Illini coach Tim Beckman fired after probe into claims of player mistreatment

SHARE Illini coach Tim Beckman fired after probe into claims of player mistreatment
SHARE Illini coach Tim Beckman fired after probe into claims of player mistreatment

Tim Beckman was fired Friday from his post at Illinois, but you knew that already. It was a strange and awkward day for the school and for athletic director Mike Thomas. Some would say it was an overdue day. To be sure, it was the rare day when the Illini — for all the wrong reasons — were the top story in college football.

Beckman — 12-25 in three seasons in Champaign — wasn’t fired because of his teams’ poor play on Saturdays, Thomas said. Rather, it was due to his “efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries,” according to an athletic-department statement that also cited Beckman’s “inappropriate” treatment of some student-athletes in regard to their scholarships.

The 50-year-old coach walks away with little more than four Big Ten victories and a hard-earned reputation for embarrassing himself during press conferences. Beckman doesn’t get a dime of the $3.1 million remaining on his contract. Buyout money? Nada.

At least, that’s how Illinois wants it. This matter likely will drag on a long while, after Beckman issued a statement in which he strongly denied the school’s claims and promised to “vigorously defend” both his reputation and his legal rights.

Regardless, it’s a potential career-killer for Beckman, who was replaced on an interim basis by offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. Beckman’s reputation already was solidified, and it wasn’t a very flattering one.

A former head coach at Western Michigan, Cubit will receive $100,000 per month on top of his $515,000 annual salary. According to Thomas, the 61-year-old architect of the Illini’s improving offense will be considered for the full-time gig.

“I love this university,” Cubit said. “I really love these student-athletes. For me, it was a no-brainer to go in there and take it over.”

Although Thomas said no assistant coaches were implicated in an external review of the football program, it’s more of a brain-twister to see how the school could commit long-term to a key member of Beckman’s staff. The allegations against Beckman make everyone involved look bad, and the downtrodden nature of the program in recent years fairly scream for a fresh start.

Will Thomas still be around to make that decision? Should he be?

Both are more than reasonable questions.

Earlier this offseason, Thomas strongly defended Beckman against allegations of mistreatment made by former players. Apparently, the facts under Thomas’ nose have completely changed.

“Why did we not know these things?” he asked Friday.

Why, indeed. That’s the key word when it comes to Thomas. Why is the football program collapsing — and the basketball program underperforming — on his watch? Why were the spring and summer months filled with accusations against coaches from former athletes in multiple sports? Why did Thomas hire Beckman in the first place, given the oft-bumbling coach’s absence of anything resembling CEO quality?

“This is a wonderful place,” Thomas said on the darkest day of his four years at Illinois. “We have wonderful people. We have wonderful fans. And we’re certainly all about doing things the right way.”

It sure seems not. If the firing of Beckman was a step in the right direction, well, there’s still a heck of a long way to go.

Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

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