of depth as the Bears tumbled out of playoff contention.
The low point might have been the loss at Denver when Marion Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation. That stopped the clock, giving the Broncos enough time to tie the score. If that weren't enough, he lost a fumble in overtime, helping set up the winning field goal.
Meanwhile, backup quarterback Caleb Hanie was a bust filling in for Cutler, going 0-4 as the starter before the Bears turned to Josh McCown. Chicago claimed Kyle Orton off waivers after Cutler went down, but Kansas City had priority and got him. The Bears then brought in Josh McCown, and Angelo left himself open to second-guessing when he decided not to go after Donovan McNabb once Minnesota let him go.
The lack of a reliable backup quarterback, continuing issues on the offensive line and the inability to land a top-tier receiver increased the heat on the general manager.
Roy Williams struggled to hold onto the ball and get open in his first season with the Bears after a disappointing run in Dallas. Hurd, another Cowboys import, was quickly waived after being charged with trying to set up a drug-dealing network following his arrest with more than a pound of cocaine.
The arrest only compounded Angelo's problems. Now, Angelo's out and the Bears are picking up the pieces. For all the criticism, Angelo did have successes. The Bears won four division championships, including the 2006 team's run to the Super Bowl and last year's trip to the NFC championship game.
He traded for Cutler and signed Julius Peppers. But he also had a spotty draft record that included such high-profile disappointments as Cedric Benson and Rex Grossman.
Former first-rounder Chris Williams has mostly struggled, and first-round pick Gabe Carimi missed most of his rookie season with a right knee injury. Angelo also was unable to find a top receiver, through the draft, a trade or free agency. Chicago didn't anyone ready to step in when a solid but aging line that helped the Bears reach the playoffs in 2005 and 2006 began to go downhill.
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz called for deep drops and Cutler took repeated poundings. That changed after Cutler made his feelings clear. The Bears started getting the ball out of his hands quicker, handing the ball off more to Forte and piling up the wins. But just when it looked as if they had saved their season, everything came apart.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
UCLA players walked off the field at AT&T Park, through the tunnel and into the wrong side of the program's proud history.
With coach Rick Neuheisel already fired, interim man Mike Johnson on the sideline and successor Jim Mora watching from the stands, an already odd postseason appearance for the Pac-12's prime punchline came with low expectations.
Kevin Prince threw a costly interception that Terry Hawthorne returned for a touchdown, finishing off UCLA's forgettable season with a 20-14 loss to Illinois in the Fight Hunger Bowl on Saturday.
"This is not the way we wanted to go out, to send our seniors out," tight end Joseph Fauria said. "But at the same time, I guess there's some sort of relief for guys that have another year and looking forward to new beginnings."
The final mark this UCLA team leaves will be its record: an embarrassing 6-8 campaign for a bowl team.
All hope at a non-losing record for the Bruins ended when Nathan Scheelhaase added a 60-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Jenkins midway through the fourth quarter to seal the first victory for Illinois (7-6) since beating Indiana 12 weeks ago.
"It's extremely disappointing," Prince said. "Going for a month thinking about this game, preparing for it, spending a week here, everything leads up to this one moment. And then to fall short, it's very disappointing.
"It's upsetting that we couldn't get one for the seniors."
UCLA was held to 18 yards rushing in its third consecutive loss. Prince threw two TD passes, including one in the closing minute to Nelson Rosario after the game had been decided.
But it was an earlier pass by Prince that proved decisive and helped give Illinois its first bowl victories in consecutive seasons in school history. Three plays after Derek Dimke missed a 37-yard field goal for Illinois late in the third quarter, Prince dropped back and threw to his left looking for Shaquelle Evans.
Hawthorne read the play perfectly and stepped in front of the throw for the interception and had a clear path to the end zone for the score that gave the Illini a 10-7 lead.
"All gas, no brakes for me," Hawthorne said. "Once I catch it, I'm gone.
New Illinois football coach Tim Beckman has hired two members of his staff at Toledo to join him in Champaign.
