By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) At the University of Illinois, he was never the right fit.
But now, with a 1-17 Big Ten record after Illinois’ humiliating 38-27 home loss to lowly Purdue on Saturday, it’s painfully clear that Tim Beckman and major college football go together about as well as a right-handed glove on somebody’s left foot.
Beckman’s program is just all thumbs, and the time has come for Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas to mercifully give his in-over-his-head football coach the boot. The news on Sunday that quarterback Wes Lunt will now be out four to six weeks with a leg fracture shouldn’t be used as some kind of crutch.
After all, the program was already limping badly even with him behind center.
Two years ago, just four games into Tim Beckman’s career at Illinois, I wrote the following words: “While being outscored 97-38 by Arizona State and Louisiana Tech, Beckman has shown himself to be overmatched, outwitted and unprepared.
“I wish I felt like I was being too harsh with those statements. And I wish that I felt brighter days were on the horizon for Beckman & Co. Maybe I am and maybe they are, but unfortunately I really just don’t think so.”
Today, I still wish I hadn’t been right about all that. But I was.
And on Saturday afternoon, after Darrell Hazell’s struggling Boilermakers – who Beckman defeated last season for his lone conference win – ran roughshod over the hapless Illini defense, a Twitter follower who was fed up and already looking ahead sarcastically asked me for my favorite memory of the Tim Beckman era.
Joking, I said it was when Beckman pronounced the state’s name correctly during his introductory press conference. But sadly, that meager achievement – something that previous coach Ron Zook didn’t do, originally calling it “Illinoise” – may actually end up being the highlight of the Beckman’s Illini tenure.
Because it really has been that bad.
Back in December 2011, after coming to Illinois by way of Toledo, Beckman’s opening remarks at that rambling introductory presser in Champaign gave me pause when he oddly shouted “LASAGNA!” with great emphasis while telling reporters about how he would feed his players his wife’s signature dish on Thursday nights.
I understood that the comment was made to express the idea of developing a close-knit team, but it came across as both terribly odd and oddly small-time. I could hardly imagine Urban Meyer hollering about tortellini during his first opportunity to address – and impress – Buckeyes fans.
On that first day of Beckman’s Illini career, I very much wanted to think positively about the new coach and his enthusiasm, as eccentric as it was, but instead I already found myself questioning whether he really was suited for the bright lights of the Big Ten.
From the get-go, Beckman’s persona just didn’t scream “big time” and the following summer, his actions didn’t either. Before even coaching a game, Beckman made a poor call when he inexplicably sent eight Illinois coaches to Penn State’s campus to recruit “free agent” Nittany Lions players in the immediate wake of NCAA sanctions stemming from the school’s ugly Jerry Sandusky scandal.
That decision to so aggressively dive into Penn State’s mess ended up unnecessarily muddying Illinois’ own reputation just before Big Ten media day was to be held in Chicago.
Most troubling, it smacked of a coach who didn’t comprehend the spotlight he was now working beneath. I understood Beckman’s likely thought process regarding the Happy Valley invasion: He believed that the move would make a big statement about Illini football and that everyone would be impressed with his program’s aggressiveness.
But no one was. Rather, many were turned off by it – and a savvy coach would have recognized that likely outcome beforehand.
Once Beckman began actually coaching games, Illini fans soon discovered that he was far from savvy on the field, too. Over the past 2 1/2 seasons there have been embarrassing sideline violations and an apology for chewing tobacco. There have been questionable game-management decisions and unquestionably poor defensive schemes, along with lackluster recruiting.
But mostly, there have been losses. Lots and lots of losses.
And after 17 setbacks in 18 Big Ten games – the most conference losses by an Illinois coach in such a time span during the program’s history – we’ve seen enough to know that Beckman simply isn’t the right coach to elevate the Illini program.
So, really, why should we see any more?
With savvy offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who had an 51-47 record as coach at Western Michigan, Illinois already has a man on staff who’s plenty capable of assuming the program’s reins for the remainder of the season. The Illini defense — which has allowed the most points, rushing yards and total yards in the Big Ten — can hardly get worse through a coaching change, but perhaps it could benefit from one. And without Lunt, should Beckman himself really be forced to absorb what’s likely to be six more painful league losses?
A 1-23 conference record wouldn’t look good on anyone’s resume. And while Beckman may not be a good coach or a smart program manager, he seems like a perfectly fine person. The Illinois job is simply bigger than he is, and it always has been.
It’s time for Thomas to give his football program a hand by letting Beckman go sooner rather than later and at least allow the team the chance to take a step in a positive direction.
And, just as importantly, to give fans hope that a new coach might finally move the Illini forward.