A week before opener, Tim Beckman fired as Illini’s head coach

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In the end, Tim Beckman‘s hot seat turned into an electric chair before the season even kicked off.

In a surprising move given only its timing, Illinois announced that Beckman has been dismissed as its head football coach.  The move comes exactly one week before the Illini open the 2015 season against Kent State.

The firing also comes more than three months after a former player accused the coach of “misuse and abuse of power,” while another stated shortly thereafter that Beckman “takes the cake as the worst coach I ever met.”  Athletic director Mike Thomas initially supported the beleaguered head coach, but the preliminary results of an external review into the accusations forced Thomas into pulling the trigger now instead of later.

“The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly,” Thomas said in a statement. “During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program.”

The results, while preliminary, are damning, and show exactly why Thomas and the university had to make the move in the here and now. From the release:

During a preliminary briefing from the external reviewers, Thomas said he learned of efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries. He also said in some instances student-athletes were treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship during the spring semester of their senior year if they weren’t on the team.

“Both of those findings are unsettling violations of University policy and practice and do not reflect the culture that we wish to create in athletic programs for our young people,” Thomas said. “I expect my coaches to protect players and foster their success on and off the field.”

Beckman has been fired for cause, meaning he will not receive the $3.1 million remaining on the last two years of his original five-year contract or the $743,000 called for if his contract had been bought out.

Replacing Beckman on an interim basis for the entire 2015 season is offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.  The release stated that “the external review did not indicate any findings related to Coach Cubit.”

In three seasons with the Illini, Beckman compiled a 12-25 overall record and a 4-20 mark in Big Ten play. He likely would’ve been fired after the 2014 season, but the Illini managed to win their final two games to earn a bowl bid.

Minnesota regents approve new contract for P.J. Fleck

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As expected, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck now has a brand new contract to remain the head coach of the Golden Gophers. After agreeing to terms on a new deal and the school officially recognizing the new deal last week, just before a monster of a win for the program, the contract has been given the final green light to become officially official after the Board of Regents voted to approve the terms of the new contract.

As previously reported, Fleck will have a new seven-year contract good through the 2026 season and the terms of the buyout were significantly increased to fend off would-be suitors looking for a new head coach this year on the coaching carousel, and potentially in the next few years as well before the buyout drops off in price. Of course, any school with deep enough pockets willing to pony up to get Fleck to be their guy will still make a phone call or two, but Fleck appears to be settled in with Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

In addition to Fleck seeing his own pay increase, Minnesota’s regents also signed off on providing more combined salary for an assistant coaching staff with an extra $1.05 million being placed in the budget for assistant coaches.

Now that all of that contract business is squared away, Fleck can continue to focus on Minnesota’s next task on the field. This week, Minnesota heads on the road to face Iowa in a pivotal Big Ten West Division game. The Gophers remain undefeated and have climbed to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff ranking. A win on the road against Iowa could set Minnesota up for a regular-season finale riding an 11-0 record and the division already clinched for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.

It’s no wonder Minnesota decided to lock down Fleck while they still could.

FAU TE John Raine awarded another year of eligibility

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We overlooked this one earlier in the week, but it’s a rather sizable piece of official news for Lane Kiffin‘s Florida Atlantic football program.

By way of the Palm Beach Post Tuesday, it has been confirmed that John Raine was recently awarded a fifth season of eligibility.  The ruling will allow the senior tight end to play for the Owls in 2020.

A broken ankle cost Raine all but four games of his true freshman season in 2016, paving the way for the NCAA to rule in his favor on his appeal for another year of eligibility.

“I’m super excited about it,” Raine told the Post about the NCAA’s approval of a medical hardship waiver. “I love being here; I love playing football.”

With two regular-season games plus a bowl remaining, Rainer has already set career-highs in receptions (26), receiving yards (426) and receiving touchdowns (five).  The touchdowns are tops on the Owls.

This weekend, a Notre Dame home game won’t be sold out for first time since 1973

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All good things, streaks in this particular case, must come to an end.

Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Notre Dame will play host to Navy in the 93rd renewal of their football rivalry.  And, according to the South Bend Tribune, the game won’t be played in front of a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium (capacity: 77,622), which is actually a startling development.

This weekend, you see, will mark the first time since Thanksgiving Day 1973 (vs. Air Force) that the Fighting Irish haven’t sold out a home football game, snapping a streak of 273 straight sellouts.  Ahead of that streak being snapped, the Irish’s athletic director for the past dozen years, Jack Swarbrick, attempted to downplay the development.

From the Tribune:

It was never sort of important to me to keep it alive, but I understand why other people thought so. It’s a point of distinction to a lot of people and our fans.

“For me it’s always been: What’s the stadium environment like? Are we creating a great environment for our team and for our student-athletes? That you can say it’s also sold out is sort of a byproduct of that.

“But if my choice is (77,622) people in an environment that’s not really good versus 75,000 in a raucous environment, I’ll take the latter every time.

Notre Dame’s 237-game streak had been the second-longest active streak in college football behind Nebraska’s 373, which will move to 374 when Big Red hosts Wisconsin this weekend. The last time the Cornhuskers failed to sellout Memorial Stadium was during the 1962 season.

Four finalists named for 2019 Paul Hornung Award

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The field for the award that fetes the nation’s most versatile college football player has been whittled down significantly.

Earlier Thursday, the Louisville Sports Commission announced the four finalists for the 2019 Paul Hornung Award that have been chosen by the 17-member selection committee.  And (surprise!), all four of the finalists come from Power Five conferences: Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU), Joe Reed (Virginia) and Wan’Dale Robinson (Nebraska).

All four of the finalists come from the offensive side of the ball and have spent time as return specialists as well.  Because of injuries at the position, Bowden, listed as a wide receiver to start the season, has started the last three games at quarterback for UK, with the Wildcats going 2-1 in that span.

Reed is primarily a wide receiver and Edwards-Helaire a running back, while Robinson has split his time between both positions.

The 2018 winner of the Hornung Award was Purdue’s Rondale Moore, who likely would’ve been given serious finalist consideration again this year if not for his season essentially being derailed by a lingering hamstring injury.

For all of the statistical particulars for each candidate, click HERE the award’s press release: