Mike Thomas

Disturbing details of Tim Beckman’s handling of injuries at Illinois released in report

8 Comments

Former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman was bad at his job, but now we have more of an idea of just how clueless and irresponsible he was as well. The details of a thorough investigation into the injury management within the Illinois football program under Beckman were released Monday morning by the University of Illinois and the firm hired to conduct the investigation. According to the report, Beckman did not believe in hamstring injuries, perhaps one of the more common injuries in football for as long as he has been coaching. Beckman would also hurl derogatory names and insults to players for receiving assistance from athletic trainers in addition to pressuring trainers to clear players before they were ultimately ready to play again.

“Coach Beckman supported student-athlete welfare in various respects, he also employed a wide array of motivational tactics directed primarily at players and athletic trainers that violated such standards and protocols in meaningful and systemic ways, the report says in its introduction. “Furthermore, to create room for new players joining the program for the spring 2015 semester, Coach Beckman caused four players to be pressured to relinquish their scholarships at the end of the fall 2014 semester against those players’ express wishes.”

Beckman came under fire for the way players with injuries were treated when complaints from former player Simon Cvijanovic popped up online. Cvijanovic suggested Beckman was a bully to injured players, and the report released today backs that up. Some conclusions made by the released report;

  • Coach Beckman attempted to instill a belief system in players to play through injuries and return too quickly from injuries to benefit the team by pressuring or influencing players not to report injuries or play through them;

  • Coach Beckman criticized players who sought medical treatment or were not playing because of injury with demeaning comments and other communication tactics

  • Coaches placed their medical judgment above that of physicians and led players to be misinformed regarding medical options and expected recovery time from injury

  • Coaches pressured athletic trainers to aggressively interpret physician diagnoses and player restrictions to return injured players to practice prematurely

  • Coaches influenced medical decisions in ways that prioritized the team over the individual player’s welfare

  • Delayed informing several redshirt juniors that they would not have a place on the football team after the fall 2014 semester

  • Pressured, harassed, and threatened such players to voluntarily relinquish their scholarships in December 2014

  • Retaliated against one player who challenged the requests that he not stay on campus through Spring 2015.

That’s not a good look for Beckman, and could be reason enough why we may not see him coaching again in any capacity for a while. Of course, Illinois also fired athletics director Mike Thomas today upon the release of this report. Thomas had previously stuck his neck out in defense of Beckman when the accusations were first made. Thomas later stepped back from his defense of Beckman when he fired the head coach just days before the first game of the season. Bill Cubit has been serving as the interim head coach of the Illini, and he has the program on the cusp of becoming eligible for postseason play. Cubit is mentioned a few times in the report as well, including one story where a former player felt Cubit was pressuring him not to take anti-anxiety medication, although another player aware of the interaction suggested the message delivered by Cubit was misinterpreted by the player and Cubit was actually lending support. The report says there is no indication Cubit said anything else inappropriate to any player and there is no evidence Cubit ever pressured any players regarding injury issues.

The report is quite thorough, at 1,267 pages with all of the supporting documents. You can read the full report, if you have the time, here.

Tim Beckman responds to Illinois firing, calls allegations “utterly false”

14 Comments

Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas felt strongly enough about the results of an investigation into his head football coach’s performance to fire him months before the study was even complete. Thomas said Friday investigators had spoken with more than 90 witnesses and reviewed more than 200,000 documents.

Tim Beckman thinks it’s all a pack of lies.

The now former Illinois head coach released a statement Friday evening.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

While nothing he can say at this point will get him his job back, it’s obvious what Beckman is doing here: setting the stage for a lawsuit in which he comes for the $3.1 million due on the final two years of his contract and (however futilely) attempts to clear his name in pursuit of other coaching jobs.

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

25 Comments

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.

Illini AD defends Beckman as new accusations surface

5 Comments

Sunday evening, former Illinois football player Simon Cvijanović went thermonuclear on Twitter, accusing Illini head coach Tim Beckman of “misuse and abuse of power” and also, most damning, of attacking — physically, emotionally or mentally wasn’t specified at the time — a former teammate of Cvijanović’s.

