CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – A week before the start of the football season, a difficult summer for the University of Illinois became chaotic as coach Tim Beckman was fired after an investigation found he tried to influence medical decisions and pressure players to play with injuries.
Beckman's firing follows the unexpected resignations this month of the top two officials on campus, revelations that they'd used private e-mails accounts to avoid public scrutiny of school business, and a pair of lawsuits in which former women's basketball and women's soccer players claim they were mistreated by coaches.
And the rocky times may not be over: The investigation that led athletic director Mike Thomas — a defendant named in those lawsuits — to fire Beckman continues.
Thomas said Friday that he received preliminary results of the investigation earlier this week, and despite timing he called "unfortunate" saw enough to fire Beckman just before his fourth season started.
"I was shocked and angry when I became aware of the preliminary firings," Thomas said. "Certainly that's what led to me making this decision swiftly, before the final report became due."
In a statement Friday evening, Beckman denied any wrongdoing and hinted that he might take legal action, calling the decision to fire him "a rush to judgment that confirms the university's bad faith."
"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. "I will vigorously defend both my reputation and my legal rights."
Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, who was head coach at Western Michigan from 2005 to 2012, has been named interim coach. The Illini open at home against Kent State on Sept. 4.
The allegations against Beckman first surfaced on May 10, when former starting lineman Simon Cvijanovic claimed in a long series of messages on Twitter that the head coach and his staff had tried to shame him into playing hurt and had misled him about medical procedures following a knee injury.
"All I can say right now is I think it's a step in the right direction," Cvijanovic told the AP by phone. "It seems like there's more than just Beckman that needs to be held accountable."
The university hired the Chicago law firm Franczek Radelet to investigate the allegations.
The university said Friday that the investigation found evidence of "efforts to deter injury reporting," as well as attempts to influence medical decisions "that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing." The investigation also found instances in which some players were "treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship" in the spring semester of their senior year.
Thomas declined to discuss specifics or say how many players were involved in either of those findings. So far, he said, no other coaches have been implicated.
The Illini went 12-25 under Beckman, including 2-10 in his first season and 6-7 last year, when they reached the Heart of Dallas Bowl.