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It's official: Illini coach Tim Beckman will return next season

The fact Illinois had to announce that football coach Tim Beckman — still under contract — would be returning next season speaks to how uncertain his job security was in November.

But a little more than 24 hours after many had left the Illini coach for dead before the team’s victory at Northwestern on Saturday, athletic director Mike Thomas announced on Sunday that Beckman would return for the 2015 season.

“It was important to see improvement in our football program this season,” Thomas said in a statement. “Over the last month, we have won three of our last five games, including a pair of Big Ten wins over teams [Minnesota and Penn State] who are headed to the postseason. Our student-athletes have played their best football of the season down the stretch of a tough schedule that included nine bowl-eligible opponents. It’s my expectation that with the upcoming bowl and another off-season of development, that Tim’s continued leadership will keep Fighting Illini Football moving forward and even more competitive in the conference and nationally.”

Thomas kept his word in the end — maintaining that he would not make a decision on Beckman until the end of the season.

This news certainly proves that had Beckman and Illinois lost at Northwestern on Saturday, he would have been fired. But the Illini’s convincing 47-33 victory over the Wildcats, in which Illinois intercepted three passes, gave Thomas reason to believe the program was improving under Beckman.

Earlier Sunday, the Sun-Times reported that offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks would return to the program, as well.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen