On yet another day hijacked by reports of a major scandal in college football, Tim Beckman has a message for University of Illinois alumni and all supporters of the Illini football program.
“We will not be in trouble,” the second-year coach told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. “We will not break the rules. I haven’t ever done that as an assistant or as a head football coach. Our team and our coaching staff have done well [to follow NCAA rules].”
Sports Illustrated delivered the first installment of a sweeping, weeklong report on Oklahoma State football and the culture of widespread impropriety that may have existed in that program under former coach Les Miles and current coach Mike Gundy. It didn’t take long for the media to remember that Beckman was Gundy’s defensive coordinator from 2007-08.
On the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference with reporters Tuesday, Beckman said he was “totally shocked” by SI’s allegations and never participated in, or knew of, any wrongdoing during his time in Stillwater.
In an ensuing conversation with the Sun-Times, he went much deeper.
Beckman said no player or recruit at Oklahoma State — where cash payments reportedly were made by program boosters and assistant coaches — ever asked him for money. He added that no one asked him for money, or any other extra benefit, on behalf of a player or recruit.
“I hope that was my reputation: ‘Don’t ask him,’ ” Beckman said. “Because I’m not into that.”
Beckman praised Gundy, as he has done often since arriving at Illinois. About a week before the start of 2013 training camp, Beckman said that “everything we do at the University of Illinois has a little bit of Mike Gundy influence.”
On Tuesday, Beckman cast doubt on the reliability of the information provided to SI by numerous former Oklahoma State players.
“I haven’t read who the accusers are or who’s accusing what,” he said. “I’m not sure who they would be. It must be somebody who wasn’t part of the team for four years or was dismissed.”
Former longtime Oklahoma State assistant Joe DeForest is a major figure in SI’s report. DeForest, now on Dana Holgorsen’s staff at West Virginia, coached defense under coordinator Beckman in Stillwater.
“He did a great job with our special teams and defensive backs,” Beckman said. “Joe DeForest is a good person and somebody I enjoyed coaching with. He made us better. It’s just all shocking.”
Beckman often says he has been involved in a succession of “first-class programs.” He proudly lists Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Gundy among the coaches he has learned from and admires.
But the men he has worked for have run into their share of scandal.
Beckman’s coaching career began when he was a graduate assistant at Auburn under Pat Dye in from 1988-89. The Tigers were 20-4 over those two seasons. By 1992, Dye was out of a job after the public learned that at least one Tigers player had been paid.
At Bowling Green, where Beckman spent six years as defensive coordinator, he served two seasons (2000-01) under Meyer. Years later at Florida, Meyer presided over a national championship team that has become infamous for its players’ run-ins with the law.
At Ohio State, Beckman was an assistant to Jim Tressel from 2005-06. Tressel — who long enjoyed a pristine reputation — later resigned amidst major violations in the football program.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas spoke with both Tressel and Meyer about Beckman before extending him an offer in late 2011. Meyer told Thomas that Beckman was a “hard charger.” Tressel assured Thomas that “no coach out there has a higher motor.” Thomas also read comments from Gundy referring to Beckman as one of the finer coaches in the game.
Beckman feels strong loyalty to those three former bosses, who helped him land in Champaign. He still calls the programs they’ve led “first class.”
If that’s confusing in light of the allegations against Oklahoma State, it’s partly because Beckman’s emotions are involved. He’s more than “shocked”; he’s also upset.
But most important to him now is Illinois — it’s reputation and his own. He stresses that there’s nothing happening in his program that could be interpreted as being improper.
“I think out players understand me. I’m clear-cut,” Beckman said. “We do it one way — the right way. If they don’t do it the right way, they have to find another place to play at.”