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Illinois hires Beckman to replace Zook

Hear from new Illinois football coach Tim Beckman.
Hear from new Illinois football coach Tim Beckman.
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)

Tim Beckman of Toledo is the new football coach at Illinois.

The school announced the hiring Friday and Beckman said he plans to build a program that can win championships.

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''We will work tirelessly in building the football program to compete for Big Ten and national championships, and be a source of pride for Fighting Illini fans across the nation,'' he said in a news release ahead of a news conference.

Athletic director Mike Thomas called Beckman a proven recruiter with high standards.

''He brings an impressive resume to Illinois and is highly regarded within the entire coaching community,'' Thomas said. ''Coach Beckman sold me on his vision for Illinois football throughout the interview process.''

Beckman will replace Ron Zook, who was fired last month after seven seasons. Illinois started the season 6-0, but carries a six-game losing streak into the Dec. 31 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA.

Beckman comes to Illinois after three seasons at Toledo, where he was 21-16 overall. The Rockets went 8-4 this season and will play in the Military Bowl against Air Force. Toledo offensive coordinator Matt Campbell will coach the Rockets against Air Force pending a national search for Beckman's replacement.

Rockets athletic director Mike O'Brien said Beckman's move to a Big Ten school didn't surprise him.

''It's a credit to Tim Beckman,'' he said, adding that Illinois asked to speak with Beckman a week ago. ''It's also a credit to the University of Toledo.''

Beckman was hired in Toledo in 2008, and he inherited a program in disarray.

The Rockets were coming off three straight losing seasons and the program was in the middle of a point-shaving investigation involving football and basketball games from 2003-2006. Three former football players pleaded guilty in the probe that involved providing inside information about the team and its opponents. One player admitted accepting $500 to fumble the ball in a 2005 bowl game.

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The Rockets were 5-7 in Beckman's first season but finished 8-5 in his second year and earned a trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

His Toledo teams have always been able to score; the Rockets averaged 42.3 points this season, best in the MAC and eighth nationally. They averaged better than 200 yards a game in both rushing and passing. They also played tough against bigger-name opponents, losing 27-22 this season to Ohio State, and defeating Purdue last season and Colorado in 2009.

But Toledo gave up big points under Beckman, too - 30.9 points a game this season. In back-to-back weeks in November, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan torched the Rockets for 63 points, though Toledo lost only one of those games.

Beckman is considered a strong recruiter, but has very little history recruiting in Illinois, Chicago-based recruiting expert Tom Lemming said.

''They're much more comfortable recruiting Ohio and Detroit,'' Lemming said of Beckmann and his staff at Toledo.

The 46-year-old Beckman came to Toledo form from Oklahoma State, where he spent two seasons as defensive coordinator.

Beckman got his start as a graduate assistant at Auburn before moving on to assistant coaching jobs at Western Carolina, Elon, Bowling Green - where he was Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator - and Ohio State. Beckman coached the Buckeyes' cornerbacks in 2005 and '06.

Thomas said when he fired Zook on Nov. 27 that he wanted to find a successor with head coaching experience. The Illini reportedly also pursued Butch Jones at Cincinnati, who Thomas hired when he was AD there, as well as Houston's Kevin Sumlin and Boise State's Chris Petersen.

Zook was fired the day after a 27-7 loss at Minnesota made the Illini the first FBS team to open the regular season with six straight wins, and close it with six losses in a row.

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Zook came to Illinois in 2005 from Florida and went 34-51, finishing with two winning seasons; a win at the Fight Hunger Bowl would give Illinois its third in seven years. He took Illinois to the 2008 Rose Bowl, a loss to USC that came during the Illini's first trip to Pasadena since the 1980s, and to last year's Texas Bowl, where Illinois defeated TCU.

But Zook also barely survived the 2009 season, a three-win campaign that led to the firing of most of his staff. Special teams, which he personally coached, were often bad during his years in Champaign. Recruiting had fallen off the past couple of seasons.The bottom line, as Thomas pointed out just after he fired Zook: The Illini won just under a third of their Big Ten games under Zook, and had a winning conference record over that period against only Indiana. Illinois paid Zook $2.6 million for the two years left on his contract.

Tagged: Illinois, Toledo, Ohio, Mike Thomas

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