By Chris Emma-
As part of a periodical series this summer, “A day with Coach,” CBSChicago.com college sports columnist Chris Emma spent a day with Illinois football coach Tim Beckman as he was taking part in the program’s Quarterback Club golf event at the school’s Orange Course.
SAVOY, Ill. (CBS) — Through a cool breeze and a surprise summer shower, Tim Beckman never lost his smile. Each day as Illinois’ head football coach brings him joy.
Whether it’s a long day of practice and preparation or time with his family, Beckman has true happiness with his life. This is the place he wanted to be — a head coach in the Midwest, where his upbringing with the game took form.
On this particular day, Beckman was on the golf course for six hours, spending time with Fighting Illini fans and alums. With each passing foursome to greet, the coach seemed like a best friend. He had handshakes and warm words for each golfer, and it was all genuine.
“This is what the college game’s all about, to me,” Beckman said. “It’s the difference between being in the college game and being in the pro game. These people bleed the orange and blue. It’s an honor to be the head coach and to be able to see the people that are part of the program, long before coach Beckman got here.”
The enthusiasm constantly flowing from Beckman is authentic. He’s the same guy in front of his team, fans and family, because it’s all one to him. Relationships are so important for Beckman, something displayed on the golf course.
After each foursome finished its putts, Beckman kept them for minutes more to hold a conversation and take a group picture. He had assistants and close companions alongside, too. The perfect example of Beckman’s family-oriented program is Illinois assistant and recruiting coordinator Alex Golesh, whom he met as a volunteer student assistant at Ohio State. Beckman brought him with for job stops at Oklahoma State, Toledo and, eventually, Illinois.
Growing up outside Cleveland in a family entrenched in football, Beckman dreamed of building a program that felt the same way. He saw his father, Dave, coach the same way. He couldn’t do it without those close to him — his wife and kids, his staff and players and the fans.
“It’s all family,” Beckman said. “That’s the reward in this.
“You surround yourself with people that believe in the same thing you do.”
The close-knit chemistry now instilled within the Illini is in part what leads Beckman to believe this year will be different. His first two seasons in Champaign were a nightmare, a 6-18 overall record, just one Big Ten win in 16 conference games and a spot on the hot seat. The Illinois players forced to transition struggled to buy in early, which combined with little depth brought great problems for Beckman’s first season.
Now, Beckman has his team. It’s a group primarily made up of his recruits, a staff he maintains great trust in and a future he remains confident in.
“Night and day,” Beckman said. “When you come in, you ask your players to do the things you believe are important for the program to be successful. At first, there’s a little rebellion on it. Now, I can honestly say our players believe in exactly what we’re doing.”
In reality, this season must be prosperous for Beckman to remain as Illinois’ coach. Continued improvements must be made to show the program is on the upswing. However, with a more talented, revamped roster and a stronger belief, the early indications are promising.
But Beckman has never shown the appearance of an embattled coach. Coaching in the Big Ten is the opportunity he aspired for. The stresses of a grueling job don’t interfere with his true joy for the job.
A day on the golf course showed the true Tim Beckman. He was surrounded by his family and the Illini family, moments he’ll forever treasure. It’s what he always dreamed of.
“This is something that I’ve cherished my whole life, since I was born,” he said. “Hell, my initials are T.D. for touchdown, Timothy David. It’s been part of our life. And now, to become something you’ve always dreamed of becoming back when you were a youngin’, this is what it’s all about to me.
“This is a dream come true.”
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBS Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.