Normally, the approval of a head football coach’s contract, whether it be a new or revamped one, is merely a formality and consists of multiple rubberstamps littered throughout the boardroom. In the case of Illinois, it’s turned into a wee bit more than that.
On Dec. 9, the Illini officially announced the hiring of Tim Beckman, who is white, as the football program’s new head coach. The school’s board of trustees Thursday officially approved Beckman’s five-year, $9 million contract, although it wasn’t a unanimous endeavor; Lawrence Oliver and James Montgomery, who are black, voted against the deal.
The reasoning behind the nay votes? The Illini didn’t, the Associated Press writes, “work hard enough to find a black head coach” according to the two trustees.
“In my mind, this is a missed opportunity,” Oliver said, referring to the fact that the school has never hired a black head coach for the football or men’s basketball programs. “I would hope that as a university we find this shutout unacceptable.”
Unless the reports were way off base, the Illini did in fact doggedly pursue at least one minority candidate. Houston’s Kevin Sumlin was mentioned as one of the front-runners for the Illini job – scuttlebutt was the Illini had offered a deal in the $3 million-a-year range that was spurned — before leaving the Cougars to take over at Texas A&M. Additionally, Kirby Wilson, the Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach who was severely burned in a house fire earlier this year, also interviewed for the vacancy at his alma mater and was viewed by outside observers as a serious contender.
While Oliver acknowledged the pursuit of Sumlin and Wilson, the trustee flatly stated the process didn’t go far enough.
“We have to increase our effort. Making an opening offer for a hot African-American coaching prospect is not enough,” Oliver said.