Editor's note: The University of North Carolina announced late Thursday that Tim Beckman will no longer serve as an assistant volunteer with the Tar Heels' football program. UNC chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement she was "surprised and disappointed" after learning of Beckman's role on Larry Fedora's staff.
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 has resurfaced as a volunteer assistant coach at North Carolina, coaxing a favor from head coach Larry Fedora, who Beckman once coached with at Oklahoma State.
Fedora is well within his rights to bring Beckman onto his staff. He informed his athletics director and says he’s 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.
Fedora has spent this week fielding questions about Beckman and in many circles it will reflect badly that he brought Beckman around in the first place.
“Let me make something clear so everyone understands,” Fedora said after practice this week. “I’m the one that sets the expectations on our culture and how our student-athletes are treated. I’m at the top. I set it for everybody.
“So Tim’s here doing what the NCAA allows him to do as a volunteer assistant: studying film, scouting, all those kind of things. And so I’m glad we’re able to give him this opportunity until he’s able to find employment.”
As for the report that resulted in Beckman’s firing, Fedora said, “I don’t believe everything I read, all right? 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 allow him to be in our program. But I was very comfortable with it. I don’t have any issues with it at all.”
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.
A North Carolina spokesman said NCAA rules allow a volunteer coach to travel with the team and to be on the sideline during a game.
That’s the rule. But unless Fedora wants to thumb his nose at everyone who questions his decision, he’d be wise to leave Beckman at home when he brings his very good Tar Heels team to Champaign on Sept. 10.
Beckman can watch film, scout and give Fedora all the Illini player insights he wants up until the team charter heads for Central Illinois. It’s hard to imagine a single thing he can do during the game to help his new team win. He certainly was not able to do that the last time he was here.