Before I get into my beef with Larry Fedora’s latest coaching staff decision, I must admit one thing: He doesn’t give a damn about what I or anyone else in the media has to say about the way he runs his football program. Regardless of whether Fedora gives a hoot or not, his decision to bring in ex-Illinois head football coach Tim Beckham as a volunteer defensive assistant shows that he is completely out of touch with the realities of player safety in this era of football.
Beckman served as the head coach at Illinois from 2012 to 2015, until he was unceremoniously removed from his position by Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, seven days prior to the Illini’s season opener last season. Beckman’s ouster, albeit untimely, was more than warranted after an external review found Beckman guilty of influencing medical decisions and pressuring players to play hurt. In a statement from August 28th Thomas said:
The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of out student-athletes, and I’ve chose to act accordingly. During the review we asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program.
Beckman immediately came out against the findings, labeling the accusations against him “utterly false:”
I firmly deny the implication’s in Mike’s (Thomas) statements that I took any action that was not in the best interests of the health, safety, and well-being of my players.
He would file a wrongful termination suit, eventually settling for $250,000 with the university.
Settlement aside, one person who would disagree with Beckman’s dissent over his removal played a key role in the investigation on Beckman’s mistreatment of players. Former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic spoke out about his ex-coach’s treatment of, not only him, but several other teammates over the course of his tenure at Illinois.
You may have become familiar with this story if you watch HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Cvijanovic was a part of an exposé on the conflict of interest between college coaches and team doctors/trainers conducted in January. Cvijanovic became a subject of the report in the spring of 2015 when he in essence “blew up” Beckman’s spot with a series of tweets.
I stopped playing football because of my physical health. I was asked to push myself past pain until I didn't want to play anymore. #truth— Simon Cvijanović (@IlliniSi) May 10, 2015
I'm not gonna just keep quiet while players suffer— Simon Cvijanović (@IlliniSi) May 10, 2015
I'm not the only horror story of abuse and misuse of power by @coachbeckman— Simon Cvijanović (@IlliniSi) May 10, 2015
during the interview with HBO, Cvijanovic spoke candidly about being forced to push his body past its physical limits by Beckman even after a doctor suggested that his injury was too severe to return to the playing field. In the event that he refused to play, he would be labeled a quitter and face further scrutiny from Beckman.
Cvijanovic opened up about once dreaming of playing in the NFL only to have those dreams crushed. He struggled through depression as he saw himself fall out of love with the game. Injuries took their tole on his body as he faced mistreatment from the one person who he thought would have his best interest at heart.
If Cvijanovic’s story alone isn’t enough, one of the most damning tweets from his rant, suggested that Beckman fired a trainer for not cooperating with his “standards” of player availability.
Toby Harkins worked for months as our head trainer and was not a licensed medical professional in the state of Illinois. He was fired.— Simon Cvijanović (@IlliniSi) May 10, 2015
This is the guy that Larry Fedora is allowing on his staff. It would be funny only if it weren’t.
Fedora firmly backed his decision to bring Beckman on stating,
Based on what you’ve read? Yeah, OK, well—-I don’t believe everything I read, all right. I know Tim, I know his side of the story, also, so I was comfortable with it. If I wouldn’t have been, obviously I wouldn’t have brought him. I wouldn’t have allowed him to be in our program. But I was very comfortable with it. I don’t have any issues with it at all.
Clearly, Fedora wants to help out an old friend. He also seems to have “vetted” the situation outside of all of the reports that were released to the public last August. Now, I get that in the coaching profession one makes friends along the way. Fedora and Beckman happened to do that in 2007 when they both served on Mike Gundy’s staff at Oklahoma State. Friendship aside how can you justify allowing Beckman on your staff?
One of Fedora’s arguments suggested that a large part of Beckman’s firing was due to “the guy didn’t win enough games.” Beckman went 12-25 overall and 4-20 in the Big Ten while at Illinois, certainly not a record to praise. The flaw in Fedora’s argument lies, however, in the fact that Illinois kept Beckman on throughout the summer and fired him a week prior to the season. Last time I checked, coaches don’t survive an entire offseason only to be fired a week out from the start of a season unless they’ve done something unethical that warranted an immediate termination. That is the case with Beckman.
For example, Mike Leach, currently head coach of Washington State, formerly of Texas Tech, was booted from the Red Raiders program after the university got wind of his mistreatment of Adam James, son of former SMU Pony Express member and former ESPN analyst Craig James. The younger James reported that after being diagnosed with a concussion, he was eventually forced to practice before his injury had properly healed.
Leach denied the accusations, but later released an apology just prior to his indefinite suspension from the university. In time, Leach filed a suit against Texas Tech, but lost on both his initial suit and appeal. He was 84-43 in his time in Lubbock, but at the end of the day, not even his record could save him.
