Exactly one week from today the Illinois Fighting Illini take the field for their first game of the 2015 NCAA FBS season against the Kent State Golden Flashes. Talking about that game is on the back burner now that the University has given head coach Tim Beckman his walking papers.
Two things to note on the field. There won’t be a large change in philosophy or tactics as the team’s offensive coordinator, Bill Cubit, will take over as interim head coach. The preliminary news from the review supposedly shows that Cubit was not involved with any of the decisions that led to Beckman’s downfall. Second, scandal is almost as big of a no-no in sports as losing. Doing both will get you kicked to the curb immediately.
In May, former Illinois offensive tackle Simon Cvijanovic took to Twitter to complain about the way that the coaching and medical staff pushed the players to play past their physical threshold, leading Cvijanovic to quit the team. Cvijanovic also mentioned unionization, a hot topic in college football, though one that has currently been quashed.
This is just one allegation going on at Illinois and has led to several heads rolling and administrators quitting. The Athletic Director, Mike Thomas, will likely be the next out the door. This looks like the school getting ahead of what could conceivably lead to NCAA sanctions once the report comes out.
Regardless, the school fired an unsuccessful head coach upon finding out that he was possibly forcing players to play through injuries in an athletic climate that is very sensitive to player health at the moment, specifically in regards to concussions and college players. None of this means that Beckman did much that other schools don’t do, possibly anything that other schools don’t do. The report is in the preliminary stages and we don’t know what the preliminary information has revealed
However, Illinois just got out from under the $3.1 million owed to Beckman for the remaining two years of his contract because they were able to fire him for cause. If you’re most concerned about the on-field issues this saga brings, the ability to hire an expensive replacement coach may matter to you. Illinois has that ability now instead of likely hiring a low-cost replacement for two years and hoping to catch lightning in a bottle.
This was the right move for the program, the players, and it won’t take much of a hit on the field. It certainly isn’t an ideal time, but there was no other time to make this decision. The preliminary report has only just come out and now was the time to distance the school from Beckman. Illinois could have waited until the full report comes out, but as Thomas noted, the report will come out during the season and one week before the season is better than a scandal in the middle of the season.
This story isn’t over, but the bite may have been taken out of it with this firing.