EVANSTON — Tim Beckman’s maiden voyage leading the University of Illinois football program crashed near the shores of Lake Michigan on Saturday.
Just when we thought we’d seen it all from Beckman (remember Skoalgate?), he managed to get himself some new YouTube video exposure when he was penalized for getting in an official’s way on the sideline. Yep, that’s Beckman on the far right side of the screen, toppling to the turf in a way too few Northwestern ball-carriers did Saturday.
And just in case you missed it, Beckman was penalized twice for it on Saturday.
On a brisk afternoon when Northwestern’s defense seemed determined to miss tackles and give the Illini a chance, Beckman’s brood just couldn’t accept all that good fortune.
Illinois seemed intent to work its way through the unabridged book of penalties, getting one for “illegal numbering,” two for sideline interference and a handful of garden variety infractions like hands to the face, holding and false starts.
Just to make it messier, the Illini threw in four turnovers.
That made it easy for the Wildcats to celebrate their very nice 9-3 season and wait for a fancy, hand-engraved bowl invitation.
Illinois, meanwhile, will presumably stick to Beckman’s promise to feed the team steak when it wins and porridge when it loses.
This team has sucked down a lot of porridge this season. Maybe we’ll learn that malnutrition contributed to the nine-game losing streak that ended Beckman’s first year on the job.
By all accounts, the season was a colossal failure. And with attendance declining and fans grumbling, Beckman now faces his biggest challenge.
He has to become some kind of Harry Houdini, because more impressive than escaping from underwater handcuffs would be Beckman’s ability to rescue the football program from what seems to be a hole getting deeper by the day.
If Director of Athletics Mike Thomas has deep doubts about this most important hire, he’s not sharing those with the rest of us.
Instead, his confidants say he’s preaching patience, that the rebuilding process is difficult and will take time.
We agree it’s difficult.
We agree it will take time.
We may not, however, agree that Beckman is the man for the job.
We could also be wrong, and I’m prepared to eat crow by the shovel-full if Beckman has the Illini program up and running strong within the next two seasons.
I continue to believe multiple staff changes are coming. And we need to monitor what junior linebacker Jonathan Brown decides regarding an early entry into the NFL draft.
But the schedule in 2013 is more difficult, a defense that was hugely disappointing loses its best players (Michael Buchanan, Terry Hawthorne, Glenn Foster, Justin Green and, presumably, Akeem Spence).
Beckman, who sounded as though he was on an emotional edge after the Northwestern game, said with no bowl practices to plan, December will be a month for keen evaluation.
“Every one of our coaches and coordinators will get evaluated,” Beckman said. “We will evaluate our training staff, training room, everything that we have to see if there are things we can do better.
“You’re building the program and you have to make it the best you can. There are always things that need to be enhanced.”
I’d like to sit in on the evaluation Thomas does with Beckman.
I’m not trying to beat the guy up, but the evaluation should be pretty harsh when the offense, defense and special teams have all underperformed, when the football incompetence has turned off many fans and public relations snafus have turned off many of the rest.
Much needs to change, and Thomas should be thankful John Groce has taken off a little of the heat by getting the basketball team off to a rollicking start.
But this football mess isn’t going away.
Maybe there is not a coach in America who can properly fix a program that seems to have fishtailed into a ditch.
After one full season, it’s hard to look at Tim Beckman and see him as that guy.