Illinois fired head football coach Tim Beckman Friday, and the only mistake it made was waiting until Friday to fire Tim Beckman.
People called for his firing during his first hapless year as head coach. Though his team's record would later improve, Illini could've started getting back on track sooner if they'd axed him then. Instead, the Illini are a week away from a season, they're embroiled in a scandal about player treatment, and to top it all off, the team is bad.
Beckman was like Head Football Coach Jar-Jar Binks. He was clumsy, with every step a misstep, every word something he shouldn't have said. Like Jar-Jar, he had a toothless grin and a booming voice that he apparently didn't understand how to modulate, and everybody who cared about the franchise he was associated with wished he had never been there.
His failings would have been cute, except he was also an enormous jerk. Beckman allegedly lied to players about injuries. Beckman was Head Football Coach Jar-Jar Binks, if Jar-Jar Binks were accused of murdering puppies.
These are the moments I will remember the most from Beckman's aggressively bad tenure as head coach of Illinois.
1. The buttscoot
It is pretty simple to avoid hurting the on-field play of your team while on the sideline. Just don't touch the ref. The ref needs to run up and down the sideline to do his job. If you touch the refs, you get a 15-yard penalty.
There are levels upon levels of embarrassment. Not only has his team just thrown an interception, he interfered with a ref. And not only did he interfere with the ref, he got knocked on his butt by the ref. And not only did he get knocked on his butt, he had to play it off by scooting away.
To make matters worse, he'd get another penalty for sideline interference in the same game.
2. Not knowing how offensive coordinators work
In his first year, Beckman had a strange arrangement:
One co-offensive coordinator, Chris Beatty, calls first and second down, and the other, Billy Gonzales, calls third down. But all the calls are approved by the entire offensive staff, Beckman indicated. And you can be sure the head coach also has his finger in the pie.
3. The Mom's Birthday mystery
Every year, Big Ten Media Days are on different days. And every year, Beckman went to Big Ten Media Days and wished his mom a happy birthday.
He never said, "I'd like to wish my mom, whose birthday it was YESTERDAY, a happy birthday."
This April, Beckman explained the mix-up. He is well aware of his mom's birthday -- he wanted to give her a shoutout as a coach's wife and coach's mom who never really got to be around her husband/son as much as she wanted around her birthday -- but I always liked the idea of Beckman celebrating his mom's birthday 365 days a year.
4. The Penn State poaching
When Penn State received its harsh NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, its players were allowed to transfer freely. A lot of coaches opted not to actively pursue Penn State players. Other coaches reached out to players discreetly.
And then there was Tim Beckman, who sent eight assistant coaches to State College. Beckman said his coaches never stepped on campus, that they met players in a coffee shop and a restaurant, but the rumors were that Beckman's crew was camped outside the players' dorm in the parking lot.
The Illini only got one player from Penn State, and he ended up transferring to Northern Arizona.
5. Trying to make Northwestern-Illinois a thing
Hey, quick confession here: I went to Northwestern and am a Northwestern fan.
Northwestern and Illinois are Big Ten teams in the state of Illinois, and hypothetically this makes Northwestern-Illinois a rivalry. We play a game for a trophy with a hat!
I've never seen it as much of a rivalry, though. Northwestern is a tiny school that's good at football once every 20 years and has a handful of fans. Illinois is a bigger school that's good at football once every 15 years and has two handfuls of fans. These teams aren't really mad at each other, they have no bad blood, and if they did, Illinois would probably have the upper hand because it's bigger.
Beckman acted like Northwestern-Illinois was the biggest thing on the planet, and tried to act like Northwestern was the bad guy. He put up anti-Northwestern signs in the locker room. He made injured Illinois players wear purple and called players wearing it "pussies" (because Wildcats = cats = pussycats = pussies). He tried to hold an "Illinois coaches caravan" event about two blocks from Northwestern's campus. He made thinly veiled comments about Northwestern's recruiting in Chicago (while getting out-recruited by Northwestern in Chicago).
This is the behavior of a coach at a small school badgering its big brother. Illinois should not be considered Northwestern's little brother! If anything, it's the other way around!
As a Northwestern fan, I'm selfishly disappointed he will not coach Illinois forever. It was funny. We've never made anybody that mad before.
6. Beckman math
Tim Beckman: "If we run the table, we end up with nine wins." #Illini— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) October 6, 2014
They did not.
#illini Beckman: You want your players to be succesful. We take out 10 plays in that football game, it's a different game.— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) October 6, 2014
You can't do that.
Tim Beckman: "You take out 21 points on three plays and we’re in this football game." Yes, he really said that.— Steve Greenberg (@SLGreenberg) September 14, 2014
No, that's not a thing.
Tim Beckman lived at the bottom of a 70,000-foot well and told everybody he was two or three feet from reaching the exit.
7. He's accused of being horrible to the players who trusted him
The first six things there were funny. This one is not.
Beckman made $1.6 million per year. His teams improved from bad to OK. That's fine. Being a mediocre coach and falling on the sideline made me laugh, but it never made me dislike him. He seemed harmless, in over his head, and as a fellow incompetent person, I would otherwise applaud him for cashing out.
But while making all that money, Beckman allegedly asked his players -- who weren't getting paid -- to play while injured. According to Illinois and the accusations of former players, he was lying to them about their bodies. He was OK with them risking further injury and potentially permanent pain, if it led to his benefit.
That's pretty much the worst thing you can do as a coach. Beckman's job was to win football games, but more importantly, to look out for the welfare of the players who agreed to play for him.
Beckman didn't settle for being a horrible coach. He decided to be a horrible person too. Illinois will be better without him.