The school said Tuesday that Beckman has hired assistant Rockets head coach Mike Ward and running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh. They are Beckman's first two hires at Illinois. Their positions on the Illinois staff will be announced later.
Ward served as a co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Toledo. He has coached there since 2009 after coaching at Bowling Green from 1992 through 2008.
Golesh has been at Toledo since 2009. He previously coached as a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State and Northern Illinois.
Beckman was hired earlier this month to replace Ron Zook, who was fired after a 6-6 season.
Fans of the U of I women's volleyball team came to Willard Airport Sunday to welcome the team back home, the day after their NCAA national title loss to UCLA on Saturday.
That loss capped a year in which the Illini team had the most wins since 1992, their first NCAA semifinal appearance since 1988, and their first championship game ever. A tired Michelle Bartsch couldn't pick a particular moment of the season that stood out for her. But Bartsch, who was named to the All-Tournament Team along with fellow Illini players Colleen Ward and Annie Luhrsen, says she remembers when she first realized she was on a team ready to compete for the championship. Bartsch says she knew it last January, when they first started training for the season.
"I switched positions", explains Bartsch. "We had people filling different roles. And I know that we had a team that could go really far. And with our freshmen coming in, it kind of solidified. Our freshmen are awesome, and they make us better every day in practice."
Coach Kevin Hambly agrees, saying that they had a great recruiting class with a lot of talent this season, and players who came expecting to compete for the national championship.
But if the players were charges up, so were the fans. Hambly says their response this season has been overwhelming.
"We sold out more matches this year than we have in the past", says Hambly. "And our attendance went way up. But what I think more important was just the amount of support from the community just walking around town, and the amount of emails and calls and everything. It's been overwhelming."
As for Michelle Bartsch, she plans to take the spring semester off to play volleyball professionally. But Hambly says the senior will be back at Illinois in the fall as part of the coaching staff.
Illinois's first trip to the NCAA finals in women's volleyball ended in defeat Saturday night. The UCLA Bruins won the match in four sets (25-23, 23-25, 26-24, 25-16) at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
Coach Kevin Hambly says the Bruins played hard, and made the plays they needed to make at key moments, especially in the fourth and deciding set.
As for his own team, Hambly said, "I've never been around a group of people that were more committed to each other, more committed to the process, and more committed to just being, not just great volleyball players, but great people. It's truly been a pleasure to work with this group."
It was the final game for senior Colleen Ward, who earned First Team All-American honors earlier in the week. Afterwards, an emotional Ward fought back tears as she looked back on her time with the Illini.
"I couldn't have picked a better team, better coaches, betters support from my fans", said Ward. "I'm really thankful for what we had here and what we accomplished this year. I'm really proud of my team."
Illinois won the 2nd set by two points, and lost the 3rd by two points. Ward said it was difficult coming out of that close third-set loss into the final set. Michelle Bartsch had seven kills in the first set and seven more in the third, en route to a match high 22 kills on the night. Rachel Kidder had a team high 20 kills for the Bruins. Illinois finished the season with a record of 32-5.
The Illini's Ward, Bartsch and junior setter Annie Luhrsen were named to the All-Tournament Team. Luhrsen had 47 assists and six kills.
A fan welcome reception was planned for Sunday for the Illini volleyball team at Flightstar at Willard Airport --- the team was expected to return around 12:15 PM.
Unlike other schools, The Fighting Illini volleyball team can boast that most of its players come from Illinois.
For example, Penn State won four straight national championships before this year. But that's largely due its recruiting beyond the border of Pennsylvania.
Heading into Saturday night's title match, Fighting Illini coach Kevin Hambly doesn't feel he needs to go too far to lure high-quality volleyball players.
"We're fortunate that the University of Illinois is close proximity to some very good recruiting bases," he said. "Ohio, the Chicago area, the St. Louis area, and Indianapolis. Most kids, especially with the nature of how early recruiting is going, want to stay closer to home."
Illinois will take on UCLA at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Fighting Illini are attempting to win their first national title in women's volleyball.
