As a proud University of Illinois alum, my interest in the goings-on of the Fighting Illini football program runs extremely high and, often, I’m sure, makes no sense to many of the people I connect with in any fashion. Living on the East Coast and amid a pro sports-centric society that is to be expected.
Still, the latest out of Champaign, Ill., should signal a red flag to anyone interested in athletic competition, especially that which occurs on the gridiron in governed fashion.
By dismissing Tim Beckman as head coach, Illinois AD Mike Thomas has further solidified a growing trend in the sports world: The inmates run the asylum.
The issue is … is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Natural instinct, or impulse, would jump to the latter. After all, that’s the whole intent of the suggested words as we’ve been taught. But, really, the argument could be made that, well, who knows the asylum better than the inmates? The answer: No one.
Essentially, governing themselves is what administrators are suggesting is best with actions such as the one Thomas made Friday.
The problem here is regarding a common goal. What is it? To win, to succeed, to evolve as human beings? I’d wager that for the most altruistic among us, or those seeking some sort of PC validation, the answer to all would be yes.
If so, can the inmates in the asylum put aside their own personal agendas, their own personal wants – not needs – and make the common goals an utmost priority in a team setup?
Not for nothing, but all that I’ve heard out of Illinois runs along the lines of “woe is me, look at me” rhetoric, mixed in with distaste for Beckman’s Forrest Gump-level awkwardness, than any hard evidence of a coach doing his players wrong. For every complaint about mistreatment, three tales of fatherly, caring love would be submitted about the man.
He pushed players to play through pain, he tackled one player to curtail a fight with another and he yanked on a player’s facemask when that player shirked orders by not strapping on his helmet … these – not his 12-25 record – were his sins?
Umm, really? Sounds pretty, well, normal.
Anybody else get the impression that the same, exact treatment given to two separate Illini players during Beckman’s three years at the helm would be viewed completely different ways?
As the trigger man for Beckman’s departure, former Illini offensive lineman/whistle-blower Simon Cvijanovic may be prophetic in stating that this could be a turning point for college athletics, that it could trigger a much-needed self-analysis by the NCAA, universities and their athletic departments in order to unearth a better way to treat student-athletes.
The end result, though, may be to no one’s liking – including those same youths that Cvijanovic believes he is representing.
Make no mistake, I was no Beckman fan. He seemed to be overmatched in many ways, mostly when it came time to use his mouth to express any thoughts. He went 21-16 at a MAC school (Toledo) and, in my opinion, he had no business getting the gig at a Big Ten school off that. But I didn’t dislike him, and he did stabilize a program that seemed to be careening out of control before he arrived and he dramatically improved the football team’s academic achievements to levels they’d never reached previously. His statement, as posted on The Champaign Room, in response to his firing, frankly, is brilliant – whether he had any part in crafting it or not.
Ironically, he brought in his replacement, Bill Cubit, just a year into his reign. Following Cubit’s ouster as head coach at Western Michigan, Beckman saw an opportunity to spark the Illini offense and hired him. For me, that hire signaled Beckman’s leaving long before Cvijanovic’s tweets appeared.
Cubit looks the part. Older, taller, commanding presence, authoritative and confident voice, he makes Beckman look like his stocky, dorky, dim-witted nephew. But how different is he? If you get past the superficial stuff and break down his words, they sound just like Beckman’s. If you get past the stat sheet and watch a game, you’ll see him make the same kind of “afraid of change” stubbornness that plagues most coaches.
Will he do anything different than Beckman in how he treats players? Or will it just be viewed different?
What happens when he yells one thing to a player, then turns around and yells the exact same thing to another in the exact same way … and one of those players cries foul?
Will Thomas dismiss Cubit then? Maybe, if he hasn’t been done in by empowering the inmates himself – you know, as long as the preliminary findings from an external investigation came in at least.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org