Vic Koenning, the Illinois interim football head coach, weaved his way through the press conference crowd Tuesday at the Memorial Stadium press box.

Here less than two more weeks, Koenning didn't cross paths with newly hired coach Tim Beckman, then avoided eye contact with Mike Ward and Alex Golesh, two assistants who followed Beckman from Toledo and were officially announced as hires by Illinois Tuesday.

This crazy dynamic played out at a handful of school this winter, where they earned a bowl berth but fired the head coach.

Then Koenning provided the news of the day, when it sounded like Koenning didn't expect senior running back Jason Ford to be academically eligible for the bowl game. The team's leading rusher, Ford's status appeared tenuous at best. Players must pass 6 hours of classwork to play in a bowl, and Ford was on academic 2-minute drill. Grades are posted Thursday.

"There are a couple guys, one of them I'm more confident he's going to make it,'' Koenning said. "This isn't fair to (Ford) to be out there practicing if he's not going to make it.''

The Illini are already without Jay Prosch, the fullback who worked at defensive end briefly in bowl practice before he was hospitalized and underwent surgery for a staph infection in his knee. Prosch remained at Carle Hospital in Urbana and was not expected to play in the bowl game.

Illinois (6-6) faces UCLA (6-7) in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 31 (2:30 p.m., ESPN) in San Francisco. While he's only a head coach for less than a month, Koenning is busy putting his stamp on the program. The priorities for Koenning are:

-- Special teams. Ranked among the lowest in the country under the direction of former coach Ron Zook, Koenning drafted more starters for special teams duty.

"You might say I was the commissioner,'' Koenning said. "We had a deal where starters couldn't be on more than two special teams. Priority was punt and then kickoff coverage.''

Receiver A.J. Jenkins has been spotted returning kicks. Linebacker Jonathan Brown is working on kickoff coverage.

"We're working on special teams every practice,'' Koenning said. "We've still got a long way to go. I don't know if we're capable of getting it exactly right, but we're making a great effort.

"We've got to win more phases of the game. With offense, defense and special teams, if you win just one, you must completely dominate it. You're not going to win many games unless you win two phases.''

-- Getting physical on the offensive line. Koenning allowed offensive linemen to chop block in practice, and he wanted an edge from the Illini linemen.

"They have to get back to being mean and nasty and doing what great offensive lines do,'' Koenning said. "We've got to be prepared to go out there and carve them up. We need to hit somebody in the mouth and get an identity. It's being physical.''

Quarterbacks coach Jeff Brohm will run the offense, and the Illini will likely use quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole.

-- Koenning isn't going to put up with much funny stuff. The coach who already led the Illini on a lockerroom clean up also gave them a warning.

"Unless they want a great view of the Rocky Mountains, they better mind their P's and Q's,'' he said, "or there will be a bus trip back home, not a plane trip.''

Meanwhile, Beckman introduced Golesh, a recruiting specialist who worked under Beckman at Ohio State, Oklahoma State and Toledo, and Ward, a linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator at Toledo whose relationship dates back to Beckman's college days.

Ward spent the last three seasons at Toledo after working 17 seasons at Bowling Green. Golesh was born in Russia and served as a student assistant coach while attending Ohio State as an undergraduate. He was a graduate assistant at Northern Illinois and Oklahoma State, and Beckman called Golesh "instrumental'' in Toledo's recruiting classes that were highly rated among the best in the Mid-American Conference.

"I can't be more proud to have Mike join us,'' Beckman said. "(Golesh) has the hair color of the team at Stillwater. He'll fit right in here with the Fighting Illini.''

Beckman held 15-minute individual meetings with next year's juniors Monday and sophomores Tuesday and will finish with the rest of the roster this week. He also spoke with defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who will likely enter the NFL draft but won't make an announcement until after the bowl game.

John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie.