Reflecting on the moment still triggers a little emotion from Bill Cubit.
The Illinois offensive coordinator remembered the reaction of his team the day after he was fired as Western Michigan's head coach last November.
One player's response stood out.
"That kid. … I couldn't get out of his clutch," said Cubit, who declined to identify the player out of respect for the current Western Michigan coaching staff. "He was hugging me a good 2, 3 minutes. He kept crying and saying, 'Coach, you're like a second dad to me.' And I kept telling him I loved him.
"That right there, that's really why I coach."
For Cubit, it's not about the money. It's not about the fame. It's not about the next opportunity. It's about making an impact in a player's life.
The 59-year-old certainly has made an impression on the Illini just 9 months into his new job. His cerebral offensive approach has helped Illinois get off to a surprising 2-0 start heading into Saturday's showdown with No. 19 Washington at Soldier Field.
It's early, but Illinois and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase top the Big Ten with 353.5 passing yards per game, thanks to Cubit's quick-strike attack. The Illini rank No. 10 nationally in that category after finishing 107th (out of 120 teams) last season at 138.83 yards per game.
Illinois ranks 27th in scoring offense (43.5 points per game) after finishing 119th a year ago (16.7 ppg). And the Illini stand 34th in total offense (493.0 yards per game) after finishing 119th last season (296.7 ypg).
"Bill's an outstanding offensive mind, there's no question," Illini coach Tim Beckman said. "And that's why I brought him here. He's the best that I've been coaching against or been around."
Cubit, previously an offensive coordinator at Stanford and Rutgers and once the quarterbacks coach at Florida, declines to take full credit. He still remembers visiting the Los Angeles Rams' camp in the late 1980s and watching Ernie Zampese orchestrate an explosive offense.
"He's the first guy who had a system where it was spacing, it was triangles, so it made it a little bit easier on the quarterback," Cubit said. "I don't know if he called it triangles, but that's how I taught it to the kids at Florida.
"I didn't want to hold the ball. I didn't want to have long-distance routes that took forever because we didn't want sacks."
Cubit still digs tapes out of his basement of old Steve Spurrier-led offenses at Florida and other stops.
"Spurrier is one of the most brilliant minds in college football," he said.
Cubit will look like a genius himself if the Illini's offensive proficiency continues. Such a dramatic turnaround also might make him a hot name for head coaching vacancies.
Cubit refuses to look ahead.
"I've never been one of those guys who gets on the phone looking for the next job, one foot in the door and the other out," he said. "I know there are a lot of guys who put themselves on YouTube and come up with a bunch of gimmicks. That's not me. I'm old-school. Just work at your job and everything else will happen from there."