CHAMPAIGN — I’ve known a few surly, unlikable coaches who made everyone want to stand at a safe distance.

They were rude and uncaring. Their personalities were abrasive and arrogant.

But Illini head football coach Tim Beckman is not one of those coaches.

While directing Illinois to a 2-6 start in his first season as coach, Beckman has had his issues. We’ll get to them in a minute.

But in his interaction with the public and media, he’s a decent enough guy who smiles and generally says harmless, polite things.

That said, the public outcry at Beckman’s coaching start has been spiked with a venom that is normally reserved people who do mean things to children, puppies or both.

I’m not defending the guy because his football team has been dreadful and it’s quite possible he won’t be able to coach his way out of this mess that seems to have trapped him. But some of the hostility and vitriol strikes me as over the top.

In truth, though, I think I understand it.

It’s not that 2-6 record.

Heck, his predecessor, Ron Zook, started out 4-20 and things looked plenty grim in his early going.

Before that, Ron Turner lost his first 12 games and there was grumbling about him, too.

So Illini football fans are not unaccustomed to rocky coaching starts.

But with Beckman, it’s a combination of factors that have conspired to make Illini football fans feel victimized by the single-worst word in the sports vocabulary: Hopelessness.

Beckman took over a team that won consecutive bowl games. There appeared to be enough talent to fight it out near the .500 mark again, especially with key members of a very good defense still in place.

But that defense splintered at Arizona State on Sept. 8 and has never been the same. The offense has never found an identity and, perhaps most remarkable of all, the worst special teams in America continue to be an embarrassment.

Simply put, there’s not a single thing an Illini football fan can point to and say, “We do that really well.”

Beckman arrived from the Mid-American Conference (not a big plus with Illini fans) with a kind of Opie Taylor innocence. He quickly talked about having position groups to his home on Thursday nights for lasagna dinners and he began rewarding and punishing his players with varying levels of cuisine — steaks and cakes for winners, beans and weenies for losers.

There are all kinds of military logos slapped on the walls of the team meeting room, and slogans and gimmicks rule the day.

Early on, a fellow scribe nicknamed him, “High School Harry,” because some of these motivational methods seemed more suited for children than young men.

We’ve heard stories about bickering assistant coaches and on Monday, defensive tackle Akeem Spence described team morale as, “OK. It’s not great. Guys are not happy with the way things are going, but they are still willing to come in and work and study film.”

That stuff doesn’t bother me. There are screaming matches within some of the best coaching staffs in America. The high-tension turmoil among some of Mike White’s Illini assistants is legendary.

And when players have lost 12 of the last 15 games, I wouldn’t expect morale to be sky high. Players are frustrated, too.

The sideline tobacco incident only served to further embarrass the university and it did nothing to help Beckman’s image as a strong leader.

Instead, it made him look like an extra on Duck Dynasty.

The hostility has spilled beyond Beckman. Angry fans want AD Mike Thomas to be held accountable, too. And there are plenty of irate voices asking for both of their jobs.

Thomas, speaking on a Champaign radio show Saturday, said only 10 percent of Illini fans were expressing this level of negative reaction.

It’s more than that, Mike. It’s worse than that.

I expect Beckman to be back for a second season as he tries to build the team through recruiting. But I also expect there to be changes on that coaching staff and I won’t be surprised it includes at least one coordinator. It’s just not working.

In the meantime, he’d do well to win one or two of these remaining football games. Or at least show a competitiveness that’s been missing.

Illini fans have put up with losing before, but the accumulative effect has become old. Fans are fed up and believed Thomas would make the hire to end this sad cycle.

And now those fans are at the worst place of all, the feeling that the losing will never end.

If there are better times ahead, fans can’t see them. They can’t feel them. And a number of those fans are tired of waiting for them.

Tim Beckman’s most recent motto is “Own the Day.”

I suggest he work urgently on this one: “End the Hopelessness.”

That’s what has created a vicious hostility that has the entire program on edge.

Executive Sports Editor of the Herald & Review

(9) comments

frankie21EDB
frankie21EDB

I concur with what Mark is saying. Illini fans are looking for hope and expect to see progress. we can understand early problems but we would expect to see some of them ironed out by now--it's not happening. Little things like penalties turn into losses. Special team play has shown NO improvement. Why? Over the past few years has special team play been so bad? The offense shows few signs of life although the rushing yards against Indiana showed some improvement--but it was Indiana with NO defense. The passing routes look ill-conceived and all defensive backs can play uptight to receivers and stop passing plays of two or three yards--no room to run with defensive backs sitting on them. QB seems lost and continually turned into the pass rush rather than away from it The offense needs to be fixed NOW and the special teams needs to be fixed NOW. Improvement on offense will allow the defense to improve.

