CHAMPAIGN—If there’s one lesson to be learned from Illinois coach Tim Beckman’s firing on Friday, it’s this: Players have a voice. It’s a voice that can correct injustices and better balance relationships with universities if players use it wisely.Ex-Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic figured that out in May when he went on Twitter and said Beckman tried to force him to play with knee and shoulder injuries and punished him for losing weight; he also said Illinois’ medical staff withheld information about his knee injury. It took guts to try to right a wrong. Not surprisingly, Cvijanovic got trashed by fans, some former teammates and even one adult who should have known better.Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, who will probably be out of a job sooner rather than later, initially defended Beckman and said Cvijanovic’s allegations amounted to a “personal attack” on Illinois’ coach. But sure, Thomas added, he would internally investigate the claims in the near future with the university chancellor’s office. Later, Thomas took a more neutral approach while cautioning against a rush to judgment.Thomas quickly got removed from what became an external investigation. On Friday, Thomas had to own the firing of Beckman. Thomas’ name was all over the press release and his face was all over the cameras.Thomas said preliminary results from the investigation showed “efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone treatment and continue playing despite injuries.” He also said there were instances in which players were treated “inappropriately” regarding whether they could stay on scholarship during spring semester of their senior year if they weren’t on the team.At one point in the news conference, Thomas actually said Illinois’ athletic department culture is “tremendous.” At that point, a reporter asked, “If that’s the case, how did all of this happen?” Thomas oversees an athletic department with football player grievances, a women’s basketball program in disarray amid a player lawsuit over alleged mistreatment, and a former women’s soccer player suing the school because she says the coaches and trainer mishandled her concussion.Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Some of this mess could have been avoided if Thomas simply fired Beckman for his job performance after 2014. Would Beckman be out of a job now one week before the season if he had won more games? We don’t know. Beckman was a win-at-all-costs coach who lacked the winning part.
Beckman has now released a statement of his firing and defending his actions while he served as head coach at Illinois.
“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the decision Mike Thomas and the University of Illinois made today regarding my employment as head coach of the football team,” Beckman said in the statement. “First and foremost, I firmly deny the implications in Mike’s statements that I took any action that was not in the best interests of the health, safety and well-being of my players. The health and well-being of our student-athletes is of paramount importance to me, and any statement made to the contrary is utterly false. Additionally, in connection with scholarships for student-athletes, I have complied with the policies and regulations of both the university and the NCAA and I have fully supported the university compliance office. Moreover, all of the actions that I took regarding individual scholarships were in lockstep with the university’s appointed personnel and the directions and approvals I received from university officials.
“I fully cooperated with the university’s investigation, having sat down for two lengthy interviews and turning over all documentation requested of me. The fact that the university did not even complete its investigation in this matter is evidence that this entire process was nothing more than a rush to judgment and confirms the university’s abject bad faith. Furthermore, the university’s actions today are in violation of the procedures mandated under my employment agreement. As such, I will vigorously defend both my reputation and my legal rights.
“I am very proud of my career at the University of Illinois. Off-field incidents involving my players have been essentially non-existent while academic performance and graduation rates have been extraordinary. The love and support I have received today from my players means everything to me.”
The language in Beckman’s statement certainly suggests that there will be a legal battle over his firing — most notably him saying “I will vigorously defend…my legal rights.” As it stands now, Beckman will not receive any of the remaining $3.1 million on his contract or $743,000 buyout due to the specific reasons of his firing.Beckman was 12-25 in three seasons as the head coach of the Illini.