By Chris Emma–
(CBS) What a long, strange trip it’s been since Tim Beckman took to Champaign.
It all started with Beckman blurting that the day of his introductory press conference was as good of a day as when his kids were born. From there, we learned of new acronyms like WINT and OSKEE, how the positive media can serve a role to make the state of Illinois a better place, that purple pens apparently represent evil and so much more.
Along the way, there was recruiting Penn State players in a State College parking lot, wrist slapping for sideline tobacco use and so much more. You can read the entire list of antics here.
Yet, Beckman’s Illinois program seemed to be ascending out of its circus tent. He brought the Fighting Illini from two wins in 2012 to a bowl berth in 2014, saving his job with a win over “That School Up North,” as he would say.
Truth be told, Beckman’s oddities on the job were acceptable — even if laughable — until Simon Cvijanovic, a four-year football letterman, took to Twitter in May with steep accusations of abuse and misconduct. He backed it to me in an exclusive interview.
“I hope he doesn’t coach college football again,” Cvijanovic said of Beckman. “He’s hurt enough people.”
An external investigation into Illinois’ football program, conducted by a Chicago law firm, proved in part that Cvijanovic was right. Beckman was fired on Friday — not for his 4-20 Big Ten record — because of preliminary results from the investigations, suggesting he indeed abused his power as head coach.
Beckman was found to be influencing medical decisions, pressuring players to postpone treatment and attempting to deter injury reporting. In a statement, Beckman called the findings “shocking and disappointing,” seeming to prepare for a lawsuit.
“Illinois just got better!” tweeted former Fighting Illini star defensive tackle and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer Akeem Spence.
Doubling down on Illinois’ ineptness, Mike Thomas stood before the media with a fresh suit and a job. His entire department is under investigation for various appalling incidents, further scarring a résumé of mistakes in Champaign.
But Thomas had the guts to once again claim the Fighting Illini are “wearing integrity on their sleeve.”
“It’s all about doing things the right way,” Thomas added on Friday.
Sorry, Mike, but you are a gigantic problem, too.
Thomas claiming that he was unaware of Beckman’s misconduct because of the size of Illinois athletic department is more laughable than any football program acronym. It’s his job to oversee this large, signficant department — or at least it’s his job for now.
What Illinois so desperately needs is a fresh start. Beckman is out, and Thomas should be gone, too. There’s no excuse for Thomas, and simply booting Beckman wasn’t enough to claim responsibility for egregious incompetence in a critically important job.
“I’m confident in the program that I’m leading,” Thomas said. “I know that when you’re trying to build a program — especially in a big-vision way — that you’re going to have obstacles and adversity along the way.
“The culture in our division of intercollegiate athletics is tremendous.”
Illinois’ athletic culture is simply toxic. Pointing to a nice baseball season, as Thomas often has, is willfully ignorant to the real issues.
It’s a horrid slap in the face to Cvijanovic, who was the whistle blower on this; to Nick North, who was forced by Beckman to play through a torn PCL and developed a cyst on his knee, as terrifically reported by the Daily Illini; to the seven families of former women’s basketball players suing the university for Matt Bollant’s alleged racially hostile environment.
The Fighting Illini have shown their true colors — those certainly aren’t blue and orange.
Firing Beckman was a start to making things right. Tossing Thomas must come next. It’s time for Illinois to cleanse its culture of misconduct and negligence.
What started with a quirky, excitable football coach ended with an ugly scandal of mistreatment. Illinois must make this right.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.