Illiniorange
Illiniorange

MT whiffed, in public, on "name" coaches after throwing tons of money at them. Speculation is MT has a bad reputation and people don't want to work for him. Regardless, Beckman was not the first, second, or third choice. Most people didn't even know who he was when announced. I know I had to look him up. So he comes with no fanfare, and no record so to speak of, yet MT TRIPLES his salary. So its no wonder he's had to impress to prove to everyone he belongs. And I'd be happy and smiling too if I'd hit the coaching lottery and had my salary tripled. But so far he's failed: 1. Not keeping team/fan favorite VK on staff. 2. The bush-league PSU thing. 3. The bush-league tobacco thing. But most importantly, 4. The record. I'd say he could have been a candidate for DC or OC, but NOT Head Coach.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

I think we overestimate the number of people who actually care about Illinois football, but there is more than 10% of the fans that believe that Beckman was not a good choice.

Tate make a good observation yesterday, on two Illini football coaches in 50 years have had a winning record. The lack of tradition is one reason we end up with coachs like Beckman. But as Tate pointed out, Ron Turner, had a strong pedigre but could not turn around the program.

Frien of mine who has Minnesota season tickets says "we just have to content to be "bottom feedrers."

Beckman, unlike Gross is in over his head. Personally, I think he need to find a premium downfield passer, pretty clear the running-no pass quarterback has been a dimal failure

How bad is it when people turn off the game in the second quarter? Bad news - the Ohio State game is going to be on national TV, that should help recruiting crk

Hlems
Hlems

Beckman is way over his head. The team is poorly prepared. Homecoming Was a complete disaster most pathetic in history. Thomas gets all the credit for this. If you think this is bad wait until Zooks recruits are gone and Beckmans division 2 & 3 recruits arrive.

Bosco
Bosco

While the Beckman hire appears at this junction to be poor, people have to look at the "venom" and understand where it's coming from. You have a subset of the Illinois fan base that, albeit small, is very vocal. This subset is comprised of the fans who are still mad over the removal of Guenther and Bruce Weber. For years, this group of fans defended the mediocrity put forth but these men. Now, a complete 180, they have taken up their pitchforks and torches and are demanding instant results and major accountability where before these were an afterthought.

It's sad really. I don't understand the IL fan base. We should all be rooting for success of the programs, not for specific individuals.

There are some fans that don't fall into this that are upset with the Beckman hire and that is understandable. But those that are screaming for Thomas to be fired are just way, way off base. Firing Thomas at this point is laughable, and it won't bring back their fallen heroes.

Marlin in Ann Arbor
Marlin in Ann Arbor

Firing Thomas is NOT way off base, Bosco. He was all too quick fire Zook without having a replacement in the wings; it was obvious Beckman was not his first choice and now we are paying for that lack of foresight. The University is embarassed, the football program is, quite possibly, in a hole that cannot be solved in the next 10-15 years, and frankly, I had hoped we might again be competitive during my lifetime. Now, I'm not so sure. I'm not ready to bring back Guenther, and I will wait until after the basketball season is over before rendering final judgement on Thomas, However, time and patience are wearing thin.

VA JACK
VA JACK

There are sgns that point to the AD's choice of the rebuilding of the FB program.Its a highway litered of doing dumb things oh players and the coaching .They are strange to see even though its a first year with two back to back bowl games behind the team.I want to wait three years to pass judgement,but viewing really bone-headed mistakes is making it difficult Was the program really in dire straights?Somewhat,but it was not bottomed out.Hope and Change is hard to see.After the OSU the decay,the more signs pointing to just another year of waiting for Hope and Change.Just maybe, the Meyers friendship will have a mercy effect,I think not. OSU 44 Illini 3 Please stay away from the dumb things or OSU 70 plus points.

crkcrk2
crkcrk2

I am not sure I agree with Bosco's position, at least not in my case. I supported Weber longer than most, until it was clear that the basketball program was not longer making progress My 'venom" is not the result of the Weber/Gunther firings, but rather because of the facts- the caliber of play and coaching is pathetic. It's like Weber coached basketball team scoring less than 40 points. But it is not happening once a season, it is happening every week. As IlliniOrange reminds us these boys are getting paid over $5000 a day. Granted, Zook did not leave much in the pipeline, but one does begin to wonder whether Beckman was ready to coach at this level. Bracelets with the date of the Big Ten Championship games seems to indicate either 1) he misjudged the caliber of play in the Big 10; 2) misjudged the caliber of his own team; or 3) has failed to coach the team to its potential. Personally, I will without judgement until we see what his first recruiting class brings, but I can see the fan base shrinking rapidly it the rhetoric suggests a 3 to 5 year rebuilding program. crk

Mikeydamouth
Mikeydamouth

Apologize for getting off the subject. Meyers Leonard played 23 minutes in his NBA debut. Was it because the starting center got into foul trouble? Or is Meyers good enough to play that much and eventually be the starting center? I had a hard time finding out. Anyway, glad he got his feet wet and against the Lakers at that. Must have been a thrill for him and I wish him well.

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