Illinois Axes Head Football Coach For Outrageous Mistreatment Of Players

Just one week before the start of the college football season, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas dropped a bombshell–he’d fired head coach Tim Beckman just before Beckman was due to start his fourth season in Champaign. An external review found that Beckman had engaged in gross mistreatment of his players. The most outrageous disclosure was that Beckman pressured a number of players into playing through serious injuries. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit will be interim head coach for the 2015 season.

Tim Beckman on the sidelines at Illinois in 2013 (courtesy blkittell's Flickr)
Tim Beckman on the sidelines at Illinois in 2013 (courtesy blkittell’s Flickr)

For most of the 2014-15 offseason, a number of former Fighting Illini players came forward with allegations of mistreatment by Beckman. The most chilling allegation came from recently graduated offensive tackle Simon Cvijanovic. In a blizzard of tweets in May, Cvijanovic claimed Beckman banned him from the senior banquet because he missed the last four games of his senior season when a torn meniscus became too much for him to bear. Cvijanovic also claimed that Beckman and an underqualified medical staff forced him to return to the field too soon. As a result, his meniscus is “almost completely gone,” and he will have to have physical therapy for the rest of his life.

Later, former Illini defensive back Nick North spoke out to Illinois’ student paper, The Daily Illini. North claimed that Beckman forced him to come back too soon after tearing his PCL, and then tried to browbeat him into signing away his scholarship. In response to these and other claims of mistreatment on Beckman’s part, Thomas asked Chicago law firm Franczek Radelet to conduct an independent external review of the program.

Earlier this week, Thomas got a preliminary report on the investigation. What he found, he told reporters at a press conference on Friday afternoon, left him “shocked and angry.” Franczek Radelet found that Beckman deterred reporting injuries and pressured players into postponing medical treatment or avoiding it altogether. Even though the report was merely preliminary, Thomas felt that the revelations were egregious enough that he had to fire Beckman now rather than wait until some point in the middle of the season. Indeed, they were egregious enough to fire Beckman for cause. He was due to

Thomas really had no choice. There is some talk that Beckman would have been able to talk his way into keeping his job had Illinois done better on the field. He went 14-25 in three years, and won only four games in Big Ten play. But no amount of wins should be enough to save the job of a coach who endangers his players’ safety in this way. If a coach at my alma mater, North Carolina, were to act in this way, I’d be screaming for him or her to be fired–and timing be hanged.

In light of this report, an anecdote from Beckman’s first season sounds absolutely chilling. In August 2012, Bob Assmussen, the Illini beat reporter for The (Champaign) News-Gazette, tweeted this:

Thomas looks a lot better at this point than former Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. Last year, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke allowed his backup quarterback, Shane Morris, to stay in the game for a play despite strong indications that he had a concussion. Morris finally came out–but incredibly, Hoke allowed him to go back in the game, and was carted off the field one play later. By all rights, Hoke should have been fired right then, but Brandon took no action. Any concerns Brandon may have had about changing coaches in the middle of the season should have been more than trumped by concerns for player safety. Hoke was ultimately fired after the season due to Michigan’s lackluster on-field performance.

Before coming to Illinois, Beckman coached at Toledo from 2009 to 2011. It goes without saying that there needs to be an investigation of his tenure there. As a lifelong college football fan, I know that this sort of thing doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Indeed, one of Beckman’s former players at Toledo reportedly sued him for negligence and hazing. But Beckman’s mistreatment of his players at Illinois is egregious enough that he should never be allowed within an area code of a sideline again. Period.

Darrell is a 30-something graduate of the University of North Carolina who considers himself a journalist of the old school. An attempt to turn him into a member of the religious right in college only succeeded in turning him into the religious right's worst nightmare--a charismatic Christian who is an unapologetic liberal. His desire to stand up for those who have been scared into silence only increased when he survived an abusive three-year marriage. You may know him on Daily Kos as Christian Dem in NC. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook. Click here to buy Darrell a Mello Yello.