CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman, who was fired a year ago after a university investigation determined he had mistreated football players, has found a temporary home at North Carolina and a staunch ally in Larry Fedora.
Beckman joined the staff as a volunteer assistant for defense at the start of training camp after Fedora offered to create a role for him during the offseason. Their relationship dates back to 2007 when both men worked under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. Fedora served as offensive coordinator while Beckman held the defensive coordinator title.
Beckman was fired a week before Illinois’ season opener last season after preliminary findings during an external review found evidence of efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions. In November, the law firm Franczek Radelet released its investigative report, which determined that Beckman’s conduct conflicted with the best interests of his players.
The report specifically noted that “the information provided to us demonstrates that Coach Beckman engaged in a pattern of criticizing and demeaning players for seeking evaluation by an athletic trainer during practice, promoting the idea of playing through injuries, belittling injuries, and encouraging players to minimize their injuries.”
One example cited in the report was an incident during the Illinois-Nebraska game in 2014. According to then-assistant athletic trainer Chris Walker, Beckman yelled, “he is done, he is scared,” at a player being helped off the field with a suspected concussion. The player in question missed the rest of the season due to the concussion suffered in that game. Beckman told investigators he did not recall making those comments.
Another anecdote detailed a confrontation between Beckman and two team physicians after a player suffered a potential spinal injury. The sports medicine staff did not want the player to move while attempting to stabilize his spine, although the physicians told investigators that Beckman inserted himself into the situation and told the player to turn his head and look at him to tell the player he was going to be fine. Beckman told investigators he did not recall that particular incident.
Beckman filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the school and settled for $250,000 in April.
Beckman’s hiring was the primary topic of conversation at Fedora’s post-practice availability on Wednesday, his first since news broke that Beckman had accepted a position on staff.
“I’m the one that sets the expectations on our culture and how our student-athletes are treated,” Fedora said. “I’m at the top; I set it for everybody. Tim is here and doing what the NCAA allows him to do as a volunteer assistant, studying film, scouting, all of those kinds of things. And so I’m glad we’re able to give him this opportunity until he’s able to find employment.”
Fedora stressed that UNC’s medical staff makes the sole decision as to when players are cleared to play following injury. The fifth-year UNC head coach also defended Beckman and implied the reported details surrounding his old friend’s firing may not be accurate.
“Yeah, okay, well, I don’t believe everything I read, all right?” Fedora said. “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.”
Fedora, who conferred with athletic director Bubba Cunningham before making the hire, acknowledged that he could understand the criticism of adding Beckman to his staff.
“I can,” Fedora said. “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? I mean, the guy didn’t win enough games. That’s all it was.”
Beckman went 12-25 (4-20 Big Ten) in three years at Illinois. As a volunteer, Beckman is able to travel with the Tar Heels, although Fedora said that decision has yet to be made. UNC travels to Illinois on Sept. 10.
The expectation is for Beckman to remain on staff for the duration of the season.