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Tim Beckman, Illinois, and whatever happens next is like the first trip to the dentist in a decade … the event happening is bad enough, but the worst is by far yet to come, once you sit down in that chair and the dental assistant comes off of her smoke break to dive into the details.
Illinois was dreadful under Beckman, who was hired after he swiftly turned around floundering Toledo four years ago. The Illini were 12-25 dreadful, including a truly putrid 1-15 in the Big Ten in spite of being lumped into the less difficult division when the conference split during his tenure.
In spite of the piss-poor record, Illinois had shown actual on-field growth under Beckman over the years, at least in terms of wins.
Below that — also the reason he was fired — is the alleged mistreatment of players, player injuries, and not-so-veiled threats about scholarship losses. Beckman, as he pretty much has to, denied the allegations vehemently on the way out the door.
It doesn’t look good, though.
Beckman came in as a bit of an obtuse bird. His first season at the helm, a story poked out about how he punished players at a banquet based on their work ethic both in the classroom (be 10 minutes early, or else) and on the field by making them eat porridge over steak and eggs. It was Beckman’s way of separating those who needed to do better (in his opinion) from the ones who did what they were expected to do.
It was one of those odd little stories that works well if you win, and comes back to bite you in the backside if you don’t. Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas didn’t need much time to cut bait, doing so based on preliminary findings of an investigation of player abuse, stemming from former player bringing the situation to light.
It’ll be interesting to see what Beckman does from here in the legal realm, at least. He suggested that he was taking this flogging of his reputation that way, as most people who feel themselves innocent would. Really, he has no choice, seeing as this ordeal has ruined his shot at another major job. He’ll fall somewhere in as an assistant — of that much you can be sure. Coaching is the one profession that sees more recycling than a subdivision full of Green Party hipsters in Seattle.
Player treatment is a hot-button issue, which made this even more of a situation that Illinois needed to address before it got out of hand. You’ve got a media group that really doesn’t understand half of what it talks about with this stuff, such as the Bud Foster-Virginia Tech situation. This one though, if fully true, and that always must be added, was a no-brainer.
An aside about Virginia Tech, to put it in context relative to Beckman and Illinois:
VT quelled the angst pretty quickly, even though if you break it down, Foster and the “fining” calendar were about as real-life as you’re going to get. As much as social media ragers and media don’t want to admit, part of a coach’s job is to prepare their students for the next level.
In high school, that might be some sort of post-secondary schooling or the real world. Most of what goes on in the real world is indicative of what Virginia Tech was doing. If you or I don’t go to work, show up late, half-ass a project, or act inappropriately at our place of business, we get punished, and usually monetarily.
Do what you’re supposed to do, you get what you signed up for … which is your paycheck and whatever other ancillary benefits you might receive along with it. Fail to do what you’re supposed to do, and it usually comes out in some way on the back end: not being considered for a promotion, a bonus, a raise, or at worst, being fired.
The horrified masses that screamed, “Oh my gosh, fining college athletes?!?!”, fail to realize that system was basic adult accountability. Part of the job of a teacher or a coach is to provide as realistic a model of what the next level of life will be like.
For Beckman, however, the allegations went far beyond any preparation. It’s hard to jump inside the minds of people and understand their motivations. Coaching at a Big Ten program has to involve an incredible amount of pressure and stress, and all of this stuff against Beckman seemed to disseminate only from Illinois.
Did the pressure bother him? The constant cat calls for the strength of his job status? Common logic suggests Illinois could be very, very good, what with its recruiting base, history, and the lack of consistent strength in its division. It’s dying for someone other than Wisconsin to be nationally relevant of late.
The Fighting Illini, however, have all of three seasons with 8 wins or above since 1990. What “could be a place to win big at” simply hasn’t been, through Lou Tepper, Ron Turner, Ron Zook, and then Tim Beckman.
If true, what Beckman did was without question, horribly wrong, not just on a football or student-athlete level, but also on a humane one.
Illinois finds itself at another crossroads, though one it had to travel. The program hasn’t been consistently good in ages, and at some point the reality that it’s gotten tough to win there becomes the truth. It doesn’t excuse any of this. That’s why Beckman got paid so handsomely … to win games at a place where it can be done, but hasn’t (consistently) in a long, long time.
This is an ugly story that will only get uglier as litigation becomes involved, as a school tries to move on from a grotesque period and a coach tries to save his reputation.
This wasn’t about accountability, or — for a change — wins and losses. This was about doing the right thing, because the guy Illinois fired allegedly didn’t. The dentist appointments to fix that mangled mouth have only begun.