North Carolina Beckman Football

Former University of Illinois head coach Tim Beckman watches from the sidelines during a 2014 game in Dallas. The University of North Carolina announced late Thursday that Beckman is no longer working as a volunteer assistant with the No. 22-ranked Tar Heels. Illinois fired Beckman a week before the 2015 opener after a law firm hired by the university concluded he interfered in player medical decisions and pressured players to play through injuries.

Turns out Tim Beckman is not in the witness protection program and does not wear a beeper that goes off like a fire alarm anytime he’s within 200 feet of a young athlete.

Since he was fired last Aug. 28 as head football coach at the University of Illinois, it became clear Beckman would have to call in a few favors in order to get his foot back inside the coaching door. You become an outcast when you’ve been dismissed for mistreatment of players at the precise time “player safety” becomes the No. 1 doctrine for the entire sport, from pee-wees to the pros.

But sure enough, Beckman resurfaced as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, coaxing a favor from head coach Larry Fedora, who Beckman once coached with at Oklahoma State.

It appeared Fedora was well within his rights to bring Beckman onto his staff. He informed his athletics director and says he was aware of what the Chicago law firm of Franczek Radelet said in its damning report to the University of Illinois administration.

The report said Beckman tried to coax injured players back onto the field too quickly, twisting the arms of trainers to clear players before they were medically ready. He ridiculed players who didn’t respond as rapidly as he wanted and — remarkably — said he didn’t believe in hamstring injuries.

Beckman still had two years remaining on his $3.1 million contract and after he was fired he sued the university for wrongful termination. The school, anxious to end the mess, gave him $250,000 to go away.

And go away he did, until this week when someone spotted him helping the Tar Heels and began to connect the dots.

First, though, it’s unclear what Fedora thought he had to gain by bringing Beckman onto the staff of a team that is ranked No. 22 in the country in the preseason Associated Press rankings.

Helping an old friend get back on his feet is a nice gesture. But Fedora must not have understood that Beckman’s greatest skill is the ability to be a colossal distraction.

Until Thursday, Fedora had spent time this week fielding questions about Beckman and in many circles it was reflecting badly that he brought Beckman around in the first place.

Then on Thursday came a prepared statement from Beckman saying he had resigned his position because (drum roll please) “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.”

Later, however, it became clear this may not have been Beckman’s idea. Although Fedora said he cleared the hire with his AD, North Carolina Chancellor Carol L. Folt was not in kept in the loop.

Folt said she didn’t learn of Beckman’s presence until Wednesday and was “surprised and disappointed.”

“The decision for Mr. Beckman to withdraw his volunteer position was the right thing to do and, moving forward, I don’t expect this situation to recur.”

Interpretation: This guy was a known buffoon. Don’t hire any more buffoons.

Beckman may not be a bad man. He’s not a predator who needs to register with some local municipality every time he comes near a football field.

He was severely overmatched as a Big Ten head coach and he’s an example of what can happen when a coach can’t win, feels his job slipping away and becomes desperate to keep his best players on the field in order to save that job.

Now North Carolina doesn’t have to decide whether to let Beckman be a part of its traveling party when the Tar Heels come to play the Illini on Sept. 10.

In his brief role as a volunteer assistant, Beckman was limited to scouting and film analysis. So bringing him to Memorial Stadium sideline was not going to be necessary.

There would have been nothing he could do to help his new team win that game.

Sad to say, but there wasn’t much he did to help his old team win there either.

Mark Tupper covers University of Illinois athletics for Lee News Service. Contact him at mark.tupper@lee.net.

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