Former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was another coach who came under fire for player mistreatment. In 2013, a video surfaced of him repeatedly verbally and physically abusing his players during practice by punching them and using homophobic slurs toward them. Rice was fired for his misconduct soon thereafter. Doug Wojcik of College of Charleston was removed from his basketball head coaching position after reports of the same nature were reported.
It is very clear that this type of behavior is not tolerated by university athletics departments. Fedora, for some reason, just doesn’t understand, or even seem to care about, the severity of this issue across college sports. He very pointedly showed that on Wednesday afternoon when he tried to deflect the negative press:
I can. And I know it’s going to happen, and then a couple of days from now it won’t be news. I mean, I promise you, I didn’t see anywhere where the NCAA said that he should be banished from the game of football. You know?
Any athlete will tell you of a coach that has used profanity more liberally than others. I’ll admit that I had a few. If Beckman been fired for cursing his players out then maybe I’d be more understanding. The issue that remains with me is that I never had a coach that forced me to play while injured. I never had a coach that led me on the path to depression. Beckman represents both of these disgusting traits.
I don’t want anyone who isn’t even a year removed from being found guilty of such behavior around my football program. If Fedora wants him to breakdown film and scout opponents, then whatever, but where I draw the line is having him interact with students-athletes on the field as a coach.
Given the climate that we live in as far as player safety pertains in football, why would you take this risk? Bruce Arians’ dubbed “War on Football” is still going on. People know what playing football can do to the human body and brain. North Carolina is still in the middle of an NCAA investigation, which might not have anything to do with this type of behavior, but still draws negative attention to the school’s athletics department.
Fedora didn’t stop there:
"I'm the one that sets the expectations on our culture and how our student-athletes are treated. I'm at the top, I set it for everybody.”
How does Fedora introducing Beckman to this program agree with that principle? How does he answer players who question why he would bring on a coach with his background? What happens if Beckman rubs a player the wrong way? What message does this send about his own personal conduct towards student-athletes?
I’m a believer in second chances, but this is not the right program or time for Beckman to receive his. Distractions is one of those college football buzzwords that is constantly discussed. I have a hard time finding any other way to label this new media storm that has hit the Carolina football program.
The season starts in nine days, now is not the time to bring on a new coach with this kind of background. If Fedora wanted to introduce Beckman to his staff it should have been back in June when players were back home so that he could assimilate to the culture of Chapel HIll. Weeks prior to an ACC Coastal title defense and a marquee matchup against Georgia in Atlanta is not what I would call the ideal time.
Fedora is a great friend, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he is completely out of touch with the state of student-athlete health and safety. For his sake, I hope this doesn’t backfire or else he’ll need another half-assed excuse to tell us why he brought Beckman on in the first place.
Tim Beckman will no longer serve as a volunteer assistant on Carolina’s defensive staff. In a statement from Beckman:
I appreciate the opportunity Coach Fedora gave me to stay connected to the sport and be around one of the best staffs in the country. His willingness to help a friend was a benefit both personally and professionally. I do not wish to be a further distraction to the team or University and I will no longer serve as a volunteer at UNC. I wish Larry and the program nothing but success going forward.
Larry Fedora who was unabashedly behind Beckman yesterday commented on the departure stating:
Tim will no longer serve as a volunteer with our program. I brought Tim here to help a friend gain experience from our staff, but after meeting with him today, we agreed his presence had become too much of a distraction.
Bubba Cunningham also offered his take on the situation:
We made the decision today to part ways with Tim Beckman and thank him for his contributions in the short time he volunteered with our football program. Coach Fedora's interest was in helping a coaching colleague get back on his feet. We will learn from this and continue preparing for the season.
After Fedora made it known that he didn’t care about the media scrutiny, it seemed that the situation would eventually blow over. One person who didn’t feel that way was UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, who appears to have made the decision behind the removal of Beckman from the Carolina coaching staff. Folt stating today:
When I first learned yesterday that Coach Larry Fedora had invited former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman to serve as a volunteer with the football program, I was surprised and disappointed. The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw from his volunteer position was the right thing to do, and moving forward I don’t expect this situation to recur. I continue to put a great deal of trust in Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham and Coach Fedora to educate and develop our student-athletes and to ensure we meet the high standards we all expect at Carolina.
In the end, the negative attention directed to the football program was enough to send Beckman and his checkered background out of Chapel Hill. I still question why Fedora would want to attract this kind of negative attention. I also wonder why he chose to dance around with his comments regarding Beckman’s background rather than facing it head on.
The short lived drama is now over and a part of me feels bad for Beckman missing out on this opportunity. Then again, coaching student-athletes is a privilege and he lost that privilege with his conduct back at Illinois. Now, lets all move on and hope for better judgment from Fedora in the future.