(Updated with additional coverage from Greg Echlin)
The University of Illinois women's volleyball team will remember the Alamodome. It was at the Alamodome in San Antonio that the third-seed Fighting Illini (32-4) defeated top-seed USC(29-5) Thursday night, winning three out of five sets, (25-27, 25-18, 25-22, 18-25, 15-10) to qualify for the NCAA championship game for the first time.
The victory came on Illinois' third trip to the women's volleyball Final Four, and their first since 1988.
Senior outside hitter Colleen Ward had 27 kills and Michelle Bartsch added 22 kills for the Illini victory.
The drama intensified as the fifth set reached match point, with Illinois fans showing their anticipation with a chant of "One more point! One more point!"
That last rally turned out to be the most dramatic, and the crowd oohed and ahhed as each powerful spike was answered by an inspiring dig on the net's other side. It continued for a minute, seeming longer, until U-S-C's Katie Fuller committed an attack error. The match belonged to the Fighting Illini.
Liz McMahon, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Ohio, had five kills in that deciding set. After the game, she was soaking in the experience.
"It's a blast, I can tell you that", McMahom said of the win that ushered her team into the finals. "Yeah, it's just fun, but with this team and how far we've come."
The Illini's post-game celebration was subdued, with Coach Kevin Hambly reminding his players that they still had one more game. Nevertheless, Hambly spoke glowingly of what his team had accomplished.
"I'm proud of the girls", Hambly said. "You know our goal was to get to this match, the next match, and they stuck to that. Well, more than just get to the match. But I thought they were determined to make that happen."
Alex Jupiter had 32 kills for USC. The Trojans lost in the semis for the second consecutive year after being pushed to five sets for a third consecutive match this tournament.
Illinois will play UCLA in the championship match Saturday night at 7:30 PM Central Time. The Bruins defeated Florida State in three sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-21) in the Thursday night semifinals. Illinois is 0-and-9 in all-time play against UCLA in volleyball.
(Reported for Illinois Public Media News by Greg Echlin; additional reporting by the Associated Press)
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The University of Illinois' volleyball team is on its way to San Antonio, hoping to put the exclamation point on a 31 and 4 season.
The team is seeking its first national title, and reached its first national semifinal in 23 years after a defeat of Florida on Saturday. Early Tuesday morning, the team boarded a charter bus to Chicago's Midway Airport. Sophomore Jennifer Beltran says it's nice to steal the spotlight from U of I football and basketball for once.
"It's great to see the support and just see the people come out and cheering for us," she said. "I mean, it is a big deal for the program and for the school, so it's nice that we can just be a part of it."
Beltran says reaching the championship game was a goal the team set at the very start of its season. Assistant Coach Jen Flynn Oldenberg says a Final Four berth became more evident as the season went on.
"You never know right away, but it's something we were preparing for and talking about the whole time," she said. "It's something that we were focused on, not in every game, point by point, but it's something that we thought about throughout the year."
The volleyball team takes on USC at 8 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio, following the matchup of UCLA and Florida State. The title game is at 7:30 Saturday night.
Illinois is headed to Thursday's Final Four round of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament for the first time since 1988, after beating Florida in three out of four sets Saturday, to win the regional in Gainesville.
Illinois posted a 25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20 victory over the Gators. After a .068 performance in an opening set that saw weak performances from both sides, the Illini players hit .455, .394 and .514 in the final three sets, respectively, and .338 for the night. Former Gator Colleen Ward led the way for Illinois with a .500 performance, with 23 kills in 42 swings ---- including nine out of nine in the final set. Ward was named Regional Tournament MVP, and named to the All-Regional Tournament Team, along with Illinois' Michelle Bartsch and Jennifer Beltran.
Illinois is headed to the Final Four round in San Antonio with a season record of 31-4 and a seven-match winning streak. The Illini will face No. 7 USC,which defeated No. 15 Pepperdine 3-2 to win the NCAA Honolulu Regional.
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