Illinois fires coach Beckman week before season opener
Champaign, Ill. — Illinois abruptly fired coach Tim Beckman one week before the start of the season Friday after an investigation of player mistreatment allegations revealed he had meddled in medical issues and inappropriately treated athletes who remained on scholarship after leaving the team.
With three of his programs under scrutiny, athletic director Mike Thomas said the timing was unfortunate but "it was in the best interests of student-athletes to act now." Thomas said the final report of the investigation would not be completed and publicly released until during the season.
Illinois said Beckman will not receive $3.1 million remaining on the final two years of his original five-year contract or the $743,000 buyout.
Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who was head coach at Western Michigan from 2005-12, has been named interim coach. The Illini face Kent State at home Sept. 4 to start the season.
Beckman was 12-25 at Illinois, improving the team's record each season. The Illini went 6-7 last year and reached the Heart of Dallas Bowl. He did not immediately respond to a phone message left by The Associated Press.
Citing the investigation being handled by a law firm, Thomas said he learned of efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured injured players to avoid or postpone treatment and continue playing. In some instances, he said, athletes were treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship during the spring semester of their senior year if they weren't on the team.
Former starting lineman Simon Cvijanovic complained first on Twitter on May 9 and in subsequent interviews that Beckman and his staff had tried to shame him into playing hurt, and had misled him about medical procedures following a knee injury.
"All I can say right now is I think it's a step in the right direction," he told the AP by phone after learning Beckman had been fired. "It seems like there's more than just Beckman that needs to be held accountable."
A number of former and present players have supported Beckman, saying they were never mistreated or saw any reason for concern.
"Will always have the utmost respect for Coach Beckman for giving me an opportunity that no one else did," receiver Mike Dudek posted on Twitter.
The football accusations were just the first to be raised by former Illini athletes this year.
Seven former women's basketball players sued the university last month amid claims that coach Matt Bollant and some staff used race to divide the team and force out unwanted players. Former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss left the school after the initial allegations surfaced earlier, in the spring. Bollant and current staff members have denied the allegations.
And former women's soccer player Casey Conine sued the school in June, claiming she had been improperly cleared to play after a concussion. The lawsuits are ongoing.
Thomas said the review being done by the Franczek Radelet law firm is ongoing. He said the firm has interviewed more than 90 individuals and reviewed 200,000 documents, along with a large volume of practice and game video from Beckman's three years in Champaign.
Beckman is a former Ohio State assistant who was Toledo head coach for three years before replacing Ron Zook at Illinois. He went 2-10 in his first season and 0-8 in the Big Ten. The Illini improved on the field, winning four games in Year 2 and getting bowl-eligible last year by beating Northwestern in the final game of the season. They lost the Heart of Dallas Bowl to Louisiana Tech.
Beyond just wins and losses, though, Beckman had several public missteps.
He was criticized for going to State College, Pennsylvania, to try to recruit Penn State players after the Nittany Lions were sanctioned by the NCAA for the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Later, he was spotted by television cameras during one game using smokeless tobacco on the sideline, a violation of NCAA rules.
Beckman is not the first coach to be fired for player mistreatment. Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice after video became public of him screaming obscenities, pushing and throwing basketballs at players. Texas Tech fired Mike Leach in 2009 amid accusations he mistreated a player suffering a concussion. Leach later filed suit.