Tim Beckman didn’t win many football games. But that’s not the reason he was fired Friday.
After months of an ongoing investigation into the football program in the wake of allegations of student-athlete abuse, Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas made it clear that the preliminary findings of that review were the sole reason Beckman was dismissed.
“You’ve heard me say this time and time again, our primary focus is the health and well-being of our student-athletes,” Thomas said Friday. “We can win football games, we can graduate our student-athletes, we can be involved in the community, we can be good citizens. But those don’t trump the safety of our student-athletes. So when we've breached that or cross the line, that is more than troubling to me, and that is why a decision was made and a decision was made quickly after I saw the preliminary briefings.
“It was strictly based on these preliminary findings as it relates to the health and well-being of our student-athletes.”
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Thomas said he was “shocked and angered” by the initial findings. According to the Friday-afternoon press release announcing Beckman’s dismissal, the now-former head football coach — who often compared his players to his sons — made efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite their injuries. Initial findings also included Beckman mistreating players in regards to their scholarship status.
Thomas refused to share any other details from the initial findings of the review during his press conference Friday.
Beckman has been under fire for years now as he’s continued to struggle to accumulate wins with the speed that many Illini fans had hoped. After winning just two games in his first season, the Illini won four games in 2013 and six a season ago, reaching the first bowl game during his abruptly concluded tenure.
But while those on-field struggles had Beckman on the hot seat this season and last, they weren’t the reason he was removed from his job on Friday.
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Thomas said that no other coaches have been implicated in the findings that he’s seen. While Beckman his gone, it is assumed the rest of his coaching staff will remain in place with offensive coordinator Bill Cubit taking over as interim head coach.
Thomas said that a formal coaching search will not begin for a few months, presumably after the conclusion of the upcoming season.
Regardless of Beckman’s results on the field, Thomas admitted the many good things that Beckman achieved with the Illini, including academic success and involvement in the community. Illinois didn’t experience many of the off-the-field legal issues that so many other programs do. But again, none of that is why Beckman lost his job.
“Tim, he came from a great coaching tree. He’d been around a lot of coaches who had been very successful, who spoke very highly of him. He did some great work at Toledo under some difficult circumstances with the program he inherited,” Thomas said. “When you talk to people about his program there and the things that he did here as it relates to what they did in the classroom. They did great work in the classroom, significant improvements in the academic side and their involvement in the community and what they did as far as citizenship. Those were the kind of positive reports that you were getting when you were looking at Tim Beckman three or four years ago.”
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Beckman’s exit shows the power of the voice of the student-athlete, as it was the allegations made by former offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic that kickstarted this whole saga back in May.
Thomas said over and over that the health and well-being of Illinois student-athletes is his main concern, and to his credit, he announced reforms that would allow multiple avenues for student-athletes to bypass their coaches to report problems to the administration.
Now, with a head coach losing his job due to his neglect of student-athletes’ health and well-being, you have to wonder if the voice of the student-athlete will finally be listened to by those running college athletics at Illinois and on a national scale.