Tim Beckman, seen here last week at Wisconsin, is in his first year as Illinois head coach after spending the the previous three at Toledo.
The stress, Tim Beckman said, got to him. Never mind that the Illinois football team was going to lose its third game in a row.
Video footage of the former Toledo football coach putting a pinch of chewing tobacco in his lower lip during Illinois’ 31-14 loss at Wisconsin went viral by the end of last Saturday afternoon, causing Illinois to self-report a secondary violation to the NCAA.
“It’s a bad habit, and one that will definitely be corrected,” said Beckman, who apologized for the gaffe, as the NCAA bans the use of tobacco products by coaches and players during practices and competitions.
Six weeks into the season, it was another ding in the armor for Beckman and for the Illini, who face Michigan at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Hired in December after coaching for three seasons at Toledo, Beckman has already become a bit of an embattled figure in his 10-month tenure at Illinois. His team is in search of its first win since Sept. 15 and while some have already designated Illinois’ season as a lost cause, Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday that while there was disappointment so far among the Illinois football fan base, he had confidence that Beckman would “do great things here.
“He inherited a situation at Toledo where they had issues,” Thomas said. “He came in, and, in short order, cleaned up the program. We have the same expectations for him here. We’d all like to flip a switch, and it would look different tomorrow. But that’s not generally the case here or at other places.”
Yet at Illinois, It hasn’t been an easy row to hoe for Beckman, who took over a program that hasn’t had a winning Big Ten record since 2007, despite being bowl eligible last season with a record of 7-6 and 2-6 in the conference.
In July, two days after the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against Penn State and its football program in the wake of a sex scandal surrounding former football assistant Jerry Sandusky, Illinois’ coaching staff traveled to central Pennsylvania in an attempt to recruit Penn State’s players and recruits from Happy Valley to Champaign, Ill. That instance, Beckman said in July, was exaggerated. His staff wasn’t at Penn State, he said - they were in the vicinity of campus.
Given the fact that the NCAA allowed players to transfer out of Penn State without being penalized, Illinois was one of a handful of schools that expressed an interest in contacting Penn State’s players and recruits. Only one came to Illinois, offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki, a redshirt freshman who has yet to play in a game.
Beckman acknowledged the difficulties that have come with the transition from coaching in the MAC to coaching in the Big Ten. The Illini are last in scoring offense and defense in the Big Ten and in addition to lopsided losses to Louisiana Tech and Penn State, the Illini couldn’t capitalize on a 7-7 tie with the Badgers after halftime last weekend.
“We let the fourth quarter slip on us and didn’t respond to some of the negative plays and plays that affected us, and next thing you know, the game slipped out of our hands,” Beckman said Tuesday.
Still, Beckman said he’s sticking to a plan he brought to Illinois, one that includes things he’s learned from other coaches at other schools he’s worked at, and one, he says, that not only he believes in but one he’s seen work.
“Are there road bumps in it?” Beckman asked. “There are right now, because we’ve lost three straight football games. But we’re going to continue to do what we believe in, what this coaching staff believes in and what these players believe in. No, we’re not playing up to what we’d like to, but everything we’re doing off the field is very positive.”
But, Beckman added, “that hasn’t won us a football game yet in the last three weeks, but our players are doing what they’re asked to do. Now, we’ve got to just be able to finish off football games.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.