CHAMPAIGN, ILL. (AP)
Illinois has hired Toledo’s Tim Beckman as its head football coach, The Associated Press has learned.
Beckman told his players Friday that he has taken the Illini job, said an official at Toledo who spoke on condition of anonymity because Beckman’s hiring had not been announced.
Illinois scheduled a football-related news conference for Friday afternoon and the Big Ten network, in announcing plans to televise it, said it was to introduce the new coach.
Beckman will replace Ron Zook, who was fired late last month after seven seasons. Illinois was 6-6 when Zook was fired and had lost six straight. The Illini are headed to the Dec. 31 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA.
Beckman comes to Illinois after three seasons at Toledo, where he was 21-16 overall. This season’s 8-4 team will play in the Military Bowl against Air Force, but Beckman will not coach in the game.
Beckman was hired in Toledo in 2008, and he inherited a program in disarray.
The Rockets were coming off three straight losing seasons and the program was in the middle of a point-shaving investigation involving football and basketball games from 2003-2006 that happened well before Beckman arrived.
Three former football players pleaded guilty in the probe that involved providing inside information about the team and its opponents. One player admitted accepting $500 to fumble the ball in a 2005 bowl game.
The Rockets were 5-7 in Beckman’s first season but finished 8-5 and with a trip to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in his second year.
His Toledo teams have been able to score – the Rockets scored 42.3 points a game this season, best in the MAC and eighth nationally. They averaged better than 200 yards a game in both rushing and passing. They also played tough against bigger-name opponents, losing 27-22 this season to Ohio State and defeating Purdue last season and Colorado in 2009.
But Toledo gave up big points under Beckman, too – 30.9 points a game this season. In back-to-back weeks in November, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan torched the Rockets for 63 points, though Toledo lost only one of those games.
The 46-year-old Beckman came to Toledo form from Oklahoma State, where he spent two seasons as defensive coordinator.
Beckman got his start as a graduate assistant at Auburn before moving on to assistant coaching jobs at Western Carolina, Elon, Bowling Green – where he was Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator – and Ohio State. Beckman coached the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks in 2005 and `06.
Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said when he fired Zook on Nov. 27 that he wanted to find a successor with head-coaching experience. The Illini reportedly also pursued Butch Jones at Cincinnati, who Thomas hired when he was AD there, as well as Houston’s Kevin Sumlin and Boise State’s Chris Petersen.
Thomas, who came to Illinois this year from Cincinnati, has declined to comment on the search since he fired Zook the day after a 27-7 loss at Minnesota. The loss completed a historically bad run for the Illini, who with it became the first FBS team to open the regular season with six straight wins, and close it with six losses in a row.
Zook came to Illinois in 2005 from Florida and went 34-51, finishing with two winning seasons – a win at the Fight Hunger Bowl would give Illinois its third in seven years. He took Illinois to the 2008 Rose Bowl, a loss to USC that was the Illini’s first trip to Pasadena since the 1980s, and to last year’s Texas Bowl. Illinois defeated TCU.
But Zook also barely survived the 2009 season, a three-win campaign that led to the firing of most of his staff. Special teams, which he personally coached, were often bad during his years in Champaign. Recruiting, often said to be Zook’s biggest strength, started to fall off the past couple of seasons.
The bottom line, as Thomas pointed out just after he fired Zook: The Illini won just under a third of their Big Ten games under Zook, and had a winning conference record over that period against only Indiana. Illinois paid Zook $2.6 million for the two years left on his contract.