Normally in my weekly blog entry I go around the campus with the different Illini sports that happen to be going on at that particular time.
This is not one of those times.
This entry is a special edition, based solely on the events surrounding Friday afternoon when everything in the football program took an unexpected turn with the sudden dismissal of head coach Tim Beckman.
I had gone out for a walk at lunchtime like I normally do, and when I came back in, I checked my email like always, but on this day, something grabbed my attention in my inbox. At first I thought it was a joke that someone was playing, but as soon as I saw who it was from and started reading the body of the email, I quickly realized that it was no joke and that this was really happening.
In the email press release, it stated that Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas had dismissed Beckman for what he called findings within the program that essentially led to Thomas making this decision. It was no secret that the athletic department had been under scrutiny for the past few months when it was alleged that coaches in the football, women's basketball and women's soccer programs had mistreated players either mentally, or not disclosed injuries or didn't treat players in a manner that was beneficial to their rehabilitation.
The first such claim came from former Illinois lineman Simon Cvijanovic, who claimed that Beckman forced him back from an injury earlier than expected, and that surgery that he received was not consistent with what he needed. At first, when these claims surfaced, people in the media thought it was just a case of a former player waging a battle against Beckman, and using social media as his platform. But, these recent findings gives the situation a bit more credence, and who knows where this will lead.
Beckman amassed a 12-25 record at Illinois in his three seasons at Illinois, but went just 4-20 in the Big Ten with one bowl appearance, the 2014 Zaxby's Heart Of Dallas Bowl. However, Thomas insisted on Friday that the removal of the coach had nothing to do with on-the-field activity, but instead based on the findings of the preliminary report. Thomas would not go into any further detail about it, either.
Thomas named offensive coordinator Bill Cubit interim head coach for the 2015 season, with a base salary of $515,000 and an increase of $100,000 each month until the end of the football season. Cubit has been a head coach before at Western Michigan, where he compiled a 51-47 record. Ironically, it was Cubit who Beckman defeated in his first game coached at Illinois, a 24-7 win on September 1, 2012.
Cubit is much more media friendly, and seems to know what he is doing, judging from the way the offense has looked over the past couple of seasons. But a rash of injuries to key players such as Mikey Dudek, Dre Brown, Justin Hardee and Reggie Corbin over the past few months has severely depleted the depth that Illinois expected to have as this season began.
The timing of Thomas' move was especially bad, given that the Illini begin play this coming Friday night against Kent State (8:00 pm, BTN), but Thomas stated that it was better to make the move now before the full report with the findings were publicly released.
With all of the scrutiny that the University has been experiencing lately, with the chancellor first resigning, then being basically dismissed, followed by the provost stepping down from his position as well, things do not appear to be on solid ground.
Many have suggested that Thomas be the next to be shown the door, but he has claimed that it will be his duty to hire the next football coach after the current season comes to a close. When Thomas as hired, he came in right away and fired Ron Zook, Bruce Weber and Jolette Law within a span of four months, and this hire would be his second, which many in Illini Nation do not want to see happen.
So, how did we get in this mess in the first place? Beckman has never been what you call "media savvy", and his constant missteps in front of the microphone have led to ridicule nationwide. His callout of media back in February about being more positive towards the program rubbed some the wrong way, but our job in the media is to report the facts as they are, not be a cheerleader for the coach or a staff.
So, enough about Beckman, he is no longer the coach, and it is time for Coach Cubit to lead this program, at least for the forseeable future. This year can go one of two ways: either the Illini rally around their new coach and return to a bowl game, or they will continue down the current path, which will ultimately lead to a new staff and a fresh start once again.
Whatever outcome plays out, one thing is clear, it will be an interesting journey.