As I was eating breakfast Tuesday morning, I was casually scrolling through Twitter when I saw a tweet from @IllinoisLoyalty, an account dedicated to all things Illini sports, which simply read “!”. “Uh oh,” I thought to myself. “What now?” I hoped it wasn’t another injury to a student-athlete on the Illinois men’s basketball team, who has been bitten by the injury bug too many times before the season has even started. Shortly after, I received a text message from a fellow Illini fan. “Mike Thomas fired!!!” Mike Thomas fired? Oh, the Athletic Director at Illinois, right.
It was only a matter of time Thomas was fired. Thomas was linked to the initial investigations into former Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman, who was hired by the former AD in 2012. Although Thomas was cleared from the investigation, as no wrongdoing from him was found, interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson felt it was needed to put the investigation in the past.
“Decisions such as these are always difficult, but we have to focus on the best interests of our student-athletes,” Wilson said in her press release. “I believe this decision allows everyone to move forward.”
Wilson has appointed associate athletic director Paul Kowalczyk as interim AD, effective immediately. Kowalczyk has served in the role of athletic director at Southern Illinois and Colorado State prior to arriving at Illinois in 2012.
It is time to move forward. It’s time to move forward and to clean up the mess called Illinois football. But who gets hired first? The University now has three major positions filled by interim replacements. Wilson has been interim Chancellor since early August, when former UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise resigned coincidentally after the University was named the top party school in America by USA Today. A few weeks later, Thomas fired Tim Beckman amid the findings of the investigation of the Illini football program. And now, Thomas is out himself. Another tweet I saw on the social media platform regarding the mess was pretty hilarious. “@ALionEye: So the interim AD will meet with the interim Chancellor to discuss the interim football coach.”
It is certainly a peculiar situation. There are many questions to ask regarding how Illinois will proceed with hiring a new football coach and athletic director. In my mind, I think the best option is to hire an AD first, who would then search for a coach to lead the football program. I think this way eliminates all possibilities of the hired football coach not being on the same page with the new athletic director. However, the UI must keep in mind there are many openings in the country, including a handful of vacancies much more coveted than an Illinois job. Because of this, I would hope the process of hiring an athletic director is a little bit urgent. You want the best for your program, especially when the last time your program was highlighted for its success was almost eight years ago.
Following the announcement of Thomas’ termination, the University released the full 1,267-page report of the football investigation conducted by Chicago law firm Franczek Radelet. The overview of the report reinforced the need to move on from the past and any people related to the events that had taken place within the Illinois football program.
Even when disregarding the results of the investigation, Tim Beckman didn’t belong at Illinois. He doesn’t belong as head football coach of a power five-conference school. He recorded a 12-25 record over three seasons, including a 4-20 conference record. From his famous “lasagna” moment in his introductory press conference to his infamously incoherent “OSKEE” slogan he presented at Big Ten Media day a month before being fired, Beckman was an embarrassment to the University of Illinois. Those were just a few of the many moments Beckman made a fool of himself and Illinois, SB Nation highlighted other “Beckmanisms” he managed over his tenure at Illinois. It’s quite comical, honestly, to realize this man was: A) the highest paid man in the state of Illinois and B) a head coach in the same conference as Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh and Mark Dantonio. When I was in sixth grade vocabulary class, we learned a word, oaf, which I never thought I would use in my life. It was a funny word; my classmates and I would always use it as a joke because the definition of the word and the word itself was hysterical for 12-year olds. Well, Tim Beckman is an oaf. He single-handedly turned Illinois into the laughing stock of Big Ten football.
Although it is fun to laugh at what Tim Beckman was as a collegiate football coach—I’ll be the first to admit to watching hours of Tim Beckman footage for comedic purposes—the results of the investigation are no laughing matter, frankly. In addition to being a clown, Tim Beckman is a bad dude. No, not “bad in a good way”. What Franczek Radelet found was truth to the allegations against Beckman for influencing medical decisions and threatening to take away scholarships. The full report showed more concerning results than previously expected. Beckman reportedly pressured trainers to prematurely clear players from injuries. Multiple athletic trainers resigned following the 2013 season, citing discomfort with what was going on with the program as a deal-breaker. Beckman would call a player "pussy," "sissy" or "soft" when they left to get injury assistance from trainers. Beckman said he "does not believe in hamstring injuries." Beckman disregarded concussion protocol: "A team physician recalled taking a player for evaluation who was stumbling around and confused after a big hit in a game, and coach Beckman interjecting before the evaluation was complete stating to the player ‘hey, you're ready to play, you're okay.’" Perhaps most disturbing, Beckman got in the way of a potential life-threatening injury: "Two physicians confronted coach Beckman during the 2012 season after a player went down with a potential spinal injury. The sports medicine staff evaluating the player report that they did not want the player to move as they were stabilizing his spine and holding the player's head still, but coach Beckman reportedly inserted himself to tell the player to turn his head to look at coach Beckman so that he could tell the player that he was going to be fine."
It’s horrifying, to say the least, to read and understand what was going on behind the scenes of Illinois football under Tim Beckman. What he was doing was troubling. When a student-athlete commits to a college or university to play a sport, the student-athlete and his family have full trust in the coach that they will take care of its family member. To see what Beckman was doing with his program is a bit unsettling.
Mike Thomas did nothing wrong, well he made the wrong hire for his football coach. He really made the wrong hire for his football coach. When the coach you hired can’t produce positive results on the field in addition to being the center of a massive investigation regarding mistreatment of the health of student-athletes, chances are high you will be gone as well. The University of Illinois is set to make some major changes in the coming months. The Illini faithful are desperate for some consistency from the football program. Let’s just hope another Tim Beckman doesn’t come around.