Cvijanović, who had started 33 games along the offensive line during his time in Champaign, and his brother, also a former Illini football player, “developed mental-health issues, Simon said, as a result of their medical problems and the staff’s neglect,” ESPN.com wrote. In a statement released after his former player’s damning accusations, Beckman stated that “we have continued to support [Simon Cvijanović] with medical care, an academic scholarship and academic advising,” adding “[w]e cannot make any student accept our support.”

Monday evening, Illini athletic director Mike Thomas backed his beleaguered head coach while at the same time promising a review of the accusations.

“The feedback I get from the players and our players’ families is that these coaches genuinely care for them and treat them like their own children,” Thomas told reporters. “It’s been very positive from the kids and the families. They talk a lot about the family atmosphere. They talk about the culture. They talk about the caring of our coaches as it relates to their well-being. …

“We will have a follow-up. We will review, and the timeline and who’s to be involved will be determined very soon.”

The father of the two ex-Illini players, though, is coming from a different point of view. Much, much different as Frank Cvijanovic laid any future blame for a failed NFL career at the feet of the coaching staff.

“It’s really just ridiculous,” the dad told ESPN.com. “[Simon] is a kid who’s been looking to play in the NFL since he was 8 years old. Now that this has happened, he’s just been filled with anxiety — almost an identity crisis.”

And then there’s this, from the Chicago Tribune:

A former Illinois player, who spoke to the Tribune on the condition of anonymity, backed up Cvijanovic’s claims of being berated for suffering an injury and of witnessing Beckman physically take down a player at practice.

“He overreacted,” the player said. “We all saw it and thought it was weird.”

Andrew Weber, a kicker who played at Toledo under Beckman, also said on Twitter he had similar experiences with the coach as Cvijanovic.

“We had the exact same issues,” he tweeted to Cvijanovic on Monday. “Thanks for standing up! Be proud!”

Beckman saved his coaching skin by seeing his Illini to a bowl berth in 2014.  Under fire for his team’s on-field performance, and now under fire for his reported treatment of his players?  That’s a potentially crippling combination for any head coach.

Illinois and Northwestern take Big Ten in-state battle to Soldier Field in 2015, 2017 and 2019

4 Comments

Northwestern likes to refer to itself as Chicago’s Big Ten team. Whether you buy into that or not is up to you, but the Wildcats will be making a visit to the Windy City this fall and two more times in the next few seasons.

Illinois will move three home games against Northwestern to Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, in the coming years. Illinois announced a three-game arrangement with Soldier Field that will see Illinois play Northwestern in the NFL venue in 2015, 2017 and again in 2019. Northwestern’s scheduled home games against the Illini are still planned to be played in Evanston, Illinois. Illinois hosted Washington in Soldier Field in 2013.

“It’s exciting to seize the opportunity to further engage our incredible number of Illinois alumni and fans in the Chicagoland area with these three football games coming to Soldier Field,” Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said in a released statement from Illinois. “As the flagship university in the state we are committed to all Fighting Illini, and as part of that mindset, we will continue to bring a variety of athletics events to Chicago where we have the largest alumni base of any Big Ten institution.”

Some might say them’s fightin’ words. That’s true, but playing games in Soldier Field is something Illinois and Northwestern should embrace when possible.

Soldier Field has a capacity listed at 61,500, which is roughly 900 seats more than in Memorial Stadium in Champaign and about 14,000 more seats than Northwestern’s Ryan Field. Neither school may be a huge draw on its own, but throw them in an easy-to-get-to neutral site in a city like Chicago and the potential to sell some tickets over the Thanksgiving weekend should be intriguing. That’s the logic employed by Illinois at least.

“Ending the regular season at a historical site and one of the best stadiums in the world will make for a big-time event for our student-athletes and will be a great springboard for our football program into the postseason,” Thomas added in his statement.

This should go much more smoothly than the time Illinois and Northwestern last attempted to play a neutral site game in Chicago. That took place in historic Wrigley Field, a home game for Northwestern. That was a mitigated disaster with alternate rules needing to be put in place, like each team moving the same direction on the field out of fear of players running straight into the brick outfield wall.