Tim Beckman faced questions from the media for the first time since former players accused the fourth-year Illini coach of mistreating players, but largely focused his answers on Illinois’ season opener against Kent State Sept. 4.
On May 10, former player Simon Cvijanovic sent out a string of tweets accusing Beckman of pushing him to play while injured and threatening to take away scholarships from his teammates. Another former player, Nick North, spoke out against Beckman in May as well, though other current and former Illini players supported Beckman after the allegations hit.
“I've been around football for 50 years of my life,” Beckham said when asked about the offseason allegations. “I’ve been around some great, great individuals throughout my career, from high school coaches on up to the college coaches that I've been able to play for and work for.
“You know, we're focused right now on a 2015 football team. We took off from last year after a great end of the year. And we've been focused since January on becoming a better football program. The philosophy that we continue to use is what these football players believe in football.”
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Earlier this month, a college athletics advocacy group called for Beckman and athletic director Mike Thomas — as well as women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant, who’s under investigation for allegedly creating a racially hostile environment — be fired. Beckman, when asked about his job security and if he’d feel more comfortable if he were given a contract extension, again refused to answer the question in his response.
“I am focused on the first football game,” Beckman said. “That is what this team is focused on. We know we've got a Kent State football team Sept. 4th. We know we're excited about getting together on Aug. 5th and then moving to Rantoul on August 9th. We know those practices are open. It's an NFL atmosphere when we go to Rantoul. And each and everyone knows that. That's one of the special things that doesn't always happen on every college campus. You're invited. People are invited to watch the Fighting Illini work. We're focused in on what we can be focused in on right now and that's Kent State.”
Two Illinois senior players in attendance for Big Ten Media Days provided more insight into the allegations than Beckman and offered support of their coach.
Offensive lineman Ted Karras, who tweeted in May that Cvijanovic “quit” on his teammates, said his experience with Beckman has been outstanding and disagreed with how the Illinois program has been portrayed over the summer.
“Obviously some people think that this is how we should be characterized,” Karras said. “I can only speak for myself and what I’ve known, and I’ve only been treated with class and respect by coach Beckman. Since his first game here I’ve been the right guard. I have nothing but love for the guy.”
Linebacker Mason Monheim said “no question” he and his teammates fully support Beckman and not Cvijanovic’s and other players' accounts of being mistreated by a coach characterized as being over-the-top tough.
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“He has a style any coach kind of does,” Monheim said. “I’m tough on my teammates and I expect them to be tough on me, I expect my coaches to be tough on me. It comes with the territory. There’s no difference than any coach I’ve ever had or any other player has. You have to be tough.”
Added Monheim: “If anything (the allegations) brought us closer together and it’s allowed us to be more efficient and more productive in our workouts.”
Karras echoed that sentiment of the allegations against Beckman bringing the team closer together. Illinois reached a bowl game last year but finished 6-7 after a loss to Louisiana Tech, and has a 12-25 record in three seasons under Beckman. For those reasons alone — not even including the allegations and investigation into them — Beckman may be on the hot seat in Champaign.
But Beckman’s current players, at least the ones who made the trip up I-57 to Chicago, don’t believe their coach deserves the criticism he’s received.
“We support him 100 percent,” Karras said. “And we voiced that through social media. It’s a good tool for that. But even in one-on-one encounters with him, we got his back 100 percent and he’s got ours.”