CHAMPAIGN — Friendships will be put on hold for three hours Saturday when Illinois tries to dent Ohio State’s unbeaten football season.
“It’s one of those things, the uniqueness of college football,” Illini head coach Tim Beckman said this week. “Two friends who compete against each other.”
That’s the back story when Beckman faces his former boss, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer Saturday in Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes are 9-0 and even though they are not eligible to compete for the Big Ten Conference championship or in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions, the chance to finish 12-0 has become the rallying cry for Meyer’s first Ohio State team.
Beckman said once the game begins, friendships are forgotten as two competitive coaches worry about their own teams.
Both of these head coaches are Ohio natives.
Beckman is from Berea, Meyer from Ashtabula.
Meyer is a 1986 graduate of the University of Cincinnati. He played cornerback at Cincinnati and was a 13th round draft choice of the Atlanta Braves.
Beckman said he was close friends with Bill Davis, currently the linebackers coach for the Cleveland Browns, who was Meyer’s roommate at Cincinnati. “That’s where we first met,” Beckman said of Meyer, “and the relationship built.”
Each coach pursued a different path with Meyer starting as a graduate assistant for Earle Bruce at Ohio State. Beckman began as a graduate assistant at Auburn.
Meyer would eventually coach at seven different schools including Illinois State University, where he was outside linebackers coach in 1988 and quarterbacks/wide receivers coach in 1989.
Beckman was already at Bowling Green when Meyer arrived as head coach in 2001 and 2002 and Beckman served as the defensive coordinator.
But when Meyer was promoted to head coach at Utah, Beckman stayed behind, electing not to relocate his wife and family after his wife’s father died.
“That was a family decision we had to make,” Beckman said.
The job Beckman did end up leaving for was an assistant coaching job at Ohio State, where he coached cornerbacks in 2005 and 2006.
That’s the same time Meyer was digging in as head coach at Florida, where he’d win a pair of national championships.
So Beckman has coached in Ohio Stadium as an assistant coach with the Buckeyes and just last season he coached there as head coach at Toledo. And his Rockets’ football team nearly upended Ohio State, losing 27-22.
So Beckman isn’t awed by the prospect of playing in one of college football’s great shrines.
“Been there, done it,” he said this week. “I coached there a couple of times as an assistant and as a head coach. It’s a great environment, no question about it.”
Beckman said that although they are friends, they speak less now that they’re both coaching in the Big Ten.
“I talked to him quite a bit last year when he was (an analyst) on TV,” Beckman. “But less now that we’re in the same conference.”
Meyer offered a friendly endorsement at a time when Beckman is struggling to gain traction in his first season as Illinois’ head coach.
“I love Tim,” Meyer said. “Tim was on our staff. He’s a great coach, great person. I like his dad even more than I like him. I call him the real coach Beckman, but it’s good to go.”
Meyer said he had yet to study game tapes and declined to characterize the job Beckman is doing through a 2-6 start.
“I have great respect for Tim, and there is no doubt he’ll get that thing turned,” Meyer said.