CHAMPAIGN, Il. — The University of Illinois has fired its head football coach after allegations that he mistreated players who were injured and threatened to take away their scholarships against school policy.
Tim Beckman had been accused by several players, of physical abuse, bullying over injuries and verbal threats.
Athletics Director Mike Thomas on Friday afternoon made the announcement about Beckman, saying he had reviewed the preliminary results of an external investigation and found the findings “unsettling.”
It’s one week before the start of the Illini football season. Beckman will lose $3.1 million remaining in the last two years of his five-year contract.
The final report will likely not be issued until later this fall, Thomas said. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit was named interim head coach.
“The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly,” Thomas said in a press release. “During the review, we have 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.”
CNN’s attempts to reach Beckman for comment were not immediately successful.
In a statement first reported Friday evening by the Associated Press, Beckman said he was the victim of a rush to judgment and would defend his legal rights.
“I firmly deny the implications in Mike’s statements that I took any action that was not in the best interests of the health, safety and well-being of my players,” Beckman said. He said he had the support of players on the team.
Thomas told CNN earlier this year that the health and safety of the players was the university’s top priority, but the school had also defended the coach, saying it had reviewed practice tape and medical records of the athletes who were complaining, and told CNN the allegations did not match the facts.
Now the school is changing course.
The press release says Thomas learned of “efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries.”
It says, “in some instances student-athletes were treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship during the spring semester of their senior year if they weren’t on the team.”
The myriad of allegations against Beckman began with former player, Simon Cvijanovic, who took to Twitter in May to say that he’d been pressured to go back on the field too soon after knee surgery and to play through a shoulder injury.
Instead, he quit the team, started the hashtag #BanBeckman and inspired several more teammates to speak up, including former player Nick North, who told CNN that he, too, was pushed back into practice after hurting a knee ligament and would limp down the field while being yelled at.
From there, Cvijanovic’s brother Peter told CNN he was bullied by coaches over his Type 1 diabetes.
Simon Cvijanovic said that Friday’s news is “definitely a step in the right direction and that following the findings of the university, I am calling a meeting of the University of Illinois, the Big Ten, and the NCAA to discuss how to move forward. Clearly, the current system of medical reporting and student athlete representation needs to be addressed.”
Another former player, Kenny Knight, previously told CNN that Beckman grabbed and tackled him from behind, throwing him to the ground during a practice. Several witnesses recounted that it was the second time they’d seen Beckman get physical with a player.
Friday’s statement did not list any players by name. Previously, the university said it could not discuss allegations in detail because of privacy laws.
The football team is not the only team causing controversy for the Illinois athletic program.
Earlier this month, the school released a 226-page report rejecting allegations of racism on the women’s basketball team after several former players and their parents alleged bullying and emotional abuse.
Eight former players detailed to CNN several examples of race-related comments.
The report acknowledged that former coach Mike Divilbiss refered to good plays by the African-American members of the team as “ghetto moves.”
But the report released by the university found “broad evidence of harsh language, but no intentional physical or emotional abuse or a pattern of mistreatment. Language, tone, and volume of criticism were not disproportionately directed at African-American players.”
Seven of those former players are now suing the university. Women’s basketball head coach Matt Bollant remains the coach.