Illinois football coach Beckman fired; ‘firmly denies’ accusations

Illinois has fired head football coach Tim Beckman.

A source had told FOX Sports of the news Friday before the school’s official announcement.

Word is Beckman was informed of his firing late Friday morning.

The 50-year-old coach was 12-25 in three seasons and was fired a week before the season opener.

His teams were 4-20 in Big Ten play since he arrived from Toledo after the 2011 season. He also had been dealing with allegations of player mistreatment. An ongoing independent investigation found he tried to influence medical decisions and pressure players to play with injuries.

Beckman’s firing follows the unexpected resignations this month of the top two officials on campus, revelations that they’d used private emails accounts to avoid public scrutiny of school business, and a pair of lawsuits in which former women’s basketball and women’s soccer players claim they were mistreated by coaches.

In his press conference Friday afternoon, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, a defendant named in those lawsuits, said he was “shocked and angry” after he learned of the initial findings of the investigation for the first time earlier this week, which prompted his decision to can Beckman.

“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,” the embattled AD said. “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.” 

In a statement to FOX Sports, Beckman said he was "shocked and extremely disappointed" by the decision Thomas and the University of Illinois made Friday. 

"First and foremost, I firmly deny the implications in Mike’s statements that I took any action that was not in the best interests of the health, safety and well-being of my players," Beckman said. "The health and well-being of our student athletes is of paramount importance to me, and any statement made to the contrary is utterly false. Additionally, in connection with scholarships for student-athletes, I have complied with the policies and regulations of both the University and the NCAA and I have fully supported the University’s compliance office.  Moreover, all of the actions that I took regarding individual scholarships were in lockstep with the University’s appointed personnel and the directions and approvals I received from University officials. 

"I fully cooperated with the University’s investigation, having sat down for two lengthy interviews and turning over all documentation requested of me. The fact that the University did not even complete its investigation in this matter is evidence that this entire process was nothing more than a rush to judgement and confirms the University’s abject bad faith. Furthermore, the University’s actions today are in violation of the procedures mandated under my employment agreement. As such, I will vigorously defend both my reputation and my legal rights.

"I’m very proud of my career at the University of Illinois. Off-field incidents involving my players have been essentially non-existent while academic performance and graduation rates have been extraordinary. The love and support I have received today from my players means everything to me."

Beckman will not receive $3.1 million remaining on the final two years of his original five-year contract, or the $743,000 buyout it includes.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has been named the interim head coach for the 2015 season. The Illini open at home against Kent State Sept. 4.

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The allegations against Beckman first surfaced on May 10, Mother’s Day, when former starting lineman Simon Cvijanovic claimed in a long series of messages on Twitter that the head coach and his staff had tried to shame him into playing hurt, and had misled him about medical procedures following a knee injury.

"All I can say right now is I think it’s a step in the right direction," Cvijanovic told the AP by phone. "It seems like there’s more than just Beckman that needs to be held accountable."

The university hired the Chicago law firm Franczek Radelet to investigate the allegations.

The university said Friday that the investigation found evidence of "efforts to deter injury reporting," as well as attempts to influence medical decisions "that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing." The investigation also found instances in which some players were "treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship" in the spring semester of their senior year.

Thomas declined to discuss specifics or say how many players were involved in either of those findings. So far, he said, no other coaches have been implicated, but he added he doesn’t know how much longer the investigation will last.

Thomas said the law firm had so far interviewed more than 90 people and reviewed 200,000 documents, along with a large volume of practice and game video from Beckman’s three-plus years in Champaign.

The athletic director said he had never seen or heard anything that indicated Beckman was treating players poorly.

Beckman was Thomas’ first major hire after he came to Illinois from Cincinnati in 2011.

Beckman replaced Ron Zook, whom Thomas fired after the 2011 season.

A number of former and present players have supported Beckman.

"Coach Beck gave myself and a lot of guys a shot when a lot of other people didn’t," senior linebacker Mason Monheim said Friday, adding that players learned Beckman had been fired during a meeting with Thomas.

Beyond just wins and losses, though, Beckman had several public missteps.

He was criticized for aggressively trying to recruit Penn State players after sanctions came down on the Nittany Lions for the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Later, he was spotted by television cameras during one game using smokeless tobacco on the sideline, a violation of NCAA rules.

And under Beckman, Illinois’ attendance has continued a slide. Last year Illinois drew 41,549 a game.

Beckman is not the first coach to be fired for player mistreatment. Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice after video became public of him screaming obscenities, pushing players and throwing basketballs at them. Texas Tech fired Mike Leach in 2009 amid accusations he mistreated a player suffering a concussion. Leach later sued.

Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. He is also a New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks, came out in October, 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.